Life

Eating Out: The Rabbit Hotel's generous crowd pleasers certainly pleased this crowd

The Rabbit Hotel in Templepatrick. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seamus Maloney

The Rabbit Hotel

882 Antrim Road

Templepatrick

Co Antrim

BT39 0AH

028 9443 2984

rabbithotel.com

THEY’RE going all in with their theme at the Rabbit Hotel in Templepatrick. As you approach the front door you find a huge sculpture of a bunny staring you down, trying – maybe not altogether successfully – to avoid straying into Donnie Darko/the scary ones from Watership Down territory.

Inside there are more paintings and illustrations, all twitching noses and ears standing to attention. Welcome to the Rabbit Hotel.

It used to be the Templeton, a straight-down-the-line, theme-free hotel that was the closest one to Belfast International Airport before they actually built a hotel at Belfast International Airport. Now the Galgorm Group have bought it over and are in the process of doing it up and moving it into ‘boutique’ territory.

Opened in July, sitting in the restaurant doesn’t feel like sitting in a boutique hotel. It feels like a smart dining room in a hotel near the airport. With a lot of pictures of rabbits.

There’s no actual rabbit on the menu, but the website does single out dishes “inspired by the American Deep South”.

Well, that’s a bit different for the road to the airport. But then you look at the menu and wonder what it’s on about. Even if you stretched the definition of ‘Deep South’ way beyond breaking point, you’d still be struggling. Maybe the ribs, possibly the macaroni cheese, kind of the brisket. There’s a Mississippi mud pie, and that’s really it.

There’s not much effort to pretend either, which is kind of admirable, but it leaves you wondering about the point of mentioning it in the first place.

It’s a selection of crowd pleasers, which is just as well because on this Wednesday night there’s a healthy crowd. It’s not crowded – the huge space sees to that, while masks are insisted upon when you’re moving around and a temperature check at the door decides if you can enter in the first place.

The burger is about the size of Alabama, so there’s that. And what could be more American than a burger with its own gravitational pull, a couple more types of meat on top of it and a steak knife through it for structural integrity?

But it is a tasty burger. The meat is as juicy as you’d want under good bacon and brisket in a nicely char-edged bun. The chutney with the burger is beyond sweet. It tastes like strawberry jam, on it’s own far too much but just about rescued by the salty brisket on the burger itself.

The stake knife holding things together goes through the middle of an onion ring that shows off an easy to dismiss kitchen skill – how to deep fry things properly.

These are perfect, as are the thick, craggy chips the pert scampi and the thin, crisp fries. Perfectly brittle on the outside, not a whiff of grease. It’s easy to make a mess of this sort of stuff. Not here. It makes you wish the perfectly fine curry-dusted roast cauliflower had been given similar treatment.

But as good as all that was, the ribs – glistening blocks of pork belly, falling away from the bone but with a crackling bark on the outside, doused in a balance of smoke, sweet and sharp sauce – are as impressive as you’ll get anywhere.

They’re a generous starter, as is the chowder, loaded with scallops, clams and mussels, and up there in quality with the ribs.

That mud pie, as well as a raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, were a lot for dessert after the generosity that went before, but if the worst thing you can say about the dessert is that you maybe didn’t have room for it, you know you’re doing well.

You’ll also be doing well to leave not full, but you’ll certainly leave happy. Just look out for that big rabbit on the way out.

THE BILL

Clam chowder £7

Belly ribs £7

Burger £12.50

Scampi £14.50

Onion rings £3.50

Curried cauliflower £4.25

Mississippi Mud Pie £6

Cheesecake £6

Jessica Rabbit cocktail £9.95

American coffee £5.75

Britvic 55 x2 £5.60

Total £82.05

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