Posts Tagged ‘eating out

27
Apr
09

Dinner & Danny Schmidt at Crusoe’s, Castlerock

I’ve just had a lovely weekend staying with my Aunt in Coleraine. I mean, it may be some time before my pickled liver recovers, but it was most definitely worth it!

I had been invited to go with my Aunt to Crusoe’s Cafe in Castlerock for dinner, with the added bonus of music in the form of Danny Schmidt.

Crusoe’s is a new place to me- but came very highly recommended. They are mainly a daytime destination, and I understand that they make the best cappucino in the world! 😀 They run special evening events from time to time, and this was one of those. They provide a gorgeous meal, wine and music. I gather that these evenings are heavily subscribed and eagerly awaited by the population of the North West!

My first impressions of Crusoe’s were of the warmth of the staff. You almost feel like you’ve arrived at a friend’s house for dinner, they are so welcoming. We were seated at a very pleasant table in the corner and brought some wine.

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The room itself has a strong nautical theme, lots of great big windows and a very high beamed ceiling. The room is, however, dominated by the kitchen, which takes up a corner of the room and looks very homely. I really like the notion of being able to watch my food being prepared, and it says a lot about the team that work there that everything seems so calm, efficient and amazingly quiet in there!

Our starter was lovely- fresh, warm bread rolls served with little pots of seafood cocktail, foie gras and a gorgeous tapenade which had both black and green olives in it, as well as sun dried tomatoes. All of this was outstanding, especially the tapenade (which, by the way is something I’m quite fussy about, as it consists of all my favourite ingredients!), and I was excited to see what would come next!

I wasn’t disappointed. We were served with the most delectable venison pie, slowly braised with, I believe, chocolate and chilli in the sauce. I’d never have put chocolate in something like that, but am absolutely intrigued now because the sauce was absolutely out of this world. This was accompanied by perfectly cooked root vegetables and some tasty cauliflower cheese. It was seriously one of the nicest main courses I have had for a while, and I am, as you all know, not all that easy to please! 😀

Pudding (though I was already struggling!!) was a cup of coffee flavoured caramel topped with chocolate sauce, not overpoweringly sweet, which was a good thing, and really delicious. It was served with homemade shortbread which I was devastated not to have enough room for! I should have asked for a doggie bag!

Just when we thought we’d burst, they then brought out a cheese board! They source their cheeses from the Fivemiletown Creamery and they were perfect, but I couldn’t possibly have finished! The cheese was served with delicious home made pickle.

I have to say it was one of the most yummy and satisfying meals I have had in a long time, plus mind blowingly good value for money. If you picked this place up and set it down in Belfast, the queues would be out the door and down the street. If you’re in the region, it’s most definitely worth a visit!

One of the things, however, that really made the evening, was the quality of the live acts who played. Both of them were quite a lot in evidence before they played and seemed like very cool and relaxed guys, so I was able to check if they minded me taking pictures of them for my blog. Kindly, they both agreed! I’m a terrible photographer as regular readers know, so I hope they won’t get too pissed off if they ever happen upon these! I was using Ricky’s camera and couldn’t work out the settings, so poor Al unfortunately got hit with the flash once before I managed to change the settings. Ironically, that was the only photo which really came out… 🙂

First up was Al Brition, who hails from Coventry in England. He had such a sweet, melodious voice that the whole audience was captivated by the end of the first few bars. Simple, soulful music that was perfect with the relaxed atmosphere. I very much enjoyed the subtlety of his guitar playing too. Really beautiful. Inexplicably, I can find no reference to him online at all, and I wonder if I have got the spelling of his name right. If anyone out there can correct me, please do so! 🙂 He is definitely someone to watch!

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Danny Schmidt, hailing from Austin, Texas, was the main act, and he took everyone’s breath away. It’s not just his gorgeous voice and guitar playing, but the lyrics of the songs too. I was particularly moved by his song “This too shall pass”, which he told us was about a time a few years ago when he’d been unwell, and a friend had made him a ring with those words enscribed. From listening to the lyrics of the song, I hope I’m not inferring incorrectly that he must have been suffering from a cancer of some kind back then. Obviously, having been going through my own battle recently, this really touched me and the words will resonate with me for a while to come. Haunting. Other songs had an irreverence which I think unfortunately may have been a little over the heads of some of those present, but I really enjoyed all of it. I will definitely be going to see him again next time he’s in Northern Ireland.

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All of this added up to being a really special night out. The evening was £35 per head including wine- stupendously good value. Thanks so much to my aunt for inviting me, and to both Crusoe’s and the musicians for making it a truly memorable night.

