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Global Foodservice:A passion for the sea
The Boathouse restaurant is one of Northern Ireland’s hidden seafood gems
By Anthony Fletcher
August 01, 2012
Having spent much of his working life in Ireland, award-winning chef Joery Castel speaks English with an almost perfect Ulster lilt. He currently runs The Boathouse, a seafront restaurant along County Down’s beautiful coast.
The restaurant was recognized this year as the Best Restaurant in County Down, and Castel was named the best chef in Ulster.
Seafood is Castel’s passion. “I grew up surrounded by mussels and lobsters,” he explains, having been raised in the southern Dutch coastal town of Vlissingen. “I’ve always been interested in food. As a wee fellow, my first question was always, ‘What’s for dinner?’ I wanted to be a chef, but my parents initially tried to talk me out of it, pointing out the long working hours, poor pay and non-existent social life — all of which turned out to be true!”
Nonetheless, Castel stuck at it, working as a porter in a hotel in Holland and enrolling in culinary school, where he worked five days a week. This gave him a broad experience with a change of restaurants every year. Working with other chefs on a daily basis enabled him to see what could be done with food, and ignited his interest in fine dining.
“Five years in school, five different restaurants. These experiences set me up for the rest of my career,” he says. After working in various restaurants around Holland, in 2001 he found a position at Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, Ireland, a stunning estate set in 1,000 acres. Since then, Castel hasn’t looked back, opening The Boathouse in July 2008 with his brother, Jasper. The restaurant is situated in an old harbor master’s building overlooking the marina.
The first few years of running The Boathouse were about finding his way around the market and about learning the business from a restaurant owner’s perspective.
“It’s different to just being a chef, as it’s much more than just producing nice plates,” says Castel. “I learned an awful lot from my previous experiences, but of course, we still made mistakes!”
If he has a philosophy to cooking, it is based on a belief in freshness and on building local relationships.
“Here, fishermen walk in with mackerel, which you couldn’t have if you lived inland,” he says. “We have a good local supply of crab, lobster, langoustines and prawns. I was cleaning them earlier today; they are just so fresh. It’s great that after four years, we have these contacts. I could buy them in a shop, but, you know, I wouldn’t know where they were from.”
The restaurant uses seafood straight from the waters of the Atlantic, Lough Neagh and Belfast Lough, and this is reflected on the menu. Seasonal starters include lobster salad with hazelnut crème and a lemon and hazelnut dressing for £9 ($14), while entrées include pan-fried sea trout with white asparagus for £17.50 ($27.50) and grilled fillet of turbot, prawn reduction, prawn tortellini and grilled langoustine for £22 ($34.55). There is also a three-course set dinner menu for £25 ($39.25) and a signature tasting menu full of locally sourced seafood for £55 ($86).
Castel is especially proud of his lobster. “I come from a part of Holland that is famous for its lobster, and I would say the ones we get here are just as good,” he says. “About one in three customers order our lobster starter, so we’re getting a name for it.”
Castel says The Boathouse’s success is fundamentally about passion. “I really wanted a place where there was great food, good craic [fun conversation], good fresh produce and good wine,” he explains. “A place that was a bit more European.”
Castel’s work may have taken him to another country, but his life in Northern Ireland is not so different from his childhood in the Netherlands. “Being brought up on the seafront … I think you miss the sea. The breeze, the smell, the seagulls … a walk along the sea sets you up for the day. There is something about living by the sea.”
Contributing Editor Anthony Fletcher lives in Brussels