Award-winning restaurant The Boat House Bangor, which thrived under the cooking of Joery Castel, has undergone a series of changes in recent times, after the Castel brothers decided to pursue other challenges in October 2016.
Thankfully, The Boat House was re-opened shortly after in November by experienced hotelier and restaurateur Ken Sharp, current Board Member of Hospitality Ulster and owner of the equally famous nearby hotel and restaurant, The Salty Dog.
With trusted Head Chef Tim Brunton - who previously held the reins at Salty Dog - once again spearheading the innovative new menu, Ken explained they identified the opportunity to do something different.
“Bangor is a small market, we all tend to work together and help each other out. We really admired the Castel brothers, so we jumped at the chance to keep The Boat House open.
“You always want to do something unique with a new restaurant. We did something different with The Salty Dog and we wanted to do the same with The Boat House.
“Whilst The Salty Dog is a bistro-style restaurant focused on delicious casual dining with classic options including the Irish Sea Fish & Chips, The Boat House very much focuses on the fine dining experience.
“It offers the highest quality food with an emphasis on the best local, seasonal food and provides great wines at affordable prices, with every top end wine capped at a £15 mark-up.
“Tim is a greatly talented chef inspired by the world around him. He is very well-read and follows all the best modern Irish and British chefs.
“Nowadays we have so much access to inspiration from around the world, for example at the minute Tim is a huge fan of Chef’s Table on Netflix, which features great chefs including the three Michelin-star Italian chef Massimo Bottura.
“We had novel table-side videos of him explaining the serendipitous creation of the dessert ‘Oops Andy Dropped the Tart.’
“The Boat House is all about the whole experience - fine food and culinary theatre which elevates fine dining to an evening of unparalleled entertainment, accompanied by fine wines.”
Ken added: “In both The Boat House and The Salty Dog there is a big emphasis on sourcing everything locally where possible. The Year of Food and Drink has inspired so many more Northern Irish producers to set up, which is incredible to see.”
Ken, who was head-hunted straight after his degree in Hotel Management to work for the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace where he remained for three years, has in-depth experience working in and managing hotels and restaurants across the world, but explained that he always dreamt of owning his own place.
Having grown up as part of a sailor family just outside Glasgow, Ken knew Northern Ireland well and had gained many friendships particularly in Bangor which is known for its sailing. So Ken jumped at the chance when the opportunity arose 12 years ago to move to Northern Ireland and manage The Culloden Estate & Spa.
“We moved to Northern Ireland at a good time,” Ken explained. “We moved here and have stayed here ever since.
“Living in Northern Ireland means you have proximity to everything, all the biggest artists come here and the nearby airports can bring you almost anywhere in the world.
“Our wee country does everything very well - from food to rugby to the amazing boat clubs and of course, the golf.
“I was General Manager at 28-years of age. But the dream was always to own my own place.”
Ken opened The Salty Dog in 2012, which includes an eatery catering for up 80 covers per evening’s dining sourced from local produce from nearby walled gardens including Helen’s Bay and Ballywalter.
A quirky, cosy and comfortable hotel and bistro restaurant focused on casual dining, overlooking the picturesque Bangor marina and situated just 14 miles from Belfast, The Salty Dog’s most unique feature is widely regarded as its dog-friendly access all areas approach.
Crowned winner of the Best Pet Hotel by the Georgina Campbell Awards - Ireland’s Original Hospitality Awards, The Salty Dog is refreshingly accommodating to canine guests.
“I came from working in hotels throughout England where it is taken for granted that we have dogs, so when we opened The Salty Dog we didn’t realise quite how unusual this was in Northern Ireland.
“It’s all about education, we’ve taken all of the appropriate action. Obviously dogs cannot be where food is prepared, but there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed in the restaurant.
“We have a designated section in the restaurant for health and safety so that our servers aren’t at risk of tripping, which means people can sit and enjoy a burger or even indulge in a full Tasting Menu with glasses of wine, all the while with their dog at their feet.
“Particularly with our location on the marina, we understand people want to take their dogs away with them too as it has great walks nearby. That is why we offer all-access for the restaurant and rooms.
“Whilst other hotels might just offer one dog-friendly room, we’re the other way round. We offer one room that isn’t dog-friendly!”
With huge focus on customer service with staff trained in everything from local produce to skill, Ken explained that The Salty Dog is all about the personal touches.
“We do little things like setting out candles for people wanting to have a bath in their room, and we provide bath salts, hot chocolate and bathrobes for every room. We believe in being your home away from home.”