The next four articles will be centred around a recent long weekend taken by me and a few others – my oft-mentioned friends Tom Crocker and Matt Lawson, plus newcomers to our food and travel series Jamie Lewis, Vicky Gofton, Andy Hadley, Lauren Tang and Mike Slater – in Bangor, Northern Ireland to celebrate the wedding of Steve Doe, another one of our old school friends, and Gina Quigg. You’ll realise there’s no title beyond the name of the restaurant we’re reviewing because what else could one call such a weekend? “Three Days of Solid Drinking”? “If You Can’t Remember It, You Were Definitely There”? Accurate but complicated, so we’ll keep it simple.
A 5am start, a slight hangover from the night before, and train complications. The best way to begin a long weekend. You may be thinking I’m being sarcastic, but if that was the only thing to go wrong across four days, you’ll agree it’s not so bad in the grand scheme.
The first two parts of our Northern Ireland series take place at a gorgeous little eatery on Bangor high street, called Hop House. It came primarily at the recommendation of the bride’s father, but it seemed to be a pretty popular spot for the entire family, and indeed the bride’s two sisters both work there. It’s a huge place – the main indoor bar is a long room that seems to go on forever, and through a door past the bar, it does just that, leading into a spacious beer garden. But just when you think that’s it – there’s even more, a miniature function room of sorts, complete with a pizza oven just outside, an open fire and Bluetooth speakers so you are pretty much your own DJ whilst you’re in there. A place to go when the night is going to lead into the small hours, even the cupboard under the stairs is padded should anyone not quite make it to the front door. The sort of place one could very easily stay and relax with friends and/or family all day. And I haven’t even mentioned upstairs, but I’m saving that for next issue.
Let me go on about the food – after all, that’s the point of the article. Gina’s father made the assumption we would all be having on of Hop House’s Southern-Fried Chicken Burgers before we had even glanced over the menu, but to be honest, he really said what I was thinking anyway. And there’s now no way in Hell that I regret that decision. The dish (see pictured) came out pretty quickly, and, as a chicken burger you think it’s not going to be anything special; once you have had one you’ve pretty much had them all. That’ll teach me a lesson in judging before trying, because this chicken burger really sets the bar to which all others of its kind must aspire.
Firstly, the chicken was succulence itself: no dryness about it at all, and not overseasoned within its crispy batter. Just tasty meat, and lots of it. They are not stingy in any essence of the word. Of course, you have the other trimmings in there – some bacon, lettuce and a very flavoursome mayonnaise, which, if anything, helped complement every other flavour going there. It comes with French Fries, but, if you wanted to push the boat out a bit, you could go for some of their chips seasoned with chilli flakes instead, just to put a little heat under it if you’re feeling adventurous.
Watch this space for the second volume of this particular restaurant review, due out next week.