Restaurant Profile January 2018: Galgorm Resort & Spa
Assistant executive head chef Aaron Finley and River Room head chef Chris Rees tell HRNI about the eight restaurant and banquet spaces encompassed within the popular venue
Modern Irish cooking with classic European influences is on offer at The River Room
Fratelli, one of the many dining options at Galgorm Resort Spa
TELL US ABOUT THE SPACE YOU HAVE
Aaron: At the Resort, we currently have three on-site restaurants, a bespoke conservatory serving afternoon tea and a spa eatery known as Elements. Our Italian, Fratelli, has just gone through an extension, adding an additional 70 seats, so now offers dining for a total of 170 guests. Our Grill Bar, Gillies, provides a casual style of dining and can seat up to 185 diners. The Grill is attached to Gillies Pub, which has entertainment every evening, and offers a light bite menu but you can also eat off the main menu there too if you prefer. In the better weather, guests can also enjoy al fresco dining in the Mulberry Garden. We also have our Conservatory which serves afternoon tea during the day and is also home to our Gin Bar.
Elements Café is situated in our Thermal Spa Village, and is housed in a very unique space, a Halo Dome; one of only five in the world. 2018 will see an upstairs open in Elements for private events. On top of that, we have three banqueting suites, our Four Seasons Suite which seats up to 120, The Great Hall which seats up to 300 and our Renaissance Suite which can seat approximately 185 guests.
Chris: The River Room seats 40 people, and is open five evenings (Wednesday to Saturday) and Sunday lunch, as well as breakfast every day for guests staying in deluxe bedrooms, who prefer a plated breakfast with waiter service to the breakfast buffet. We’re one of only three restaurants to have three AA rosettes in Northern Ireland.
WHAT FEEL ARE YOU AIMING FOR?
Aaron: Fratelli Ristorante oozes rustic Italian charm with a contemporary edge. The Fratelli brand concept is to welcome guests into a family-friendly, informal environment where the focus is on simple yet quality cookery and a warm welcome. Fratelli is a huge hit with families, kids get a chef’s apron and hat, and have the opportunity to build their own pizza. Monday evenings, we have a buy-one-get-one-free offer, Tuesday nights we have a Ladies’ Night offering, Wednesdays to Fridays and Sundays, we also offer buy-one-get-one-free cocktails from 5–7pm. 2018 will also see the introduction of Ladies’ Night Goes to The Movies, a concept that has been popular in our Fratelli Restaurant on Great Victoria Street.
Bar + Grill at Gillies is a favourite amongst guests and locals alike, with a warm and relaxed ambience. Our extensive selection of menus cater for a wide range of tastes with classic brassiere dishes, a grill selection and wok creations. We also offer a midweek lunch special, have a Steak Night every Wednesday and offer buy-one-get-one-free cocktails on a Friday evening until 9pm in Gillies Pub.
As Elements is located in our Thermal Village, it is a dining option primarily for our Spa guests. It offers everything from breakfast options to crepes and salads. Elements has a nice vibe to it and also has a bar; strawberry daiquiris would be the most popular drink.
Chris: The River Room embodies the ethos of Galgorm in its menu and dishes offering a unique and memorable dining experience. It is one of four restaurants in Northern Ireland to be awarded three AA Rosettes for culinary excellence. My menus are packed with seasonal ingredients sourced from carefully selected local suppliers and the Resort’s very own kitchen garden.
WHAT’S ON YOUR MENU?
Aaron: Fratellis is very focused on classic Italian dishes. We have a set a la carte menu but we also run daily specials of the day for fish, main dish, pizza of the day and cicchetti. The foundation of the menu is pizza, pasta, cicchetti, salad and main meat and fish courses. It’s quite a varied menu. We also do a shrink menu at Fratellis with Estelle Wallace, for guests who want to eat out but don’t want to feel guilty if they’re on a special diet. For drinks, Prosecco and Italian beers would be popular in Fratellis.
Gillies has a variety of menus. We take allergens seriously and have gluten-free menu, and a vegetarian menu. It also has a popular set lunch menu for £12.95, offering a choice of main meal and a drink from Monday to Friday.
Our wedding and banqueting menus give a range of options from tasty welcome ideas to bespoke five-course menus and late-night snacks too. However, we understand that event organisers or brides and grooms may also wish to tailor their food to match a particular theme, so we can tailor menus to tie in with these.
Chris: My cooking is modern Irish, with classic European influences. The menu would be very much seasonal, and I change it every week. For example, I’ve got venison with pearl barley, turnip and quince as one of my favourite starters and, for mains, an interesting dish on just now is butter braised monkfish with a little smoked butter sauce, squid and mussels. I try to make it interesting in the presentation and execution. With desserts, I try to keep them familiar and have a chocolate brownie with a little hot chocolate foam, caramelised orange and a milk ice cream. We have a cheese trolley and it’s all Irish, usually 14 or 15 cheeses. We have a lovely display of Irish whiskeys in The River Room as well, particularly Bushmills which is pretty local to here.
WHAT SIZE IS THE KITCHEN STAFF?
Aaron: We have around 50 chefs and 15 KPs. KPs come and go a lot more than kitchen staff. A lot of our chefs have been here for a long time. With the industry struggling to find chefs, it’s good to get someone in the door who likes what they do and has a drive and a passion for it. We take on apprentices; Chris has one at a level three and Gillies has a level-two and two level-threes and we’re in the process of bringing in another. We’re also working towards onsite training, a school of excellence to develop our own chefs in house and are building a staff wellbeing centre with a gym, café and training kitchen.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
Chris: When The River Room is closed on Tuesdays, I often go and meet local growers to get vegetables for the menu. We have a greenhouse here to grow herbs and more delicate things, and I get a list sent to me every week from a market in France for things that might not be available in this country. I use local growers, Slemish Market Garden in Ballymena and a local guy, Gavin Fraser, a veg grower who supplies restaurants with unusual vegetables.
For fish, I would use Ewing’s. For meat, I use Hannan and Carnbrooke and sometimes Hillstown Farm, as well as local guys that might shoot deer, pigeon, pheasant or rabbit in season. I would use them over the bigger guys to give a bit of support so you don’t lose what they’re doing.
Aaron: We would use spices and things you can’t get here from La Rousse Foods but, with bulkier stuff, we would use Henderson Foodservice and Musgrave Marketplace.
We have a bakery just past The River Room, and make all our own desserts and pastries in-house.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT WORKING IN THE FOODSERVICE INDUSTRY?
Chris: Having the creative freedom to do whatever I want within reason and see, for example right now, what the autumn larder has to offer. I like being able to explore new techniques, and new ways of executing a dish. It keeps the menu fresh for guests and, for younger chefs, keeps it interesting for them. When I was a young guy learning, I was always looking across at the bench at the other side of the kitchen to see if somebody was doing something I couldn’t do, and I’d want to learn how to do it.
Aaron: I think you have to have a certain level of dedication to be in this job. It’s very demanding, and it’s hard to get a social life but if you work well, you can have a good work life balance. I like working here because it’s one of the best in the country at what they do. It’s good to work at that level, and have that professionalism all the time.
Galgorm, BT42 1EA
Tel: 028 2588 1001
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