Dinner by James Martin – Barnaby’s, Ballyclare
“There’s no business like show business”. A turn of phrase we’ve all heard a thousand times. A phrase so often echoed with great pride and conviction from within the home of show business itself, Hollywood. The town where dreams are made into reality and anything is a possibility. Its famous studios have produced countless iconic scenes down through the years that will forever play in the hearts and minds of the viewing public. These studios strive to achieve perfection in the hope of thrilling audiences, which in turn will generate revenue and if truly successful be rewarded with the ultimate goal, the most sought after prize of all – an Academy Award and its famous statuette, The Oscar.
The Oscars have been in existence since the 1920’s and are to this day still considered the highest accolade within the world of feature film. The ceremony itself is a truly lavish affair, a gala red carpet event that is beamed to audiences in over 200 countries world wide. The red carpet at the Oscars has become almost as important as the event itself. It’s considered to be the industry’s black tie event of the year with famous A list stars showing off their individual style and dress sense to their adoring fans. Designers compete with each other to have their work paraded by these stars as they know should it be well received it could change the face of fashion and paparazzi snaps of their masterpieces will be seen in newspapers and websites the world over. In taking fashion to the very extreme, during the 1998 event actress Gloria Stewart, star of hit movie ‘The Titanic’, sported a 15 carrot blue diamond necklace reportedly worth a staggering $20million dollars. It is clearly quite the occasion.
Just last week The Restaurant Pimp found himself at a black tie event of his own. However there was no jewellery on show and the threads were rented rather than designer. It was however an evening to celebrate the culinary offerings from a star of the small screen and an A list of the UK food scene. The paparazzi were also given the night off on this occasion and the only pictures being taken were by yours truly and they were centred on the delights on the plate. On this evening my endless food tour had taken me and my rented tuxedo to the much anticipated ‘Dinner by James Martin at Barnaby’s, Ballyclare.’
Arriving at Barnaby’s I was excited to see that there was in fact an actual red carpet laid out for guests. As I walked up the cushioned flooring I was even more excited to see a donkey stood at the entrance to the venue – don’t worry it hadn’t escaped from a nearby farmers field, it was to raise awareness of the chosen charity for the event, ‘The Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children & Donkeys’. The trust is a locally based charity in Ballymartin and it is dedicated to providing riding therapy with donkeys to children with special needs and disabilities. The sight of a fully mature donkey at the entrance to a gala dinner certainly gave guests a good chuckle and set the evening up with a smile firmly on my face.
We were directed to the function room up stairs at Barnaby’s to be met by two smiling waitresses (Perhaps they had also seen the donkey on the way into work) who handed my suited companion for the evening John from FoodBelfast and I a glass of bubbles each. As we mingled with other well dressed guests it allowed me to have a look around our dining room for the evening. The place had been laid out in spectacular fashion, with a black and gold theme running throughout this well lit space complete with a light sparkling dance floor and stage. The room was centred by a good sized bar and for an upstairs function room the high sloping roof allowed a great sense of space. The round tables were laid out in seats of ten and they looked fantastic. They had intricately designed charcoal grey and black swirled table cloths, topped with gold napkins, gleaming cutlery and wine glasses. The focal point on each table was a large thin golden stem with extravagant black feathers shooting from the top. The chairs were covered in a dark fabric and tied with a golden bow to the back, each table identical. The room had been used as a demonstration area for James Martin the day before, so hats off to the team at Barnaby’s for the quick transformation, it looked every bit fitting of a gala dinner and I was very impressed. Comfortably seated the compere for the evening made us laugh with his full repertoire of jokes, informed us about the evenings chosen charity, introduced the star Chef himself leaving diners full of anticipation for the feast which lay ahead.
Our gala dinner began in all its glory with the arrival of our 1st course and starter of ‘Cured Salmon with Deep Fried, Soft Boiled Crossgar Free Range Hens Egg and Red wine Shallot Puree’. The dish came presented on a round plate with a deep orange herb encrusted salmon covered in a bed of salad leaves and a golden deep fried hen’s egg nestled on top. It was an attractive dish to the eyes with drizzles of the puree surrounding the salmon and egg stack. I broke through the deep fried egg and it had been cooked to perfection, runny and gooey in the middle but it still had excellent crunch on its coating. The salmon was packed with flavour, the herbs giving the fish a slight hint of pepper which was met really well with the sweet red wine and shallot puree. This was a fine starter and the skill involved with boiling, coating and finally deep frying eggs for a function of over 100 people is very impressive.
