Restaurant Profile August 2016: Bull & Ram, Ballynahinch
Bull & Ram, Ballynahinch
Kelan McMichael, co-owner of the new restaurant, talks to Alyson Magee
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO OPEN BULL & RAM?
We opened on May 31. I’ve been working now for 16 years, in the States, France, London, Dublin and here, and I think it takes you at least 15 years to develop your own palate and build up a repertoire in your head of what you actually like cooking yourself. I think it’s every chef’s ambition to have his own restaurant but it’s only over the last year I had that burning desire to do it. There’s no better feeling; I come in here in the mornings at 8am, turn the coffee machine on, turn the music up really loud, just start working in the kitchen and I love it.
TELL US ABOUT THE SPACE YOU HAVE
It’s an old butcher’s shop; a listed building with the original meat hanging rail. For a chef, it’s a dream to have a restaurant here.
Our main worry was when people came and sat down in the back of the restaurant, they weren’t slightly deflated not to be at the top end so I came up with the idea of doing an open kitchen, giving it a bit of theatre down at this end. You get people sitting throughout their meal just watching you so it’s good training for the boys.
WHAT FEEL ARE YOU AIMING FOR?
We’re going for a bistro style. We’re celebrating the best of meat and local produce and it being an old butcher’s shop, so have details like a collection of vintage cleavers from Romania, Italy, France, Belgium and America on the walls.
WHAT’S ON YOUR MENU?
It’s no frills, just letting the produce do the talking. We’re in the country so we don’t scrimp on portions. We use different cuts of meat, have seasonal fish every day from crab to lobster, mussels and oysters, and serve vegetarian and vegan options and celiac bread.
Signature starters would be tripe and ketchup, lamb sweetbreads with herb mayo or roasted bone marrow on toast, which enhance the whole butcher’s side of things.
Every Sunday, we have 55-day aged rump of beef or Mourne lamb, all the trimmings and a glass of house wine for £15.95. I love working Sunday lunch because I love my Sunday roast. It’s not difficult to get right but it’s very easy to get wrong.
Our kids’ menu, the Calf & Lamb, is smaller versions of what’s on the menu with zero processed food on it whatsoever.
We make all our breads fresh ourselves every day, and all our desserts from scratch. We also do tasting menus on request.
WHAT SUPPLIERS DO YOU USE?
We wanted to showcase Peter Hannan’s beef; I’ve tried beef all over the planet and I think Peter’s beef is the best in the world without a shadow of a doubt. The lamb is stunning, and we get it from Carnbrooke Meats.
Our fish is from Still Waters in Donaghadee. Alan Carson is a good friend of mine and I don’t know what I’m getting each day, he just sends me the freshest fish.
James Nicholson Wine has been very kind to us as well, and has been helping us out with wine tastings.
DOES YOUR MENU CHANGE OFTEN?
Yes, for example at the minute, we’re using John Lynch’s buffalo mozzarella made in Cork, and getting in wild asparagus from an allotment in Annadale in Belfast. I’m an avid forager and have been foraging for mushrooms for 13 years.
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
We’ve had everyone from the locals, our bread and butter, to customers from Belfast and we’re getting a bit of an arty crowd as well.
The Irish Rare Breeds Association is going to have their AGM here. I just recently bought a Moiley (rare Irish breed of cattle) off them, which is hanging at the moment and we’re going to do a nose to tail menu.
HAVE YOU ANY PLANS?
I wake up every morning, thinking: how do I make it better? We’re putting a 20-metre poly tunnel in the back garden, and will do tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, chard, broccoli and stuff like that, an extensive herb garden, lots of berries and maybe potatoes.
We want to restore the original awning but it’s going to cost a lot of money so it will just take a bit of time.
We’re planning an extension next year, if all goes well, into the old barn at the back, and will put the kitchen back into there and add extra seating and a wine cellar. My co-owner Noel Wilson is training to become a professional sommelier.
We’re very happy with the branding, we think it’s very strong and would definitely like to see, three years down the line, another Bull & Ram somewhere else and a cook book out.
1 Dromore Street, Ballynahinch
Tel: 02897 560 908
If you’ve enjoyed this article and currently don’t subscribe to Hospitality Review NI, please contact us or fill in our online subscription form