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Review: Bistro Nights Whitehead NI Tasting Menu

August 6, 2017 Laura Caldwell 0 Comments

Growing up in Islandmagee means I’ve spent a fair chunk of my life in Whitehead’s Coastal Coffee, especially back when the building housed a VHS rental shop (yes, there was a time before Netflix), but as we enter the familiar surroundings of the cafe, I was surprised to see the room transformed into an intimate bistro with white linen table cloths, fairy lights and seating for around 35 hungry diners. The usual trappings of Coastal Coffee‘s day job such as the ice-cream counter and slushy machine are still visible, however, great lengths have been taken to make these fade into the background for Bistro Nights Whitehead’s pop-up evening.

Coastal Coffee

I’ve heard great things about Bistro Nights Whitehead, but as they say, “the proof is in the pudding”, and in this case, it’s in both the puddings and the 6 courses that preceded them. Part of Whitehead’s Food and Folk Fest, chef Joni Lutzman offered up 8 courses of the best of NI ingredients at this pop-up restaurant, each dish providing another little insight into the gorgeous produce that we have in Northern Ireland. 

A smoked mackerel salad with a lemon vinaigrette started the evening off nicely. Not a meal I would ever order for myself (or to be honest, even look forward to), I was pleasantly surprised by the freshness of the salad, the meatiness of the mackerel and the sweet tartness of the orange segments scattered throughout. 

After the salad came ham-hock terrine with pickled vegetables – yet another dish I was nervous about trying – but after the first bite, all worries were dispersed. The delicate saltiness of the ham-hock was complimented well by the pickled veg on the side, and like the starter before, this was another dish I was happy I tried. Traditional vegetable broth served with warm rye wheaten bread was to follow, the first warm dish of the evening and another success. Full of flavour, no extra seasoning was required and the warm wheaten bread added a welcome sweetness and a nod to the hearty dishes of a Northern Irish youth.

Gamebird bon bons with a chive sour cream brought a bit of crunch to the menu, and the black pudding topped with scallops was an inspired way to showcase some amazing local ingredients. Now, believe me when I say that each and every course of this tasting menu was exquisite, but the true star of the whole show was the pressed beef brisket served on a ‘Yorkshire bed’ with a blackberry reduction gravy, baby roasties and potato scallion puree. The brisket melted in your mouth, the Yorkshire pudding was fluffy and that blackberry gravy had a depth of flavour unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. 

For dessert, the final two courses were a Bushmills flavoured jelly served with a ‘wee apple pie’ and cinnamon cream. The perfect way to end this menu, the apple pie was warm, hearty and comforting without being stodgy, and the jelly was a nice touch.

This whole review may sound overly gushy, and positive, but I genuinely couldn’t find fault with any aspect of this menu, and the standard of cooking here is what you would expect from the likes of James Street South or Deanes. There’s no pretence, no arrogance, and no unnecessary frills here, just good, honest cooking that maintains the integrity of the ingredients and showcases them in the best way possible. The fact that these humble little bistro nights are just down the road in Whitehead of all places, is just the icing on the proverbial cake. 

To keep up to date with any future events by Bistro Nights Whitehead, follow them on Facebook here.

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