Name: Noble

Location: 27A Church Rd, Holywood BT18 9BU

Our experience: One of the downsides to eating out all the time (and a pretty minor one) is that it gets progressively harder to find somewhere new to try. All the more so if it’s a special occasion and you want a suitably special restaurant to match.

Step forward, Noble. With a birthday to celebrate, it seemed the perfect time to try Holywood’s newest fine-dining venue, newly crowned ‘Best Restaurant in Co Down’ as well as ‘Best Wine Experience’ at the Irish Restaurant Awards. But did it live up to the hype?

In short, yes.

Seated at our table by the charming co-owner, Saul McConnell, the first thing we noticed was the ambience. The muted lighting and small number of tables make it feel a very intimate place to spend an evening.  The pared-back décor is simple, without being spartan, with impeccable little details like the sash windows and elegant light fittings creating the impression that everything in this restaurant has been meticulously considered.

The food was similarly well conceived. The menu had choice of four starters and four mains (not including specials). While this might appear rather limited, there was no ‘filler’, every option looked equally tempting.

The starter of pastrami with dollops of savora mustard, rye sourdough and lightly charred spring onions was a wonderful mix of colours, textures and flavours. The peppery, meltingly soft beef pastrami combined beautifully with the crunch of the sourdough, the tang of the mustard and what appeared to be fine strands of sauerkraut.

Lynsey’s truffled risotto was one of the specials offered and could be ordered as a starter or main course. As a truffle aficionado, it was the obvious choice and proved irresistible. In fact, if PETA ever decide using pigs to snuffle them out is inhumane, perhaps a second career awaits, such is the pull these flavourful fungai exert on her. She was not disappointed. The risotto was rich, buttery, nutty and very satisfying.

Chicken is something I would rarely choose when eating out, primarily because it’s so difficult to infuse with flavour and can often be dry. In this case, the chicken breast and confit were simply the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.  No big, bold flavours or heavy spices, just well-brined, beautifully cooked chicken, served with a jus, kale and leeks. Lynsey opted for the roast cauliflower, with onion bhaji and spicy cous-cous. I must admit, I did feel a pang of jealousy when her plate arrived – it looked fantastic (see top image), but the envy receded when I started tucking into my own. Cauliflower, another potentially bland ingredient, was transformed – tender and warmly spiced – and mixed with the onion bhaji, cous-cous and raisins made for a plate where each element was individually tasty, but combined was excellent.

 

 

The pudding menu, again, provided four alternatives (plus a cheeseboard) yet managed to offer real variety. The choices were between a treacle tart, brioche bread and butter pudding, a glazed chocolate delice and a vanilla cheesecake. I plumped for the treacle tart, which came with clotted cream and blood orange. The acidity of the orange cut through the sweet, butteriness of the tart, which was rich without being cloying. Lynsey’s choice, though, was the real standout. The brioche bread and butter pudding, which came with a banana and mascarpone icecream, was truly exceptional. It was sweet, moist, but not over-egged and perfectly paired with the delicious, banana icecream.

As befits the title of ‘best wine experience’, the wine menu at Noble was excellent and Saul was ready, but not pushy, with recommendations. We shared a very enjoyable cabernet from Stellenbosch, which was reasonably priced at around £28. There was a healthy selection of wines to chose from, as well as carefully selected spirits and craft beers and we were pleased to see some local inclusions on the drinks menu, such as Northern Ireland’s own Shortcross Gin and Suki Tea.

As we left the restaurant, anticipating another meal out the following night, we talked about the other unstated downside to eating out so frequently – that you become accustomed to it and as such, harder to impress. Noble certainly managed it and it was a happy coincidence that while we celebrated my 32nd birthday, they were celebrating award success before even their first.

So, raising a glass to toast my birthday, I’d like also to toast Saul and chef Pearson for an excellent meal and to wish them many more years of success and many more awards.

Best bits: Relaxed, romantic atmosphere. The confit chicken was the best chicken I’ve tasted. The brioche and butter pudding was fantastic. Extremely attentive and knowledgeable service.

Worst bits: Quite a short menu, but that’s being particularly nit-picking.

