Life

Eating Out: Dawson's is poetry on a plate, even if it's nowhere near Carrickfergus

Dawson's in Main Street, Castledawson, Co Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Dominic Kearney

Dawson’s

43 Main Street

Castledawson

028 7946 8767

I WAS in Carrickfergus all day, attending a poetry reading. Why is it that a statement designed to make me sound deep and sensitive comes across more like I’m providing an alibi?

Although, if I’m being honest, it’s not actually true. My wife was attending a poetry reading. I was assigned to monitoring our three-year-old daughter. I’d packed a bag full of pencils, felt-tip pens and colouring pads, fully intending to spend the time sitting in a café reading the paper and drinking coffee, while she ate ice cream and coloured in the table top.

As it transpired, I spent an hour and a half in a pirate play park being beaten into submission by the wind whipping along Belfast Lough, while my daughter ignored my desperate pleas for her to put her coat and hat on. When my wife finally emerged, I told her she – poetry joke alert – ode me one.

Things were about to get – this is the last one, I promise – verse. Or so I thought, anyway. There was a restaurant I’d been keen to try near Carrickfergus. Being an idiot, and assuming we’d have no problem getting a table at 5pm on a Saturday evening, I hadn’t booked. Of course, I was wrong. The place was full.

Frostbitten and foodless, I was just on the point of sobbing when my wife suggested we give Dawson’s a ring. She’d heard good things about it, and it was pretty much on the road between Carrickfergus and Derry. Reluctantly, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and we headed there.

Dawson’s is a bright, modern restaurant, unfussy and stylish, and obviously has a good reputation in the area as it was buzzing with life the whole time we were there. Judging by the plates being taken past our table, it was clear that the steaks were the big draw.

We gave them a miss, though, as other things looked so much more interesting. We only had time for two courses; unusually for us, we chose to have starters rather than puddings.

I opted for the scallops and roast pork belly. Although the layer of skin on the pork was a bit too soft and fatty, the meat itself was tender and full of flavour, and went perfectly with the sweetness of the nicely caramelised scallops. The toffee apple butter gave the whole dish an extra dimension, really drawing out the tastes of the main ingredients.

The goat cheese, beetroot, and apple dish contained no surprises, but was a surefire winner, nevertheless, a lovely blend of creamy, sweet, and sharp. There was no need for the wheaten bread, though, as the texture was a touch too heavy for the rest of the dish.

For mains, my wife chose the fish pie (an early bird bargain along with the goat cheese starter). No mushy peas came with it, despite what the menu said, but I don’t feel this was much of a loss, as they might have made the whole thing a bit too sloppy. The pie itself was absolutely gorgeous. Beneath the crisp and then buttery potato topping was a rich, thick sauce full of chunks of perfectly cooked fish, all held together by a nicely controlled melting of cheddar. My only complaint would be the ratio of topping to filling was too much in the potato’s favour.

No complaints about the sea bass, however. This was terrific. Crisp skin over beautifully cooked, soft, delicate flakes of fish, sitting in a subtle sauce, with the slight sharpness of wholegrain mustard and sweet garlic mussels, alongside creamy mash and a crunchy, salty ribbon of seaweed. This dish had the lot.

So, while the day hadn’t gone the way I’d envisaged, I’m so glad it didn’t, because we had the loveliest time there. The food was delicious, and the service, with special mention to Martina, was fantastic – not just efficient and knowledgeable, but genuine and considerate, too. I can’t wait for another Carrickfergus poetry reading.

THE BILL

Fivemiletown goat cheese, pickled beetroot and apple salad, candied walnuts, wheaten bread £3.50

Pan-fried Kilkeel scallops, roast pork belly, savoy cabbage, toffee apple butter £8.95

Fish pie – smoked haddock, cod, and salmon, cheddar mash £11.45

Pan-fried sea bass, garlic mussels, champ, wholegrain mustard, seaweed £16.95

Children’s braised beef and champ £5.50

Onion rings £3.50

Seasonal vegetables £3.50

Glass, Curious Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc £4.75

Total: £58.10

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