Restaurant Profile August 2019: Tartine at Distillers Arms, Bushmills
Gary Stewart, chef/patron, talks to HRNI
WHEN DID YOUR RESTAURANT OPEN?
Tartine at Distillers Arms opened on April 9, 2009. Previously, I had been operating my own small restaurant called Watercress above a pub in Ballintoy, but this was only a summer season venture and I closed over the winter months. I had outgrown this and was looking for a property that I could open all year round. Distillers Arms came on the market and it was the perfect place to house Tartine.
TELL US ABOUT THE SPACE YOU HAVE
Distillers Arms was formerly the home of the Bushmills whiskey distillery owners and then lodgings and a pub before Tartine restaurant was created. There are three interconnecting dining spaces each with a collection of Irish artists paintings and prints. There are 85 seats for guests, a seated bar area and a comfortable lounge with soft furnishings and a fireplace. This area is used for pre- or post-dinner drinks.
WHAT FEEL ARE YOU AIMING FOR?
The atmosphere is sophisticated yet relaxed with the charm of an old Irish country house. The lighting is low with an array of candelabras strategically placed throughout. Exposed brick and stone walls are juxtaposed with wooden beams and the long slate grey painted bar.
WHAT’S ON YOUR MENU?
We have two menus: a very popular early evening set menu which offers two courses with wine for £20; there are slow-braised beef brisket and local fish and chips to choose from amongst other choices. Our a la carte menu offers a more substantial array of dishes: local seafood such as award-winning seafood chowder, Dunseverick-landed lobster or molasses salmon and a great choice of aged steak or Irish lamb with root veg and whiskey jus.
DOES YOUR MENU CHANGE OFTEN?
Our main menu changes are slow, but we have a nightly specials list which changes daily… different seafood dishes and perhaps game dishes in the winter season.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO TO IMPROVE AND DRIVE YOUR MENU?
We are constantly aiming to improve our menus. We partner with local foodie tour operators who bring tourists along for a tasting experience. We find this is a great way to try new dishes and to gain immediate feedback from diners. If the response is positive, then we put the dish on the menu.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
We source the majority of our food and drink locally; locally-sourced seafood, meat and vegetables from North Coast farmers and Causeway-based smaller producers, herbs, oils and cheeses by independent firms and also IPAs and spirits from Northern Ireland. We are very proud of NI produce and showcase it where we can. We are members of Food NI, Hospitality Ulster and an originating member of Taste Causeway #tastecauseway.
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
Our customers are a mix of locals and tourists. The range is vast from family groups, walking tourists and day trippers to the more foodie-orientated diner.
HAVE YOU FACED ANY PARTICULAR CHALLENGES TO DATE?
I’ve found the biggest challenges are always human resources-orientated and coping with the quarterly 20% VAT bill. I feel lucky today to have a stable team both front of house and in the kitchen now that Tartine is an established venue. In the earlier days, it was difficult and I can recall many long stretches of work with zero time off. A government lowering of the current VAT rate in our industry would take a lot of pressure off hospitality businesses and help fledgling start-ups thrive.
HOW IS TRADE?
Tartine is celebrating its 10th year in business and we have just had our most satisfying year to date. We care about what we do, and I feel you are half way there already when you can reflect this attitude to your employees and customers.
140 Main Street, Bushmills
Tel: 028 2073 1044
Email: [email protected]
-9pm* (Fri); -9.30pm* (Sat);
&12.20-2.15pm, 5-8pm* (Sun)