Eating Out: No dozers in Sleepy Hollow
13 Kiln Road
028 9083 8672
SLEEPY Hollow should be the most idyllic of names for a restaurant, conjuring images of a quaint eatery nestled in an undiscovered part of rolling countryside. Unfortunately following the 1999 Tim Burton horror film of the same name, it is now forever associated with headless horsemen and the "tree of the dead".
Not a great omen then, when driving along a deserted country road on a dark autumn night, a sign in flowing cursive script sends you up a dark lane way, under a Gothic arch of trees.
Of course, it was all in my own over-active imagination and in daylight I suspect even my febrile mind would find it hard to see anything other than the charming hideaway that its name suggests.
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Belfast – it's a mere 15 minute drive from the city – the restaurant is a long stone building like a barn conversion, with a small adjacent farm shop that is open during the day.
The dining room, with exposed brick and wood, is old-school rustic and deceptively cosy, comfortably seating large parties, but great acoustics avoid other tables' conversations becoming intrusive.
Sleepy Hollow promises "a new individual style of modern Irish food", with "innovative techniques" for classic dishes, with a seasonal menu of locally sourced food including starters of Beetroot and Five Mile Town Goats Cheesecake and 'Crab, Tea and Toast'.
My companion ordered Pan-seared King Scallop, and Hillstown 'Horney Bull' Stout Braised Rib of Beef – slightly disconcerting to ask for, but it sounded dark and delicious. It was.
Plump scallop oozing with flavour and juices topping off a rich, dark succulent beef rib and juice that was not too thick to overpower the mollusc's delicate flavour.
These delights were served on a bed of creamy risotto that truly nailed the seasonal by using comforting barley rather than rice, a wholesome and tasty twist on the traditional as the autumn evening winds brought a nip to the air and a craving for warming harvest nosh.
I chose Wild Partridge and Parma Ham. The plump bird was rolled in the finest slivers of ham, with neither flavour subsuming the other and each offset by a smooth Jerusalem Artichoke purée and rich Madeira sauce.
My companion decided to continue the beef and fish theme for main course, with a good serving of that 1990s favourite, surf and turf.
The Sleepy Hollow version was a chunky helping of soft and seared monkfish with braised beef brisket complemented with a smoked pomme puree, pickled shallot onion chutney and parsley oil. It was divine and for those used to Belfast prices the £14.95 price tag was reason enough to hot-foot it up the spooky lane.
The dish even came with a quiff of creamy mash so no sides necessary – although they too were interesting enough to tempt an order.
I, on the other hand could not leave without ordering the Wild Game Hamper. If it strolled across a meadow it was on the plate. A huge hunk of venison meatloaf was the centrepiece, but the dainty partridge pastille – shredded dark meat encased in a delicate pastry lattice – and cocktail-sized rabbit sausage roll made the dish.
It was glorious, but the best thing about it was the small accompanying hamper containing the 'accompaniments' – the chef is clearly a wit.
Despite the fine dining aspect of the food, the staff are refreshingly unpretentious, a waitress shrugging helplessly when I asked what was in the hip flask placed intriguingly in the hamper (it was the warm Madeira sauce).
Yes, my choices were exclusively game, but it feels like that time of year. There also lemon sole, roast chicken crown, rare breed pork and rib-eye beef on the menu.
Sleepy Hollow has a wonderful pudding policy. All desserts are served as miniatures so even when stuffed to the gills, the diner can avail of something sweet and tasty after all those savoury flavours. Two miniature desserts are very reasonably priced at £4.75 and three are £6.75.
The Chocolate, Cherry and Almond Torte was mercifully light on top and chewy at the base so had a nice amount of eating despite it's miniature form.
And to misquote Dervla Kirwan, it wasn't just Bread and Butter Pudding, it was spiced cranberry and apricot brioche with clotted cream. Mmmm...
The only scary thing about Sleepy Hollow is how easy it would be to miss this superb little restaurant off the beaten path.
Two starters, two main courses, two mini desserts and two coffees – £60.50