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The art of thinking small

May 26th, 2017 | by LCN Editor
The art of thinking small

At the age of 31, experienced chef, Tim Brunton, faces a new challenge as he helps hotelier, Ken Sharp, establish himself as the new owner of the acclaimed Boat House restaurant in Bangor.

Ken Sharp purchased the award-winning Boat House Restaurant on Bangor seafront – now renamed Boat House Dining – in October last year, and Tim Brunton, who was head chef at Ken’s nearby venue, The Salty Dog, was draughted in  to head-up the task of transforming the restaurant.

“When we went into The Boat House everyone was telling us that we had big shoes to fill, but that wasn’t what we were aiming to do,” Tim told LCN this month. “We wanted to put in place really fine dining service and food, but it was more about introducing a real sense of theatre at the tables for people and that’s what we’ve done.”

Tim, who comes originally from Warrington in England, began his kitchen career at the De Vere Daresbury Park hotel in the town when he was dispatched there for work experience at the age of just 14. Eventually, he landed a full-time position at the Daresbury Park and stayed there for about 18 months until his dad, Norman, announced that the family would be re-locating to his native Northern Ireland.

At that time, De Vere had an associate hotel agreement with the Hastings group here in NI and Tim was able to transfer to The Stormont as a commis chef where he stayed for three-and-a-half years before moving to Tedford’s restaurant in Belfast. He describes that change as “absolutely humongous”:

“It was like starting all over again and having to re-train,” he recalls. “The things that you do when you work in a large hotel are not necessarily the same thing that you will do in a fine dining restaurant and so I started going through all the basics again.

“I was there for six-and-a-half years and it was amazing. The head chef was also the owner [Alan Foster] and so he was constantly trying to move the venue forward and develop the restaurant. It just continued to go from strength to strength.”

By this time, Tim and his wife, Sarah, were expecting a child and, sensing that he needed to focus more on work/life balance, Tim opted for what he thought might be a more settled existence when he moved to the Culloden hotel:

“I thought that it might have made for a bit of an easier life for me, but that’s not really the way it worked out at all,” says Tim.

He worked his way up to the point where he was running the five-star hotel’s restaurant – The Mitre:

“It was another large hotel and it worked out really well for me, but it wasn’t really something that I wanted to be doing for a very long period of time,” adds Tim. “I was keeping my eye out for a head chef’s job and I found it at The Salty Dog in 2012.”

“Everything that we do at The Salty Dog has to be different, that was put across to me at the interview stage and that’s the way that it is,” says Tim. “Things have to have their own, unique Salty Dog twist.

“In the restaurant there, we’ve gone massively down the road of using local produce. We’re working with a long list of local suppliers and I think we’re at the forefront with what we’re doing. We’re bringing stuff in from all over Northern Ireland and using it to develop our own ideas.”

At Boat House Dining, the emphasis is also on distinction and on ensuring that diners have a memorable experience at their tables. They might, for example, enjoy smoked lobster broth, using lobsters from Bangor Bay and delivered to the table in a china teapot with a lovely poached lobster tail in the bottom of each bowl.

“We want to put interesting little twists like that into the experience of dining here,” says Tim. “It’s not something that everyone else is doing and that’s the thing.”

Feedback so far has been excellent, says Tim:

“The expectations were going to be high because of what Joery and Jasper [former owners] were doing here but everyone who has come had been very happy and has told us that they will be back. That’s very positive and it shows in the reviews that we’ve been getting.

“My main focus now is on Boat House Dining, we have a small kitchen and a small team and that’s the way we’ll keep it.

“This is small, fine dining restaurant that doesn’t do huge numbers of covers but does things amazingly so I get to spend lots of time on each dish.

“As for the future, I hope to buy a restaurant of my own, that’s a scary thought, but I really do think that’s the way to go.”


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