10 The Strand,
BT22 1PE

In a recent English Sunday newspaper, a correspondent described Northern Ireland as ‘a gastronomic desert devoid of good hostelries’. Here in dreamy Portaferry you will find Northern Ireland’s answer. Not a luxurious hotel by any means, here you will find no five-star candlelit restaurant with luxurious upholstery, no extravagant decor, or whiff of caviar; just a comfortable, relaxed, small, friendly hotel, charmingly situated overlooking the picturesque narrow strait connecting Strangford Lough with the open sea.

The enthusiastic and welcoming host here for the last IO years is Dublin-born John Herlihy, and I know of no man with a better pedigree in the business than John. Just look at his record to date: 1958, The Savoy group, Claridge’s and the Berkeley in London; 1965, The Conway Hotel; 1967, The Great Southern Hotel, Killarney; 1968, The Russell Court Hotel; 1975, The Everglades in Derry.

To the right as you enter is the congenial bar area, consisting of a lounge divided by a fireplace, with the bar itself at the rear. Steps lead you down to another agreeable small bar, which was once the Public bar, suitably decorated with framed bird and yacht prints, so in keeping with this nautical village. Cuisine is the backbone of this hotel’s reputation, and John would readily admit that 75 percent of his business is food, and here you are assured of excellent and memorable meals, which have gained many awards, like the British Airways Endeavour Award, and RAC Taste of Britain Award, but more satisfying over the years, John has the approval of his numerous patrons who return regularly by ferry, car, and quite a few, surprisingly, in their own boats.

Being only 8 miles from Portavogie, which has the second largest fishing fleet in the north, it is only natural that John should specialise in serving fresh seafood, with ample supplies so readily available. The large (in size and selection) menu is absorbing reading. But do not tarry too long before dinner reading the starters, or you will suffer agonies of indecision. I want them all. But it is surely the impressive fish menu that will hold you spellbound. Here is a selection to whet your appetite . .. TROUT – Cleopatra or Doria; TURBOT – Aida, Grilled, Meuniere, Poached; BRILL – Dieppoise or Opera; MONKFISH – Medici, en Goujons; DOVER SOLE – Cobere, 56 Veronique, Florentine, etc.

The Portaferry must be one of the smallest hotels in the North, with only 5 bedrooms, but John has big plans. With the acquisition of two cottages and a large house along the block, he intends to build a further 15 bedrooms. The wonderful selection of fresh fish and seafood with quality cooking to match are certainly the hallmarks of this beguiling loughside hotel.

Bon Appetit!