Eating out: Coulter has been worth the wait
The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the opening of Coulter in Ballynahinch, but it has been worth the wait. Picture by Hugh Russell
1 Dromore Street,
028 9747 8413
A scroll through the social media posts of Coulter Restaurant in Ballynahinch is an instructive glimpse at the sort of rollercoaster journey much of the hospitality industry had been on for the past year and a half.
It was in October 2019 that Cristina and Stevie Higginson, the couple behind the Square Bistro in Lisburn, revealed their new venture, in the building formerly occupied by the – rightly – acclaimed Bull & Ram that had abruptly closed the previous year.
Pictures of the floor plan and a shiny new Big Green Egg barbecue were posted, but the hoped-for December opening was hit with a planning issue, so things were pushed back until spring 2020.
And then Covid. With everything closed it was mid-summer before there was another update revealing the intention to push things back further and in the meantime turn the site in a grocery and larder showcasing local producers as well as their own food.
The rest of the year had some pictures of the restaurant taking shape, as well as news of a successful application for a drinks licence. There was still activity behind the closed doors.
On New Year's Day the intention to open in the spring was revealed. By the time spring came around Coulter was 'Toasted', a pop-up turning out oozing, burnished toasties, whose pictures were enough of a reason on their own for Twitter to exist.
A little over a month later attention turned back to the restaurant, with ads for chefs and other staff, and more work in progress pictures until, on the last Wednesday of July, the doors finally opened.
Making plans, changing plans, pivoting and adapting. Pulling down the shutters then hauling them back up again. Hopefully now for good. Because that's what Coulter is.
Coulter was the name of the butcher's shop the building once was, and that aesthetic remains. Above the checkerboard floor, emerald green and white tiles line the walls. The frame where the meat would have hung is still there, now tracking over a sparking, modern bar at the front of house where they mix some fine cocktails.
They're doing some fine things down the back in the kitchen as well.
An ox cheek collapses entirely – a spoon would have done and would have felt appropriate too. It was a scoop of ice cream masquerading as a perfectly cooked piece of beef.
The slightly spiky red dragon sauce with it was welcome against the earthiness of the cheek and the roasted cauliflower.
Black pudding and parmesan croquettes were lighter than they had any right to be, but both powerful flavours stood their corner against the bacon relish.
After all that meat, the fish shone in the bigger plates. There were nuggets of merguez in a bowl of pasta, along with plump prawns and flakes of bass and cod, but as welcome as all that was, it all felt almost superfluous.
The sauce, blush peach liquid velvet coating the lengths of tagliatelle, was immense, all gentle heat from the sausage and sweet, deep fishy heft. Every last drop gets chased round the plate with the pasta.
At one point I wonder if ordering some of their sourdough – another intermittent star of their online presence – may be necessary to sop up what's left. But one look down shows the sauce made me so determined not to miss a bit that it's already all gone.
The pearly piece of cod comes with a lightly curried cauliflower velouté, pickled grapes - whose only flaw was they could have done with being halved rather than rolling round the plate - and new potatoes slicked in a chilli oil that, like everything else, doesn't overdo things.
A fondant and a crème brulee are as ubiquitous as you can get on a bistro menu, but every technical box is ticked, which allows the fondant to be all about its chocolate and the brulee to be all about its espresso.
We visited on September 1 and the sun was streaming in through the windows. A perfect summer day with autumn around the corner, the gentle warmth outside was reflected on the plates – and in Coulter itself.
Ox cheek £8
Black pudding croquettes £4
Seafood pasta £15
Chocolate fondant £6
Espresso crème brulee £6
The driver cocktail £6.50