An attractive little stone building beside Bangor Marina is home to this delightful restaurant, run by convivial Dutch brothers, chef Joery and front of house manager, Jasper Castel.
Once the old Harbour Master’s office, it dates back to the 1860s and, since major renovations in the early 90’s, it has provided a restaurant setting of character and charm. The Castel brothers opened here in 2008 and, since then, have quietly been establishing a reputation for serving some of the best food in Northern Ireland – and in a relaxed, customer-focused atmosphere.
There are no big windows to entice customers in, and very little about the exterior to suggest the warmth and style that reveals itself as soon as you get up the steps and through the front door, so first-time guests are in for a very pleasant surprise. You squeeze in past a little bar area and downstairs to the restaurant which (another surprise, perhaps) is contemporary in style – a crisp contrast to the old world atmosphere of the building itself.
Menus reflect Joery Castel’s upbringing in Holland and his respect for fresh locally sourced produce, especially seafood. Rabbit and mackerel are likely to feature among the starters, also smoked eel from Lough Neagh, while main courses may well include less used fish – pollack and herring in season perhaps - alongside other more usual varieties.
Special menus are offered from time to time – a recent, very reasonably priced, summer Lobster Menu, for example, offered four carefully balanced courses based on lobster plus a sorbet and dessert, while a tempting à la carte Christmas menu, available through December, includes winter treats like venison and scallops (at their best in the colder months), and a traditional Dutch ‘Hutspot’ confit of beef, with smoked cheese, smoked garlic & thyme jus.
Seriously delicious desserts include a Grand Dessert tasting plate including, perhaps, a silky panncotta served with a blackberry compôte and pistachio biscotti; almond, lemon & polenta cake with Glastry farm lavender & honey ice cream, and a whiskey & Valhrona chocolate torte with poached pear and Chantilly cream.
Or you could choose to have a bavarois made with the local Clandeboye Estate yoghurt, or Irish farmhouse cheeses with crackers and a glass of port. And, the Dutch being grand masters in the art of coffee making, your taste buds can expect a satisfying finale.
While stylish (this is a man who has cooked for the Queen after all, when she visited Armagh in 2008), Joery’s cooking is not ‘cheffy’ – the emphasis is on great flavour and appealing combinations of colour and texture (he’s a great man for the beetroot) and, far from being overawed by the experience, you’ll come away from a meal here licking your lips and wondering how soon you can get back.
True democrats, the Castel brothers believe that good food (and wine) should be accessible to all, regardless of budget, and not only does the range offered reflect that philosophy but both of them mingle enthusiastically with customers and encourage feedback on everything they’re eating – this is not at all intrusive as they have a light manner, genuine interest in the opinions of their customers, and don’t stay too long at the table.
You’ll enjoy it.