NORTHERN IRELAND has witnessed experiential growth in its agri-food industry, complemented by artisan small producers making a big impact with their high-quality produce.

The Hastings Hotels Group has taken the baton and run with it, shining a spotlight on local food provenance in their menus, celebrating local award-winning meats, vegetables and other fresh produce.

2015-10-07 17.50.03My first night in Co. Antrim, and I am staying at the Group’s Ballygally Castle Hotel. This 17th century castle overlooks the sands of Ballygally Bay and has uninterrupted views towards Scotland.

DSC_6645I have been given the beautiful Garden Suite, with a king-size bed, lounge area, and large bathroom.

I take dinner in the hotel. It is a quiet evening, with only three couples in the neatly presented dining room. For starters, I opt for freshly steamed Irish mussels in a white wine, garlic and shallot cream sauce, served with Irwin’s mini nutty crust loaf and sweet potato fries. The mussels are small but plentiful, the cream sauce extremely rich, and too much to soak up with the extremely tasty bread. I have not come across sweet potato fries on a menu, and they work perfectly with the dish.

DSC_6648The mains selection is impressive, but again I choose fish, this time the lightly battered haddock laid on a pea purée, with hand-cut chips served in a large metal mug, the type that one would normally associate with camping. This certainly adds a rustic twist to the presentation. In any normal walk of life, we are talking good old fish, chips and mushy peas. Ah, but thereby lies the rub, because the chips are beyond the norm. With a crispy exterior and fluffy, white interior, they are delicious, and I would certainly like to know what variety of potato the chef purchases. The haddock has been fried in a delicate, flavoursome batter, and the white of the fish is moist and succulent. Simply put, it is perfectly cooked. Although it grieves me to say, I admit to leaving a few chips in the mug, as I was pretty much full by the end.

I have to compliment the young serving staff, who were extremely well presented, personable, and very attentive.


Starter – Freshly steamed Irish mussels – £7 (or £12 as a main)

Main –Haddock, chips and mushy peas – £14

Total – £21

Setting 4/5, Food 5/5, Presentation 4/5, Staff 5/5, Ambiance 3/5

VERDICT – If you ever find yourself in Co. Antrim enjoying the spectacular Causeway Coastal Route, do call in for dinner or stop overnight at the Ballygally Castle Hotel. You will not be disappointed.

Ballygally Castle Hotel, Coast Road, Ballygally BT40 2QZ