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22
Apr
09

Dinner at The Mill, Dunfanaghy

I mentioned before we went on our break that Ian and I were being treated to a dinner at The Mill, Dunfanaghy, which has always been one of our very favourite places to eat. We haven’t managed to have dinner there for about five years now, what with the kids, so this was a massive treat!

The Mill is a fabulous Georgian building stunningly set at the edge of the New Lake just outside Dunfanaghy. The restaurant is magnificent, and if you’re really lucky, you can stay there too. I never have, but I hear that the rooms are amongst the best in Ireland.

Upon arrival, you are greeted by their lovely staff and invited to sit either in the conservatory or by a roaring open fire whilst you look at the menu. They bring you your drinks and a couple of delicious complimentary tasters to eat whilst you make your decision- we had rosemary bread served with mackerel pate, and melba toast served with crabmeat, both of which were gorgeous.

The menus strongly feature seafood and local organically reared beef and lamb. The lamb in particular comes from just a mile or so down the road on Horn Head, and I’ve been told people come again and again just to taste it! Seafood is also sourced from Donegal. The region is spoilt for choice in this area, as it has a very extensive sealine and a strong fishing community.

Once our order had been taken, we moved into the restaurant itself, and were delighted to be given a wonderful table right beside the window overlooking the lake. What a gorgeous view! It was a beautiful evening, and you could feel the tension drain away as you looked out.

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I had really struggled with my choice of starter, as I was in the mood for seafood, and the mussels and clam starters sounded delicious. However I eventually went for a mixed seafood starter, which featured crab claw, plaice fillet and scallop, served with guacamole. This was gorgeous, beautifully presented and a perfect size for a starter. Ian chose duck confit, served with redcurrant, and it was melt in the mouth delicious. I pinched some of his and really enjoyed it- but there was no way he was getting any of mine!!

For my main course, I decided on an open seafood lasagne, which featured (amongst others) crab claws, clams, salmon, and plaice. When it arrived, I thought it looked a little bland, but the flavours were wonderful- very delicate and perfectly seasoned. The clams in particular were perfection. Ian had a lovely steak, which was deliciously tender and well cooked. The accompaniment of champ was gorgeous, I used some to mop up the last of the creamy sauce from my lasagne!

We both decided to go for the chocolate delight with marmalade ice cream for dessert. The chocolate delight was a light sponge around a melting chocolate middle- very rich and delicious. The ice cream had quite a lot of marmalade in it (well, duh!) and wasn’t quite as sweet or mild as I’d been expecting, but was lovely.

Coffee is then served in the conservatory overlooking the lake as the sun sets, and they bring you home made fudge and petit fours to eat whilst you drink your coffee (as if you needed anything else to eat after all of that!!).

This is not an inexpensive place to eat. The set three course menu is currently at 42.95 euro per person, but believe me, this is truly excellent value. The food is of the highest possible standard and you can really taste the care and dedication that has gone into not only the preparation of the food, but also the choosing of the ingredients.

Wonderful food, lovely service from friendly locals, and a truly beautiful restaurant. I can’t wait to return, in fact, if I had loads of money, I’d probably just move in! 😀

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15
Sep
08

Dinner at 55 Degrees North, Portrush

My aunt invited me to stay with her in Coleraine last Friday night, and as ever, I jumped at the chance! She spoils me rotten and we always have a lot of fun.

She very kindly arranged for us to have dinner at a restaurant in Portrush called 55 Degrees North. She and my Dad had been there a week before and had really enjoyed themselves. Dad had told me that there was a great view, so I was really looking forward to going!

WOW- that’s all I can say about the view. I have never seen anything like it at all! The whole front of the restaurant (and it’s very tall) is made out of glass, giving you a mesmerising view of the beach and islands just off the coast, especially as it’s on an elevated site. It’s actually so wonderful that it was hard for me to even turn my head away to look at the menu! Luckily, the light faded not long after we arrived. This is probably a good thing, or my poor aunt might not have got any chat out of me at all! It’s the kind of place you could eat on your own, looking out at the waves crashing on the shore, and not ever get bored or feel lonely. Or maybe that’s just me!

Once you get over the incredible view, and take a look around you, it’s a really lovely place on the inside as well. Dark wood prevails, but due to the glass front, it feels far from dark and gives the place a lot of warmth which might have been lacking if they had chosen something more “industrial”. Tables are spacious and placed well apart from each other, giving good privacy. It’s a fairly large room, and the high ceiling makes it feel larger. A nice touch too is that there are two “levels”, so even if you’re further back in the room, you’re on a higher level, so you still get the amazing view (did I mention the view??).

