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Keeping tradition alive at Billy Andy’s

November 30th, 2017 | by LCN Editor
Keeping tradition alive at Billy Andy’s
Venue Spotlight
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Billy Andy’s traditional Irish pub on the Browndod Road near Larne is one of only a handful of venues from Northern Ireland considered worthy of a mention in the Michelin ‘Eating Out In Pubs’ Guide – and it’s not hard to see why.

Atmosphere is everything at Billy Andy’s, a cosy little Irish gastro-pub on the Browndod Road near Larne. Owner, Richard Hunter, left behind a successful career as a convenience retailer to take the bar on 27 years ago, but Billy Andy’s had been a fixture in the countryside south of Larne for many generations before that.

The pub is one of the few original licensed spirit grocers still left in the country. Dating back to the early 19th century, the business was founded by William Andrew McWilliams and his sister, Sarah Agnes and passed down through generations of the McWilliams family.

When Richard took it on in 1990, the fabric of the bar remained largely unchanged from its earliest days. Customers used an outside toilet, there was no central heating or double glazing and in fact, by that stage, the bar was only opening on a few occasions throughout the year in order to keep its liquor licence intact.

Richard immediately set about revitalising the venue, redecorating the bar and converting an old byre next door into a pool room. He’d inherited some of the staff from Billy Andy’s previous owner, including Margaret Johnson, who only retired from the bar last year at the age of 75!

Owner and chef, Paul Dalrymple and his brother, Terry, now head chef at Billy Andy’s.

There was a kitchen at the pub and with Margaret’s help, Richard soon began to produce a selection of pub grub, which was gratefully received by the venue’s burgeoning clientele.

Then, 20 years ago, Richard’s wife, Anna got involved in the business. Central heating and double glazing were installed at Billy Andy’s and the toilet facilities were finally relocated inside the main building. Anna recalls that by that time, business at the bar was growing fairly steadily, particularly among the farming community that lived locally:

“About 15 years ago, when food was becoming more popular in bars generally, we decided to bring a cook on board and set about widening our menu. Then, we had the idea of extending the premises. We added our restaurant on the ground floor with disabled access and four guest rooms above.”

The improvements represented a “significant investment” for the couple, says Anna, but the effect on the business has been tremendous in the years since:

“There’s a really relaxing ambience in here with peat fires on the go in the winter and because of the way that we designed it and the materials that we used, people often think that the restaurant was just part of the original building,” adds Anna.

The guest rooms, which are Anna’s particular responsibility, have also proved very successful – Anna reports that if she wished, she could be booked out every weekend.

Richard and Anna Hunter

When the restaurant was added to Billy Andy’s in 2002, Richard and Anna realised that they needed help to manage their growing business – that’s when Larne chef, Paul Dalrymple (37) became involved.

Paul, who has been a chef for 22 years, met Richard and Anna during a visit to Billy Andy’s:

“They had this opportunity, they’d just extended the restaurant facilities up there and the timing couldn’t have been better,” recalls Paul.

He had begun his kitchen career in various high-end restaurants and brasseries in Surrey during his days studying ceramic design at college. He worked for a short while as an artist after he left school, but he never stopped cooking. When Anna and Richard offered him the option of the lease on their new restaurant, he jumped at the chance:

“I was coming off the back of a great learning experience in England and Edinburgh and they offered me a blank canvas, the place had just opened and I was able to develop the food offering in the way that I wanted over the next few years.”

Described by Paul as “modern Irish”, the menu at Billy Andy’s is an eclectic mixture of meat, fish and game that makes extensive use of locally-produced ingredients.

The restaurant itself, which has been improved in small ways since it opened 15 years ago, holds around 90 people at capacity and Paul says that on a busy Saturday evening, they would often serve around 120 of 130 customers.

“Our business has been very steady over the last 11 years but during the last two years in particular, it has grown massively. I think our inclusion in the Michelin Guide has really helped with getting our name out there,” he adds.

In recent years, Paul has also returned to his roots in ceramic design and within the next couple of years, he hopes to be able to replace all the crockery at both restaurants with a range which he has designed and made himself.

So successful has the business been, in fact, that four-and-a-half years ago, Paul decided to expand, opening a second venue – Sleepy Hollow – 12 miles away in Newtownabbey. The approach there is similar to that employed at Billy Andy’s, the restaurant is situated inside a converted Irish farmhouse and the menu comprises the same type of locally-orientated food.

When Sleepy Hollow opened, Paul took on the head chef’s role, relinquishing the kitchen at Billy Andy’s to his brother, Terence, who had already been working there as a chef.

At that time, Paul, Richard and Anna also decided to take on a general manager at Billy Andy’s. John McConnell was subsequently employed to supervise the restaurant and the bar.

“Billy Andy’s was already very successful before Michelin came along, but appearing in the Guide has led to us being much busier at the quieter times in the week,” says Paul. “We’re really pleased and delighted to be in there, but we expect more. There are lots of places that can’t hold a candle to what we’re doing here and we believe that we’ll have a Bib Gourmand very soon and a couple of rosettes. I think we’d be happy with that.”

As for Anna Hunter, she says that business at the pub and restaurant is now well beyond the expectations she and Richard had for it, but she believes there is still more potential:

“We’re still developing here,” she says. “I think we’re very lucky to have Paul and Terry on board and I would really like to see them get a lot more recognition for what they do. Being in the Michelin Guide has been brilliant, it’s done a lot for us, but Paul is very talented, he has a great imagination and he and Terry deserve to be recognised for what they can do.”

 

 

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