It’s not always easy to find a nice restaurant when you’re away. TripAdvisor, while helpful, can often just send you to the cheapest eatery serving mediocre food. Locals have their favourites based on the item they order all of the time or even recommend based on knowing the owner. It’s a mine field! Luckily, on a visit to Portrush a couple of weeks ago, Ali and I struck gold.
It’s been a long drive. Not for me – still having only a learners permit, I’m unable to drive up North so Ali is stuck doing it all. After the best part of four hours, we arrive at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and after a breathtaking view of the Antrim coast, we head for our B&B in Portrush. We’re both hungry and our host points us in the direction of five different restaurants in the town, all owned by the same family. A quick flick through the menus online leads us to The Mermaid on the top floor of Ramore, overlooking the harbour.
We have no booking but chance our arm and are delighted to be offered two seats at the bar overlooking the busy kitchen. The chefs are always on show here and have to be on their best behaviour. The Mermaid, as the name suggests, is a predominately seafood restaurant with the menu focused mainly on grilled fish. I settle on the Crab Thermidor special to start and the Grilled Turbot with Hollandaise Sauce for main. It’s a real treat to see your food being prepared up close and personal and the speed and efficiency of the chefs is impressive. The thermidor is heavenly. A soft, warm ciabatta is the ideal vehicle for the rich, buttery and expertly seasoned crab – the perfect start.
The mains arrive not long after our starter plates are removed. I’ve been greedy, bordering on glutenous. One rich, buttery dish would have been enough but I just had to order two. The turbot is perfectly cooked, flaky, moist and with a touch of caramelization from the grill – simple really is best when the fish is this good. The hollandaise is deliciously rich and my side of asparagus with Parmesan and balsamic vinegar provides just enough acidity to cut through the buttery goodness.
Without realising it, I’ve ordered the biggest dessert on the menu. I had no idea what a Gateau St. Honore was but when it arrived, I was dumbstruck. A sweet pastry base with a ring of chocolate creme patisserie filled profiteroles. A large helping of vanilla ice-cream sits in the middle with honeycomb on top and a rich chocolate sauce on the side. This is sheer indulgence but I don’t regret a thing. “You’ll be doing well to get through that” the chef quips as he puts it in front of me. Challenge accepted – but failed. After two rich courses, I’m unable to finish it despite my best efforts, “You did well, considering that used to be served between two” – of course it did!
As our meal comes to a close, it’s clean up time in the kitchen and with the pressure off, the chefs are more relaxed and chatty. Advice on how to visit the Giant’s Causeway and restaurant recommendations are interrupted by a bit of slagging when one of them recalls “just playing on the rocks” of the Giant’s Causeway as a child. “Back in my day….” the youngest imitates. We’ve had a great night. The food has been top notch – great ingredients, simply cooked – while the staff are warm, welcoming and full of personality. We pay about £60 for three courses each, a glass of red wine and a glass of Prosecco. It’s worth every penny.
Very Highly Recommended
The Mermaid Kitchen and Bar
+44 28 7082 6969