Eating Out: Holohan's at The Barge a dining experience that floats my boat
Holohan’s at the Barge
028 9023 5973
WE DON’T get over to Belfast nearly as often as I’d like, so, when my in-laws said they were off to Menorca for a week, and suggested we use their house in Ballyhackamore, we were determined to make the most of it. (I say suggested. It might be more accurate to say made the mistake of telling us whereabouts in the front garden they hide the door key. Semantics, though, eh?)
Of course, the problem with this kind of niche airbnb – OK, squatting – is that it’s vital to leave no trace of your presence. Photograph each room so all furniture can be put back in exactly the right position, top up the single malt with cold tea, and eat out to avoid those telltale cooking smells.
Which is why the three of us, plus toddler, found ourselves climbing aboard the good ship Holohan’s at the Barge for lunch after a morning’s shopping. I think I was expecting something a bit grander, but it doesn’t look much from the outside, to be honest, and they’ve not gone overboard on the inside, either: it’s plain, clean, functional, nothing fancy.
We were there during the day, of course. I imagine at night it would look and feel completely different, with its lights glowing on the water and a view across the river of the cars criss-crossing Queen’s Bridge and the lives being lived in the flats on the far bank of the Lagan.
What we wanted to see most of all, though, mind, was the menu. And what jumped out from this brief and tempting list of dishes were the two species of boxty on offer – the traditional, and the Fermanagh.
I’d like to think that in some parallel universe, there’s a civil conflict on the island between supporters of these two types of boxty, like the Tayto Wars that will inevitably follow a border poll. If that were the case, I’d be swapping sides like a good’un, because I thought both were fabulous.
First up, the traditional. This was a clever bit of cooking – a beautiful, slim potato disc that was griddled just enough to give a crisp texture to one side while leaving the other side soft, ready to absorb the filling of beautifully cooked fish – sweet, firm prawns, salty cod, and delicate salmon, smothered in a white wine sauce that was just sharp and acidic enough to lift the dish.
The Fermanagh boxty consisted of potato dumplings, shaped and then gently fried, so the sweet, yielding filling was wrapped in a thin, contrasting crust. These dumplings sat on a creamy sauce full of wild mushrooms, with a hint of blue cheese which gave a saltiness and depth.
Outside, the air was biting and the cold sun had given way to rain-heavy clouds, but here was food to suit the season. It was hearty and comforting, but simultaneously smart and sophisticated, too.
The fish and chips didn’t quite hit the same heights, as the batter was a little soft, but the fish flaked perfectly, the mushy peas were sweet, and the chips, cooked in their skins, were just right. By the way, the vivid vegetable side of broccoli, kale, and green beans was delicious, too.
There was more than a touch of Autumn in the puddings. The apple and blackberry filling was sweet and warming and sharp, with a crisp, crunchy, crumbled topping given an added dimension by the whole hazelnuts. I think vanilla ice cream would have been better than salted caramel, though, to give more freshness to the dish.
The sticky Guinness pudding was faultless, however. Soft sponge, with a touch of bitterness, and a sauce of just the right sweetness and consistency.
A restaurant on a barge could be seen as a bit of a gimmick, the setting being enough of a draw without having to bother too much about the heart of the business. That is certainly not the case here. The food is something special. With any luck, the in-laws will be going to Menorca again soon.
Fermanagh boxty £9.50
Boxty with cod, prawn, and salmon, in white wine sauce £10
Fish and chips £9.50
Sides (Chips, Garden vegetables), at £3.50
Apple and blackberry crumble, hazelnuts, salted caramel ice cream £6
Sticky Guinness pudding, toffee sauce, vanilla ice cream £6
Bottle, Sauvignon Blanc £25