Website: https://nobleholywood.com/

Twitter: @nobleholywood

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nobleholywood/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nobleholywood/

Atmosphere: The size of the restaurant and soft lighting help to create an intimate environment. While they are sophisticated surroundings, it’s a very relaxed and non-stuffy dining experience.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Food hygiene rating: None given

Price/Special offers: Daily specials. Sunday roast – 2 courses £18, 3 courses £23

BYOB: No

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Name: Graze

Location: 402 Upper Newtownards Rd, Belfast BT4 3GE

 

Our experience: With our friend’s birthday falling mid-week and not wishing to stray too far from DTH HQ, we chose Graze as the ideal venue to celebrate. The stylish décor and inclusion of high quality local ingredients such as the Finnebrogue venison and Silver Hill duck breast immediately make made the place feel special.

The Fivemiletown goat’s cheese fritters got things off to a winning start. The sweet, earthy beetroot complemented the tart cheese perfectly, while the bite of the walnut brittle offered a wonderful texture contrast. Robert couldn’t resist the venison which came flanked with a colourful mix of heritage vegetables and a bacon and potato gratin and a red wine jus. The venison was medium rare, exactly as ordered and the tenderstem broccoli, mopping up the emulsion of red wine jus and cauliflower puree was a real treat. The gratin was tender and creamy, but could have been even better with a little more seasoning and more bacon. Lynsey’s sea bass was satisfyingly meaty and combined beautifully with a forkful of the chorizo and scallion potato cake and a dredging of the delicately flavoured chowder (made specifically without prawns).

Pudding came in the form of an unctuous chocolate fondant which yielded to the side of a spoon, oozing rich, velvety chocolate sauce. The accompanying icecream offset the dark chocolate and meant every mouthful was a pleasure. By the time we had finished sipping our tea and coffee we were thoroughly satisfied. A dainty collection of petit-fours to match capped off a meal which felt like a celebration of both a birthday and the excellence of our local produce.

Best bits: Food was outstanding and beautifully presented

Good range of local and speciality beers Waiting staff are laid back and good fun

Worst bits: Extra supplement costs for the meal. Drinks are quite dear

Service quality: Very good. Staff were attentive and knowledgable

Opening hours: Monday-Saturday – 12-3pm, 5-11pm Sunday – 12 -3pm

Website: http://grazebelfast.weebly.com/

Twitter: @grazebelfast

Instagram: n/a

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Graze-200923990090944/

Atmosphere: Bright, trendy, funky decor

Rating: 4.5 out 5

Cuisine: French

Food hygiene rating: 5 out of 5 (March 2016)

Price/Special offers: Monday-Thursday early bird offer – two courses for two plus a carafe of wine for £30

BYOB: No

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Name: The Boathouse

Location: 1A Seacliff Rd, Bangor, BT20 5HA

 

Our experience: Avast! The Boathouse owner/chef Joery Castel closed the doors of this Award-winning restaurant in Oct 2016 to set sail for a new culinary voyage as Head Chef at Saphyre restaurant on the Lisburn road in Belfast.

Nonetheless, as a token of respect for this culinary institution we thought we would blog about our last meal at The Boathouse – which has now been taken over by another great restaurant The Salty Dog. Looking forward to a visit there soon.

Robert surprised me for our first ‘dating’ anniversary with a reservation at The Boathouse. He knew I had always wanted to go before it officially shut its doors. This beautiful, historical, little building nestled at the corner of Bangor Marina, formerly the Harbours Masters Office, always intrigued me as it seemed so small yet exclusive.

The meal was wonderful. A truly exceptional, gastronomic experience. Each course use locally sourced ingredients and had a unique twist. My favourite had to be the starter of goats cheese mousse with beetroot meringue and walnuts while Robert particularly enjoyed the pork with a scallop and black pudding ball. Every course was beautifully styled and cooked to perfection – a true fine dining experience – decadent and delightful!

I’m looking forward to seeing what Joery will bring to Saphyre – I just need to convince Robert that an 18month anniversary treat is a real thing that people celebrate!!

Best bits: Loved the hot cocktails, Imaginative use of texture & flavour, Attentive service

Worst bits: Not for the plain eater!

Service quality: Excellent service – staff were attentive and were knowledgeable about the food

Opening hours: *NOW CLOSED*

Website: http://boathousebangor.com/

Twitter: @TheBoatHouseNI

Head Chef: http://www.joerycastel.com/

Instagram: Joerycastel

Facebook: BoatHouseBangor

Atmosphere: Romantic, swish but relaxed

Rating: 5 out 5

Cuisine: Northern Irish

Food hygiene rating: Unavailable

Price/Special offers: Unavailable

BYOB: No