Kenneth Sharp's boutique hotel is in a choice corner location overlooking Belfast Lough and Bangor Marina. Although dating back tof Victorian times, it offers contemporary style - together with the hands-on hospitality that is not easy to find in larger establishments.
It’s a pleasant place to stay and not only handy to the town but also within an easy waterside stroll of the attractive Ballyholme area of Bangor, where there’s a pleasant promenade and a beach leading on to the National Trust coastal walk at Ballymacormick Point.
The ground floor is semi open-plan, taking advantage of the views over the harbour and lough from both the bar area and the restaurant.
While the ambience is contemporary it’s been created from two traditional redbrick houses, which gives it plenty of character. The varying size and décor of the guest rooms reflect its long history – those on the first floor, for example are spacious and comfortable, with traditional furnishings, while those at the very top are smaller, modern and more sparsely furnished. The range of rooms offered includes single, twin and family rooms, with the difference in size and outlook reflected in the price.
A seriously good breakfast is served in the bar, overlooking the marina – included among the treats are freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh fruits, homemade muesli or porridge (with honey, whiskey & cream) freshly baked bread from Central Bakery, delicious brown toast, and continental options including pain au chocolate - and a choice of hot dishes including, of course, an excellent rendition of the traditional Ulster Fry (delicious Fermanagh black bacon and sausages from Ballyholme Meats, that must-have potato bread and much more). It’s a great start to the day.
Conferences/Banqueting (30/55); secretarial services; free broadband wifi. Rooms 15 (all en-suite & no smoking, 2 family, 1 single); B&B £70-95 per room; single £55; children welcome (under 3s free in parents room, cot available, £10 charge). Dogs permitted (staying in bedroom).
Good food has always been at the heart of the Salty Dog experience. With an emphasis on fine cooking rather than fine dining, the dining experience is very relaxed, and the creative menus offered throughout the day promise treats with every mouthful.
There's a welcome focus on local and seasonal foods, with many producers named on dishes and details of some suppliers given on the main menu. Attention to detail is evident from the outset, when homemade breads are served with flavoursome Abernethy hand churned butter, dulse butter and the excellent Broighter Gold rapeseed oil from Limavady, Co Derry.
The cooking style is modern and quite adventurous, with plenty of big flavours and a natural leaning towards local seafood - try pan seared Ewing's hand dived Irish scallops, for example, with textures of Armagh apples and celeriac; or a main course of Atlantic cod with a brioche & black pudding crust and brown shrimp emulsion.
Meat lovers will enjoy Irish Hereford beef (in simple dishes such as the homemade burgers as well as prime cuts) and, along with a choice of fashionably slow cooked meat dishes, poultry and game may include wild pigeon and imaginative dishes based on Rockvale chicken (from Co Armagh) and Fermanagh duck .
Thoughtfully devised vegetarian options are listed separately; all are available as starters or main courses - and you don't have to be vegetarian to be tempted by gorgeous dishes like twice baked Young Buck blue cheese soufflé with toasted hazelnut crumble and beurre noisette cream, or a butternut squash and pumpkin seed tart with rocket salad and sage dressing.
Young Buck (made nearby in Newtownards) also features alongside Irish greats like Gubbeen, Durrus and Cooleeney on a very appealing cheeseboard, but desserts are equally desirable. Most are imaginative variations on old favourites - a green tea panna cotta with gingerbread crisp & puree and champagne sorbet for example, or a trio of Valrhona chocolate ganache with hazelnuts and malt ice cream...
A short ‘Classic Menu’ offers bistro favourites such as seafood pie, Irish ale battered fish & chips, and homemade Angus beef burger, and parents will be pleased to find a proper little children’s menu too. Sunday brings a judicious balance between tradition (Kettyle beef, 12 hour roast with Yorkshire pudding) and other options (pan seared Kilkeel hake), with especially imaginative starters and desserts lightening up the traditional Sunday lunch experience.The service is spot on too and one senses that any request would be happily accommodated
There’s a full bar as well as a comprehensive drinks list, including a range of craft beers, both Irish and international. A nice feature is a Cocktail of the Month (the Salty Dog cocktail, perhaps: Plymouth gin, fresh grapefruit, a pinch of salt & lemon) and a Cask Ale of the Month, which could be local - Belfast Pale Ale, for example - or from further afield. Not very much information on wines (vintages or tasting notes) but they are well chosen and fairly priced, with plenty available by the glass.
All round, this is a highly enjoyable place to eat, with all the flavour and finesse expected of classical cooking (and service to match), plus the advantage of informality. A casual dining destination par excellence.