Friendly flavours at Amici in Portstewart
The Old Clubhouse,
I HAVE many happy childhood memories of daytrips from Liverpool to Southport and, when we fancied going abroad, holidays in Llandudno and the Isle of Man.
So perhaps it's no wonder then that I have liked Portstewart from the very first time I went there.
I love these places. I love the haughty but ever-so-slightly jaded old buildings. I love the optimism of the shops selling buckets and spades and suncream. I love the determination of families to get outside and have a good time, despite the borderline gales and the knifing rain.
I was thinking of all this when the three of us went to Portstewart the other Sunday to meet a couple of friends and have lunch. The sky was grey and low and the Atlantic was pummelling the seafront, but still everyone was smiling as they were blown off the pavement and into the cafes whether they wanted to go in or not.
Amici sits above the sea alongside Portstewart Golf Club. It was empty when we arrived, but the welcome was friendly and the atmosphere warm, with no sign of a slow start to proceedings.
After the initial hellos, how-are-yous and isn't-it-freezing-out-theres, we finally got around to having a look at the menu – crowded with antipasta, pizzas, sharing planks and pastas.
The starters were all excellent. The arancini were lovely balls of well-cooked rice and mild mozzarella inside a crunchy case. The bruschetta was sweet and sharp with tomato and balsamic and the bread had a good, grown-up charcoal flavour.
Both prawn dishes were lovely. The sauce which came with the gamberone pil pil had everyone grabbing chunks of bread to dip in and savour, while the salt and chilli prawns – meaty in a nicely thin batter – had a slow-burning heat that kicked in just as you thought they were too mild.
The traditionalist in the party chose the roast chicken for his main: smooth mash, plenty of tender meat and roasties pretty much the way you'd want'em, this was a nice enough dish, but I'd suggest sticking to the Italian dishes on the menu, as the rest of us did.
The two specials – the chicken breast and the peppered fillet – were just that. The chicken was topped with a Gorgonzola that gave the tender meat a richness and combined well with the salty bacon and the crunch of the cabbage. The strips of beef were cooked well and were lifted by the sweetness of the onion and the creamy sauce.
The pork belly had a properly crisp layer of crackling sitting on top of soft and melting meat. The pancetta and chorizo gave a good spiciness and the tomato sauce provided a sweet background.
The apples weren't caramelised, however. They were simply placed uncooked into the mix and, as such, were too sharp.
While the carbonara was good, there was an added ingredient which none of us could identify (and which we were told was the chef's secret) and this was a touch too strong and bold for my liking.
The puddings are a real throwback to the 1970s – perhaps in tribute to the restaurant's neighbour, the Old Course. Presented on shelves in a refrigerated glass case near the bar, they feature such things as pavlova and black cherry cake.
I thought they were delicious: just because some food is out of fashion doesn't mean it isn't good. While I wasn't fussed about the ice cream, the roulade was lovely and chocolatey with generous amounts of cream, and the tiramisu packed a wake-up hit of coffee.
The restaurant was full when we left, mainly of big family groups with three, maybe four generations present. I imagine they were regulars, and I can see why such groups would keep going back.
The food is good, the place is fun, there's something for everyone, and the service smiles: Amici is well-named.
:: The bill
Gamberone pil pil x 2 – £16.00
Salt and chilli prawns – £7.00
Arancini – £5.00
Bruschetta – £4.00
Roast chicken – £12.00
Slow cooked pork belly – £14.00
Grilled chicken breast – £12.00
Peppered fillet of beef – £12.00
Spaghetti carbonara – £9.00
Chocolate and raspberry roulade – £4.50
Tiramisu – £4.50
Morelli's ice cream – £3.00
Coffee x 3 – £7.50
Tea – £2.00