The main event of the evening and our 2nd course was ‘Trio of Lissara Farm Crossgar Free Range Corn fed Duck with Pickled Summer Cherries and Buttered Spinach’. The dish was again served on a round plate and it looked delightful. The dish had been perfectly assembled with sliced duck breast positioned over pickled cherries, a duck leg sat high on a bed of mash giving the dish a good sense of height of the plate with a small rectangle pate of confit shoulder and butter spinach positioned to the front and back respectively. The duck structure was surrounded by deep brown roasting jus and smelt amazing (It is the main picture used on the website homepage). The Lissara duck is one of Ireland’s finest culinary products and the breast on this dish was pink and cooked to perfection. It was incredibly succulent and worked fantastically, as duck always does, with the sweet cherries, creamy mash and rich roasting jus – quite delicious. Had this been the complete dish I would have left a happy man and singing Mr Martin’s praises that he could master such delicate flavours for such a large function. However I along with the rest of the table were disappointed with the seasoning in the pate, it was incredibly salty on its own and when mixed with other elements on the plate it was too over powering. Unfortunately the same was also said of the duck leg, without the balance of the cherries which had been so greatly enjoyed with the delicious breast, it packed a pretty powerful salt punch. All in all it was a main of two tales, beautifully presented with some truly outstanding elements and spoiled in parts with some unforgivable seasoning – however the star of the show was undoubtedly, as it always should be the delicious Lissara duck, in the right hands it truly delivers outstanding flavour.
The Lissara farm free range duck is reared and produced right here in Northern Ireland, in Crossgar Co Down. It is in my opinion one of the finest local culinary products we have and I know having discussed food at length with some of our finest chefs, they champion the product as being not only local, but in terms of flavour, as good as it gets. The duck is part of the Crossgar Food Service – ‘Provenance Collection’, which also includes the famous Dexter Beef, a delight you will have seen on many of our top restaurant’s menus. The simple fact that we are blessed with such fine world class produce in Northern Ireland is testament to the hard work of the local farmers and producers, so I was a happy man to see the Lissara duck taking pride of place at such a lavish affair and not one bit surprised to hear that James Martin is championing the produce on the UK mainland and using it in his own restaurant. If you are out and about in the coming months and you see Lissara duck on the menu, order it and get a feel for its delights yourself – it really is outstanding.
So finally on to our 3rd course dessert and the area of expertise which has made James Martin a household name. Expectation levels were pretty high when the menu read ‘White Chocolate and Whiskey Croissant Butter Pudding with Single Malt Ice Cream’. The dessert came served on a white plate and in terms of presentation, it was at best sloppy, in truth quite amateurish looking. The croissant pudding heaped on one side of the plate with a scoop of ice cream sat on some burnt sugar on the other. This was by no means a feast for the eyes and left most diners feeling slightly underwhelmed. In fairness the pudding tasted great, it had a nice crunch on the surface and the sweet white chocolate custard melted in the mouth. As for the whiskey ice cream – a thirsty sailor back at port after a 6 month trawl would have spat out this offering, it was pungent, had I been stopped by an officer of the law on the way home I may well have had some serious explaining to do. As it stood I left the whiskey ice cream where it belonged, melting on the plate and settled happily with the tarted up version of a well flavoured bread & butter pudding. Not the worst ending to a meal I’ve ever experienced, but if the truth be told I expected so much more.
The service throughout the evening at Barnaby’s was top drawer, the staff dressed professionally in simple black shirts and lime green ties and they were always friendly and attentive – which can sometimes be lacking in a function environment. I liked the feel and vibe of Barnaby’s and since my visit I’ve heard lots of great feedback about their own kitchen and offerings, so I do plan to go back and sample it first hand for myself in the near future. The fine produce from the experts down at Crossgar was the lasting impression I took away from the evening and the Lissara duck breast with those pickled cherries was worth the journey to Ballyclare alone. As for James Martin and his offerings, its no easy task to serve over 100 people and the 3 courses detailed above highlight some of those difficulties. None the less the evening as a whole was a success as it raised lots of money for a much deserving charity – it also allowed me a small, perhaps even minute insight into how the stars feel attending the Oscars and it felt great!
Would I Pimp this Restaurant???
I really liked Barnaby’s and I will definitely be back to sample the offerings from their own kitchen very soon.