Everything is well fitted and luxurious. I could only find one toilet cubicle though, marked disabled and with both boy and girl signs on it. I am thinking that I must have simply missed the main bathrooms, but my aunt couldn’t find them either! Must ask, next time…

The menus were interesting, although not all of the options sounded as if they would work. Wok fried vegetables were served with nachos and sweet chilli sauce, I think, was one of the options- which to me is mixing too many different influences. I did see someone take delivery of it though, and they seemed to be enjoying it.

For my starter, I chose the crab cake, as did my aunt. It came served with tobacco onions and some salad to garnish. I really liked my starter- it was full of crabmeat, well seasoned and tasted fabulous.

For mains, I chose a sirloin steak, to be cooked rare, whilst my aunt went for prawn and monkfish kebabs. The kebabs were rather bizarrely served with mashed potato- it seemed an odd combination, but she very much enjoyed it. My steak was very well cooked and enormous! I had read a number of reviews which complained that this place didn’t know how to cook a rare steak, but it was perfectly cooked from my point of view, juicy and tender.

Side orders are extra- my steak came with two small mushrooms underneath but that was it. We’d ordered garlic potatoes, mushrooms and a caesar salad. All of those were delicious, well cooked and seasoned, and generous in proportion. We couldn’t begin to finish it!

I was sad that we couldn’t find room for any pudding, because the food was really lovely from start to finish. Portion sizes were very generous, maybe a little too much so!

I also thought the meal was great value for money. The place looks so posh that you’d expect there to be few reasonably priced options on the menu, but main courses start from £9.95 which I really don’t think is excessive. My vast steak came in at £14.95, which was very fair.

I have to say as well, that the staff were attentive and pleasant throughout. This is always a huge bonus!

A really good dining experience- I already can’t wait to return! Thanks so much to my aunt for inviting me!

06
Jun
08

Dinner at Deane’s at Queen’s

Some friends and I eat out once a month or so, and try a new place every time. Last night, we visited Deane’s at Queen’s. Located at the bottom of the Malone Road opposite Methody (my old school!), it’s been on the go for I think about six months now as a branch of the main Deane’s restaurant on Howard Street in Belfast, one of the most expensive restaurants Northern Ireland has to offer! Deane’s at Queen’s is a more cost effective option, but still fairly pricey- kind of place you’d book as a treat.

The decor is minimalistic and fairly stark- the walls are painted a steely grey, with wood on the ceiling. There are lots of bare lightbulbs, and a rather scarily realistic painting of Michael Deane! I would have preferred more warmth to be injected into the decor- looking out as it does on Methody, with the green in front of it, and it’s warm red brick, it makes Deane’s feel a little cold and soul less. Tables were a good size though and the seating very comfortable, plus the spacing of the tables was good and you had a sense of privacy from other diners.

The toilets are absolutely bizarre- they look like they belong in the school across the road, not very clean, basic in the extreme and one shoddily constructed cubicle was even missing it’s door! It’s as if they ran out of money before they got to the loos!

The menu sounded lovely and they had some interesting specials on the blackboards. For starters, I chose smoked salmon salad with baby potatoes and horseradish creme fraiche. Two of my friends had soup (not too sure what sort, but it was vegetarian and had a dollop of gorgeous pesto in it!) and the third had chicken liver pate. The starters were beautifully presented and delicious. My salmon was lovely and I particularly liked the horseradish creme fraiche- such a simple idea, I will definitely try that at home!

We had a long wait for our main course as the place was pretty busy by then! Unfortunately I could see the cheeseburger I’d ordered sitting under the lights for ages while they cooked my friends mains, and it wasn’t the warmest when it arrived. The burger was lovely, but the bap that came with it was greasy and soggy from sitting out. It was served with a red pepper relish that was too chunky and dry- I would have preferred something more “saucy”. The skinny chips which came with the meal were very good but again could have been warmer, and once again I would have liked some sauce to dip them in. Emer had the salmon, served with asparagus, and it was gorgeous- the colours were beautiful and I was quite envious! Jacinta is vegetarian, and had a pasta dish which she was very pleased with. Heather had chosen  braised sausages, which were served with a lovely gravy and it looked very tasty. We had also ordered sides of potato wedges, a green salad and some mixed green veg, all nicely cooked and tasty.

