Eating Out: Chef Tom Kitchin's just bitchin at Balloo House
Balloo House: Comber Road, Killinchy 028 9754 1210
I'M A glass half full type of girl, preferably half full of Sauvignon Blanc, but at all times I like to look on the bright side of life. I'm a great believer in 'Good things happen to positive people'; it's a pretty good philosophy and has more or less always borne fruit.
And so on a beautiful early spring evening while I should have been sitting down with a baked potato and a Sky remote I was instead having my dinner prepared for me by a Michelin-starred chef.
Tom Kitchin and his wife Michaela opened their Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin in 2006 and were awarded a star a year later.
And while if I'd the money and time I would be on the first boat to Scotland to eat at the couple's Leith waterfront restaurant, on this occasion there was no need.
For if Allison can't go to the chef, the chef will come to Allison. Well not exactly – the chef came to the very beautiful Balloo House in Killinchy and so I went there, a sort of meeting-half-way type thing.
The Four Seasons at Balloo House will see four of the top chefs on the circuit create a bespoke tasting menu of fabulousness for adoring foodies in this Northern Ireland Year of Food.
Balloo House head chef Danny Miller has made good use of his contacts acquired during his time on Great British Menu to rope in some seriously big names in the culinary world.
In May Glynn Purnell will be in the Balloo kitchen, Nigel Hawthorn in August and Stephen Terry in November.
Nibbling on an amuse bouche of Young Buck blue cheese dip and rye breads in the upstairs dining room of Balloo, I was pretty chuffed with how the night was panning out when my fish course, the 'Shellfish Rockpool' arrived. This was a bowl full of Strangford Lough shellfish with sea vegetables and a shellfish bouillon.
The bouillon was poured theatrically over my bowl of shellfish, which had been beautifully arranged. There was crab, light and lemony, razor clams, a plump scallop in its shell, clams mussels and, just because this was fine dining, an oyster, which I saved until the end as a wee treat to myself.
It was served with a glass of Sartarelli Verdicchio which I couldn't have because I was driving but was assured was well matched.
Next up came a dish that potentially could divide opinion: pig's head and langoustine. I've had pig cheek before in Ox and, no offence intended to their very fine chef, but this was far superior. Slow cooked for over eight hours, it was shredded and then rolled, served with roasted langoustine pulled straight out the lough that morning.
I know they were fresh that morning because I was seated next to the very beautiful Michaela Kitchin who had been out on the water with the fisherman.
The dish was salty from the pig, the langoustine soft and buttery, the little salad accompaniment sharp; you can see why these boys are cooking at the level they are.
Just as I was thinking this was shaping up to be one of my top 10 meals of all time, the stand-out dish of the night arrived.
Roe deer, dry aged fillet from the Finnebrogue estate, with root and roasted veg and a juniper berry sauce. The meat, a rich burgundy colour, seared on the outside, perfectly rare as it should be, was pure quality.
It came with a rich layered potato dish, a little chefy splodge of root mash, sharp rhubarb, a beetroot puree and tiny little roasted baby sprouts.
While I feel this is getting a little boasty it wasn't over yet and the dessert when it arrived was a work of art.
A yoghurt panna cotta with sea buckthorn, the panna cotta was milky white with a reassuring wobble, striped with a sea buckthorn jelly; there was tarte Granny Smith sorbet on top with little carmelised apple balls scattered around the plate and sea buckthorn consumme, which was really just a sweet soup.
I've no idea what Sea Buckthorn is, but it was citrusy and sharp, yet sweet at the same time and a perfect chum for the panna cotta.
My only complaint, if I were to really look for a negative is that while my glass was, as always, half full, it was half full of sparkling water rather than wine.
A small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.
Five-course tasting menu with matching wine £110.