Restaurant Profile January 2019: Marconi’s Bar & Bistro, Ballycastle
Pol Shields, head chef, talks to Alyson Magee
WHEN DID YOUR RESTAURANT OPEN?
I joined The Marine Hotel in October 2017, and then the previous restaurant was completely refurbished and we got a brand-new kitchen, with the new Marconi’s Bar & Bistro opening in March 2018.
TELL US ABOUT THE SPACE YOU HAVE
The décor has completely changed to make the most of the views, and the seafood focus of the menu. You can look out and see the sea, right on the doorstep. There used to be a raised area in the middle of the restaurant, and it was taken away to make the area more open and spacious. Marconi’s can now serve 96 seats at a push. We also have a brand-new function room as well, with its own kitchen, for weddings and events. There are actually three function rooms running beside each other, which can be split or joined together for bigger events. The big one can hold 150, the one beside it about 80 and then the third one 50. For our Christmas party nights, we would have up to 180 booked for those. We also have a Costa Coffee café within the restaurant.
WHAT’S ON YOUR MENU?
It goes from your usual fish and chips and burgers to dishes like 8 Hour Braised Daube of Beef with Roasted Onions, Kale & Mashed Potato or a Sugar Pit Cured Bacon Chop with Champ & Apple Sauce.
And then the whole seafood thing goes on, with things like Steamed Mussels with Fennel, Samphire, White Wine Cream & Toasted Focaccia and Pol’s Seafood Chowder with Guinness Wheaten. We came third in the all-Ireland competition with the chowder, and it’s very popular. I let the fish do the talking, with just a wee bit of vegetables. Another of my signature dishes would be Smoked Scallops with a Roast Red Pepper Salad and when I put that on, it just sells.
We do a Seafood Evening once a month, with dishes like Smoked Ballycastle Salmon with Crab Slaw & Guacamole; Roast Brill with Lemon and Thyme Crushed Potatoes and Garlic Prawns; and Seabream Fillet with Ham Hock and Cider Cream, Grilled Baby Leeks and Grain.
And we also have a Steak Night on Thursdays, a Sunday Carvery and an Afternoon Tea. I don’t really know if I have a style of cooking; it’s just traditional, fresh local produce with a wee twist on it to bring it up and make it more unique.
DOES YOUR MENU CHANGE OFTEN?
We changed it at the end of summer and then it’s going to get changed again coming up to spring and then summer. We really just follow the seasons and what local produce is available. There are seafood specials on nearly every night.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
Our seafood is from Keenan Seafoods in Belfast, and they get it from Ardglass and Kilkeel, collect it for us and bring it up to Ballycastle. Our meat and fruit & veg is supplied locally from Coleraine, and we use Glens of Antrim Flower-fed Dexter Beef, which is lovely. We also stock local craft beers like Lacada and Rathlin Red.
WHAT SIZE IS YOUR TEAM?
During the summer, it would be between 20 and 25 full-time staff across the restaurant and function spaces and Team Marine, including our housekeepers, would lend a hand for weddings. During the summer, I would work 60-70 hours, down to 40 in the winter when I’m usually off for three days which is good. In the summer, we have eight or nine chefs; in the winter, down to five.
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
In the winter, it’s all locals during the week but you would get customers coming from Belfast and other places over the weekend. In November, we had a Seafood Evening as part of Taste Causeway’s Restaurant Week and we had guests coming from Banbridge and all over to stay in the hotel.
During the summer, it’s all tourists. You’d be surprised at the number of tourists coming in; it’s the usual French, German and Italian visitors but now we’re getting tourists from Japan, China, Australia and even Argentina. It’s unbelievable that they’re all coming to wee Ireland.
HAVE YOU FACED ANY PARTICULAR CHALLENGES TO DATE?
Trying to find chefs is an absolute nightmare, especially up around the coast. You get people who say they’re chefs and you quickly find out they’re not. Once you get them, you can generally hold on to them but getting them is the problem.
HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR RESTAURANT STAND OUT FROM COMPETITORS?
The Marine Hotel is accredited by Coeliac UK to cater for guests with coeliac disease, and our service staff and chefs are all trained to meet the needs of coeliac customers.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO PROMOTE THE RESTAURANT?
I would do the usual social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and I’ve just started using Snapchat, and I love it. I would put pictures of the food on there, and anything coming up. Every once in a while, we run competitions on Facebook getting people to tag their friends, and we have wedding days when people come in and see our function room and get ideas. The hotel also a sales & marketing manager to handle that side of things.
HOW WAS TRADE OVER THE PAST YEAR?
Going by the owners and manager, last summer was the busiest they’ve had since they reopened The Marine in 2013, so things are looking up. Year on year, we’re increasing business and because the kitchens are now so close to the restaurant, it’s quicker to turn over. Now the food just flies out, we turn the tables more and it’s busier.
HAVE YOU ANY PLANS FOR 2019 & BEYOND?
With The Open in July, we’re busy two weeks before it, the two weeks during it and the two weeks after so that’s six weeks we’re fully booked and it’s going to be mental. And then you’re going into August, our biggest month of the year.
In the winter, you know you’re going to be quiet so we’re starting the next phase of refurbishment this month and the hotel’s going to be closed for a couple of weeks to add new bedrooms. Marconi’s will be closed for a few weeks too; only the Costa is staying open. And then the following year, 2020, we’re getting a new Costa over the winter season, and a cookery school may be in the pipeline; we’re talking about it. We’ve got a big function kitchen back there and we want to utilise it. Those are the plans; it’s just bringing it all together and seeing what works and what doesn’t work.
The Marine Hotel
1-3 North Street, Ballycastle,
Tel: 028 2076 2222