Whilst choosing our desserts, the table next to us were delivered a portion of the lemon tart, which Jacinta and I had both been thinking of having. It didn’t look all that appealing, so she went for pavlova (as did Heather) and I went for pannacotta with vodka and (I think) strawberries. Emer went for the lemon tart, and when it came, and we all tried some, we were very sorry that we hadn’t chosen it! It was absolutely delicious, very lemony, perfect. My pannacotta was gorgeous, with vanilla evident through it and the vodka was interesting and unusual. I would definitely have it again (if the lemon tart was off, lol!) The pavlova was beautifully presented but a little overdone for my friends taste- was served more like meringue.

With one glass of wine, three soft drinks and three coffees, the bill came to £116 or so, but take note, they add 10% service charge before you get your bill. Personally I really dislike this practice- surely it should be up to the customer to decide how good the service has been?

The waitress assigned to our table was absolutely charming, a very pretty girl who smiled constantly and was very friendly. None of the waiting staff seemed to be Northern Irish, I think she was maybe Polish or Slovakian but we didn’t ask her so I am unsure! However she had a number of tables to run, and getting the attention of any of the other staff was like drawing blood from a stone! They need to be a little more flexible on that front.

Michael Deane was much in evidence, as he hovered at the perifery of the kitchen, but to my astonishment he didn’t move all the time we were there and looked a little bit like it was his first day in the job- kind of standing there looking a bit embarrassed while everone around him charged about! I kind of wanted to see someone take more charge…that’s just me though!

All in all, a good eating experience and good value for the quality of food produced. Portion sizes were excellent, you got plenty on your plate and side orders were not particularly necessary but were also generous and tasty. Service was fine but needs to loosen up a bit! Toilets really could do with a facelift, and maybe the decor just wasn’t to my particular taste.

Not sure where we are off to next month! We might try a bring your own place- I’m open to suggestions! 🙂

29
Apr
08

Lunch at Yoko Bistro in Coleraine

Whilst staying with my Aunt last Saturday, she took me out for lunch to Yoko’s Bistro in Coleraine. We had lunch there before around Christmas time and it was lovely, so I was delighted to be going back!

Set somewhat incongruously well away from the town centre, in the middle of an industrial estate, and sandwiched between a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut, you could be forgiven for giving it a wide berth! However as soon as you cross the door, you realise that this is a lovely, modern restaurant, well fitted and attractive on the inside. There is a strong Japanese flavour to the decor, with a lot of dark wood and lighted panels giving a cool, modern feel.

Having been seated, we had to spend a while going through the massive menu! The choices are very broad, mostly with strong asian themes but with some European dishes. There are plenty of noodle options- this is becoming so fashionable these days, my aunt had a noodle bowl the last time we were there and it looked lovely!

I opted for the thai prawn cakes for my starter, whilst my Aunt had sesame prawn toast. We shared these and they were both lovely. The prawn cakes came with a delicious sweet chili sauce and were really special.

For my main course I chose sizzling king prawn with lemon grass and chilli. My aunt opted for duck with a cherry and plum brandy sauce. Both were delicious- my Aunt isn’t a big eater so I think I probably had more of hers than she did- for shaaame! My Aunt had ordered a side dish of garlic chips and these were rather undercooked, which is the only criticism I can level at the food! Everything was very plentiful and delicious, and delivered in a timely manner.

Service was good, very unobtrusive. The place was pretty busy for a Saturday lunchtime in such an out of the way location, and I understand that it’s jumping in the evenings! The people of Coleraine have been without this kind of place for too long- for a university town there are amazingly few decent places to eat- and it looks like they are all enjoying it a lot!

One funny thing- they had a sign pinned to the front door saying that they were training up a new chef and to complain if the food wasn’t good- bloody hell, guys, give the new person a chance!!! I’d be feeling pretty offended if I was the new chef! Who appears from my experience to be pretty good! 😀

11
Apr
08

Lunch at Balloo House, Killinchy

As a treat for our twelfth anniversary, which is coming up this weekend, Ian and I took a break from redecorating the house to enjoy a rare lunch together without the kids!

We decided to try Balloo House in Killinchy- it’s only four miles down the road from us and we’d read excellent things about it in the Bridgestone Guide last year.

Upon our arrival, it became immediately obvious that we should have booked- they were packed to the rafters even though it was lunchtime and Killinchy is pretty far out of the way! However they managed to find us a table very quickly indeed.

The decor is very oldy-worldy-pub. I love the old photos on the walls and the ancient advertising posters, including “Bovril- better than a blanket! Defends against colds and influenza!” 😀 It is painted a dark red colour which suits the room very well and makes it feel deceptively cosy- but if you look around it is actually quite a large place. There are roaring real fires and a number of interesting “relics” such as an old range oven in the middle of the restaurant!

