“Do you fancy going to the Europa for dinner?”
As a lad growing up in Northern Ireland, I reckoned the Europa Hotel was for the high-flyers, the celebrities, professionals and those with a few quid more than myself.
My girlfriend’s reply acknowledged our belief that we probably wouldn’t fit in. Off to review the food, we weren’t so sure we’d feel at home. Wouldn’t it be awfully posh?
“Ah Mr Hanna.” I panicked. We’d been found out and were sure to be booted out the door.
But no, we were warmly greeted by Richard Adams, the Causerie Restaurant manager - charming and funny, he was a perfect charicature of all that is loved about us Northern Irish males. He did much to ease those juvenile reservations.
Determined not to be won over by the special attention I knew I could expect as a critic, I resolved to let the food give me the real flavour of what the Causerie has to offer.
Perpetually indecisive, we indulged in our deliberations over the menu - and we had plenty to choose from. A sucker for home-made food, I was impressed by the dishes laden with local produce.
No sooner had we decided than our starters arrived. My chicken liver pâté was smooth but delivered a kick, perfectly complimented by the spiced pear chutney.
I’m a massive pâté fan - and I don’t understand anyone who isn’t. But this was something that little bit special.
If it wouldn’t have been so socially unacceptable, I’d have ordered another round, complete with crisy toasted soda bread, for my main course. But I decided I would only be selling the reader short.
A 10oz sirloin then (why not?). Just a smidgen over-cooked for me but tender as you like, it went down a treat with the pepper sauce. The Causeway chips were packed with fluffy potato (along with a different but delightful tang) and the crispy onion ring oozed flavour.
It didn’t get quite as big a thumbs up as the pâté, but then I’m a bit of a pâté connoisseur so that was entirely expected.
One glance at the dessert menu and I was eyeing up the cocolate torte. A sucker for anything made from cocoa, it was my natural choice.
Helpful as ever though, Richard made sure we didn’t miss the real gem of the third course. Glastry Farm Ice-Cream is, in my tuppence-worth, perhaps Kircubbin’s greatest export.
I was easily swayed to the ice-cream ‘slider’ and it was a recommendation I did well to follow. Perhaps a little more expensive than you’d expect for ice-cream but then this was nothing normal.
The mixture of honeycomb and chocolate was natural and even the adventurous lavender and raspberry slotted in superbly. I perhaps wouldn’t go for the latter on its own, but a little along with the vanilla sponge and berry compote was different and charming.
All in all, the food was of the highest quality and the pricing? A lot more reasonable than I ever imagined in my youthful conception of grandeur.
My three courses came to £38, not as much as I’d expect to pay for grub of such a high standard.
Surprised at how easy two ragamuffins slotted in to one of Northern Ireland’s premier hotels, we’ll certainly be back.