1 Comber Road
028 9754 1210
WHERE can you go when you begin a meal with – officially – Ireland’s best food? The Millbay oyster, farmed in Carlingford Lough, is the reigning Supreme Champion at Blas na hEireann, the Irish Food Awards, and Overwood is the only restaurant in the north where you’ll get one.
They’re superb. Huge, chewable, slurpable tastes of the sea, one with buttermilk and dill oil, the other completely naked. And they’re just the beginning. They’re followed by a spectacular dinner.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Danni Barry, who won a Michelin Star for Michael Deane’s Eipic before helping to create a genuine destination restaurant at Clenaghans near Moira, was installed as executive head chef at Balloo House outside Killinchy ahead of a £200,000 refurbishment of the upstairs restaurant.
The result is Overwood, with lots of leather, dark wood, soothing navy tones and just enough tastefully exposed stonework to remind you you’re in the Irish countryside. It’s classy casual, aiming for grown-up but not stuffy, an aim that stays true when it comes to the food.
The reason it’s called Overwood hits your nostrils before you reach the top of the stairs. Flames greet you when you enter, and there’s another fire out on the covered terrace where you perv over the menu, maybe with one of the bang-on cocktails.
Central to things is the Kopa grill, a wood and charcoal fired contraption that, we’re told by one of the ever-pleasant, chatty and knowledgeable staff, performs all sorts of sorcery on your dinner. Very basically, it’s very hot. And in the hands of Barry and her team it really does weave some magic.
It’s magic at a cost. Even the cheapest steak – a ribeye – along with one side and a sauce will comfortably break £30 and the most expensive (for one), the cote de boeuf, is £35 before you add anything.
Starters all hover just under a tenner, with turbot, sea bass and a pork chops for £20 on their own and half a lobster for £18.
But it’s worth it, not just because of how much you’re given; we rolled out. Overwood is a special occasion sort of place that lives up to that billing.
That cote de boeuf is huge – and it’s exceptionally good. The pearly fat quivers and glistens and melts into a sauce as soon as you put it in your mouth. The meat itself is essence of beef, the outside licked by smoke and the inside pink to perfection. At this stage I may as well retire any reference to how everything’s been cooked. It’s all executed flawlessly.
The blue cheese hollandaise is basically liquefied cheese that’s been carpet-bombed by its own weight in egg yolks. The luckiest chips on the face on the Earth get dunked in.
The lump of turbot stands up to the smoke and falls off the bone in huge translucent flakes. A fennel and samphire salad balances the heftiness. Something approaching a hundred weight of ash-baked Comber potatoes, from probably a few fields over, are smoky and gooey with a lactic punch of ‘Cavanbert’ cheese – like camembert but from, well, I think you can guess – garlic and rosemary.
Away from the flames among the starters, the almost-raw discs of cured scallop, with little cheeks of tomato, slivers of gooseberry and tiny basil leaves is as Michelin starry as you like, especially when you pour over your dainty pot of clear-as-day tomato consommé.
The other tomato starter is a much rowdier sort, but no less expertly constructed, with blistered fruit super-charged with smoked bone marrow, next to a wallop of aerated lovage mayonnaise.
A chocolate and passion fruit delice with burnt white chocolate cream and sesame caramel ticks all the nicely balanced sweet, rich, crisp, sharp boxes but the meadowsweet cream pot is the star dessert.
The floral, somewhere between vanilla, elderflower and marzipan, flavour of the meadowsweet sits perfectly against the peaches and wine-heavy syrup, which seeps into the spaces left as you shovel out the just-set cream.
The slightly candied almonds make sure everything doesn’t get too sloppy. The sable biscuit may as well be a disc of butter the way it melts.
Where can you go when you finish a meal like this? Go home, go full, go happy, go like you’ve been crowned the Supreme Champion of something, even if it’s something as simple as treating yourself to a special and spectacular dinner.
Oysters x2 £5.50
Citrus cured scallops £8.50
Blistered tomatoes £6.50
Cote de boeuf £35
Baked potatoes £4.50
Blue cheese hollandaise £3
Chocolate delice £6.50
Meadowsweet cream pot £6.50
Honey Pear cocktail £8.50
Old Fashioned £8.50
Sparkling water £4