We were presented with our menus and could not believe the variety and choice, each option sounding more appetising than the last! After massive deliberation, I went for crispy fried squid, followed by salmon with noodles and asian greens. Ian opted for leek and potato soup and steak and guinness pie (he’s a very traditional eater, lol!).

After our orders had been taken, we were served with a basket of delicious complimentary homemade breads served with butter and tapenade. The breads were so yummy that I could barely wait for the rest of my food!

We weren’t disappointed- my squid starter was absolutely incredible- the squid itself perfectly cooked. It was served with two side bowls, one of homemade mayonnaise and one with a chili jam (with tomatoes and heavily scented with cumin- gorgeous!). The sauces were so good that I made them leave them at the table so I could dip my salmon in them, lol! Ian’s soup was equally nice, very creamy and a good balance between potato and leek.

My salmon was perfectly cooked and served on a delicious teriyaki flavoured bed of noodles. My only slight criticism would be that I would have preferred a few more of the asian greens mentioned on the menu, but that’s nitpicking! Ian’s steak pie was so absolutely massive that it would have fed a small nation for a year, but was full of flavour, tender beef and served with yummy buttery roast carrots on the side. Ian had (somewhat bizarrely in my book) ordered a side of cabbage and bacon and this was also lovely.

We were both completely stuffed by this point but the puddings sounded so nice and we so seldom get out for a meal together that we threw caution to the wind and decided to go for it! Ian’s sticky toffee pudding was gorgeous, served in a satisfyingly big puddle of butterscotch sauce. I had a white chocolate cheesecake which was nothing short of perfection.

Service was good too- despite the fact they were so busy, nothing was too much trouble, and BOY do those guys shift!!

The meal was also excellent value. Three courses each and two soft drinks each- total came to only £41.

I can’t believe I haven’t checked this place out before! I will be galloping back at the earliest opportunity. I honestly can’t think of a bad thing to say about it, and highly recommend it!

 

10
Mar
08

Lunch at The Buck’s Head, Dundrum

I am aware that my blog these days seems to veer between me moaning about my weight, and telling you all about how I’ve just eaten out yet again…

However….ahem….

 My Dad took me out for lunch yesterday to The Buck’s Head in Dundrum. He had a friend up from Dublin for a few days and it was lovely to be invited along!

The Buck’s Head is absolutely one of my favourite places to eat. There are two parts to the restaurant, which are complete polar opposites. One part looks like a traditional Irish pub, cosy, with roaring (gas-log imitation, but you can only tell when really close up!) fire and some nice paintings, dark wood, etc. The other half, which we ate in yesterday, is a large airy, very modern room with a high ceiling, pale decor and larger tables. Both parts are comfortable, tastefully decorated and pleasant.

They have a set lunch menu on a Sunday, but the choices were pretty varied and, as always, left me torn! For starters, I went for prawn cocktail (it was a toss up between that and some duck won tons, which my Dad had). It was lovely, with good prawns and some fresh pineapple on the side. My Dad’s won tons were great too- served with a chili jam which packed quite a punch. Pet decided not to have a starter.

My main course was pork with a cider cream sauce, which was really good- the pork was very tender and the sauce delicious. My Dad had cod with a parmesan crust, which we managed to get all over the table when he was transferring a bit to me! I liked it a lot, and will replicate at home! Pat went for roast beef, which looked great- what an absolutely massive portion though, it would have done all three of us! They supply sides of champ and some steamed veggies- broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, all cooked nicely.

For pudding, Dad and I decided to order two different things and split them, something we often do! I had meringue and Dad ordered a flan with apricot and almond, both lovely.

The food in The Buck’s Head is always delicious, the service is very understated but excellent (though don’t expect much chat from them!) and the rooms are pleasant to be in. The only criticism I have of the place is that it really, really isn’t child friendly. They have a note on the menu that they do kids portions but that the minimum charge is £8.95 (which I discovered to my cost once when I went with my Mum with Ricky in tow- he had what can only be described as the most expensive bowl of soup EVER!). They have one or two high chairs but the ambience in the place is very adult and if your child isn’t going to sit in silence, you can expect some dirty looks from both staff and clientelle…last time we had Ricky there, I had to leave without eating my pudding because he got quite restless! This isn’t really a criticism- that’s just the kind of place it is.

You can also expect to pay quite a lot, but the food is so good that I think it definitely justifies the cost. You do get great value for money.

A lovely afternoon out!




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