Everyone loves a good story and truth is stranger than fiction at this appealing modern restaurant in the centre of Bangor, where owner-chef Philip McCrea is fulfilling a lifetime ambition. In ‘real life’ he is a doctor, with a busy practice in nearby Holywood, but inside that doctor of some thirty years there was a chef waiting to get out.
And, following many months renovating the premises and a three month stint at Dublin’s Cooks Academy - where he and a class of fifteen other students were put through every imaginable culinary hoop and he emerged with the technical skills necessary for the job and his love of cooking still intact - the dream became reality and, in spring 2013, Corin was born.
The opening hours may be on the short side at just four nights a week, but that’s for the very good reason that he is still a doctor so, seen in that context, the hours allocated for the restaurant are actually very generous.
Described as a typically modern French restaurant with ‘a global expression’, Corin hit the ground running and quickly established itself as one of the town’s most popular restaurants. It certainly fills a niche, and the cooking at Corin, by Philip McCrea and head chef Steven Sinclair, has real flair as well as passion.
Menus are up there with the best, and very on-trend (offering dishes combining several cuts of meat with different cooking methods, for example, and foraged foods such as samphire) and suppliers are credited, which is surprisingly unusual in Northern Ireland.
Then there’s the ambience, which is very relaxed with romantic French background music setting the mood and a policy of allocating each table for the evening, so nobody ever feels rushed.
The only tension is likely to be caused by the agony of making decisions, as menus offer a choice of seven equally gorgeous seasonal dishes on each course - summer starters like smoked trout with chicory leaves, quail egg and honeyed mustard, for example, or duck confit with a fiery apple chutney...
Mains like fresh-flavoured panfried John Dory with cockles, samphire & cockle velouté, with herb crushed potatoes or (one of two very appealing vegetarian main courses) beautiful broad bean & feta open ravioli with wild garlic butter, roasted asparagus, red onion and hazelnuts.
Thyme scented strawberries with melon soup and strawberry sorbet would make a light and refreshing finish (something which deserves to be more popular), or you can opt for the full indulgence of chocolate in a creation such as chocolate fudge cake with morello cherries in red wine syrup, chocolate ganache and cherry sorbet. There’s also a carefully composed trio of desserts for the undecided and a very good Irish and French cheese selection, from Sheridans cheesemongers.
With well chosen wines from just £10, the interesting and pocket friendly wine list is sure to contribute to the feelgood atmosphere, and offers some local craft beers and a commendably wide choice of appealing soft drinks including sparkling apple juice and wild elderflower bubbly - other restaurants please take note.
The cooking is impressive; every dish is well conceived and beautifully executed, with just enough cheffy flourishes to create a sense of occasion. Its success is a great achievement, but it’s not all down to the food, delicious as that is.
Corin’s early (and consistently maintained) success must also be due to Philip McCrea’s exceptionally customer-focused philosophy - this is a man who genuinely wants to please people, and not just with brilliant cooking, but by providing all the things he likes about restaurants - and avoiding the ones he sees as mistakes.
So, fair prices and good customer service are in - and annoyances like paying for bread, tea or coffee, or service charges are out (although customers may tip if they want to). And, as in all the best restaurants, you’ll also get some nice little surprises, in the shape of an amuse-bouche and petits fours - which are also complimentary.
Occupational Medicine may be Philip McCrea’s official field of practice, but perhaps there’s also a psychologist in there - and, happily, he got out with the chef.