Our staff Journalist Gemma Weir packed her jimmy-jams and toothbrush and headed off to beautiful Blustery Bangor Co. Down for an evening of fine dining at The Boat House and a well earned lie in at the Salty Dog…
When we were invited for an evening of fine dining and fresh air to The Salty Dog and The Boat House in Bangor, Co Down, I jumped at the opportunity!
Fabulous food and a great night sleep – you betcha! With both establishments owned by the formidable duo, Ken and Lisa Sharpe, this is a combination that is an absolute winner for guests who want a rest, fresh air, a comfortable bed, a few little bevvies and the best food I think I have ever had… Sure, you can even bring your pooch for a stay!
We cut loose from our little toddler for the evening to enjoy a real date night (the first in almost two years… We felt liberated and a bit guilty, but mostly liberated!)
The Salty Dog was our first stop. Even the look of the old Victorian building from the outside got me a little bit giddy. Sitting right on Bangor’s Marina with views that span over Belfast Lough, the Irish Sea, and even Scotland – when the clouds allow. There is something about an old building that makes me feel at home. The quirky lumps and bumps, the nooks and crannies and the proper old school jaunty character that spills out from the odd creaky floor board. If I were a building, I think I’d be the Salty Dog – a little bit kooky, with a few little uneven bits here and there that come with maturity. My husband would agree, he said the stairs reminded him of me… “going off in all sorts of directions and hard work”… But he’s a slabber and name me one Victorian who had an elevator? Enough said!
I loved everything about the Salty dog! I love how Ken and Lisa have respected what she is – a real Victorian lady. They have not dragged this brilliantly idiosyncratic old building kicking and screaming into an era of high gloss and chrome where she neither belongs nor wants to be. The heart and soul of The Salty Dog remains as it should be, historic and a little bohemian, but she is clean, well-kept and modern enough to give the best of both worlds. There’s nothing that makes a place feel alluring than to step inside after a blustery seaside dander, to order a hot toddy from the bar and slouch down in the heat to watch other visitors chatting warmly amongst each other with their dogs lying at their feet. Dog’s are more than welcomed here – they’re practically VIP’s – they get their own little treats in the rooms and water on tap in the bar. An added bonus for guests who would rather bring their best friend along on their travels.
The Salty Dog is a one of a kind, accept no imitations sort of place and in the perfect location. Bangor Marina is not only a great vision to wake up to, but it’s also a few steps away into the main hub of the seaside town. Shops, restaurants and an abundance of bars and nightlife are right there, waiting to be explored. What is of course, most ideally situated for my idea of the perfect evening out, is The Boat House! This little gem was acquired by Ken and Lisa in 2016 and it couldn’t be a better sister to The Salty Dog if it had of been purpose built to be. It wasn’t of course. The Boat House Dining is literally an old converted boat house that sits just across the road from The Salty Dog – a handy little wobble back to bed after an evening of fine wining and dining!
Our table reservation at The Boat House was for 8pm – We immediately felt quite rebellious; having a toddler who likes to wake up at 6am, we were already approaching our bed time… But the evening had just begun! Who would have thought that this tiny little building would be an Aladdin’s cave of treasures! The dining area is downstairs, where the boats would have originally slept between their sea fairing escapades. It’s amazing how a space with such a labour intensive history can be transformed into somewhere so elegant and refined. The original rustic stone walls are white washed, strewn with beautiful lights and white linen tables. Welcoming us to possibly the best dining experience we have ever enjoyed, was the master of theatre for the evening, Front of House Manager, Jonathan Quinn.
There are no flies on Jonathan! He knows what he’s doing alright! We felt like royalty. We were treated to the five course tasting menu (with a sneaky couple extra thrown in), complete with wine pairings. I’m a bit of a foodie and have been known to critique the most accomplished contestants on Professional Master Chef from the confines of my sofa, but this food, was off the charts phenomenal! When you read ‘Chocolate Pave, Salted Caramel and Jerusalem Artichoke Ice Cream’ on the menu, you know you’re in the presence of a confident culinary genius and you just better go with it! We went with it. Not one dish disappointed – really, not one! Not even the weirder ones! With the presentation of each dish, arrived Jonathan, armed and ready with the perfect wine pairing to marry all of the flavours together. We were treated to a little explanation of each wine, from it’s origin and even a little piece of history. A different wine with each course, and there were a lot of courses! By the time we had got half way through, I was feeling quite the connoisseur!
What was so exceptional about the evening, was how it all came together in such a way, that we didn’t just ‘go out for a meal’ – we had been fully entertained. I have already stressed that the food was remarkable, beautifully presented and unique, but the addition of the wine pairing experience brought the meal to life. Jonathan was knowledgable and charismatic, he brought the theatre to the table with each bottle. This was a night out in itself. I have been on many a fine evening where we would sit down at a meal and then rush off for a show or drinks elsewhere, this was a one stop venue of indulgence. The aim here is to create an almost personalised service for diners, if there’s something you don’t fancy, you don’t have it – your food tastes are carefully prepared for, and if you don’t like a wine, no problem, there is always an alternative on hand to please (not a problem I encountered I have to confess).
I had to know who was behind my evening of flamboyant fare. I asked if it would be possible to meet the chef. Of course, my request was met; at The Boat House I feel I could have asked for pretty much anything and they would bend over backwards to accommodate. I was delighted to shake hands with Andy Scollick, our young, vibrant and exceptionally talented Head Chef. Andy’s love for local produce shone through every course and his experimental touch was exactly on the right side of ‘a little bit cheeky’. I think we will all come to know this young fella’s name in years to come.
Our evening came to a close with full bellies, a giggly head and a quick hop back over the road to our wonderfully eccentric lodgings, comfy bed and a long lie in before a belly buster fry in the morning (not for me – I could only manage half an omelette, but my husband has more stomachs than a bovine and he said it was “lush”!)
For me, this was the perfect weekend escape. What more can a person ask for than fresh air, beautiful County Down coast line, a stylishly edgy Victorian hotel (with the option to bring your dog, don’t forget the dog!) and a mere few steps to The Boat House for a meal that isn’t just a meal – it’s a performance on a plate and it will have you talking about it forever! Bravo!