It’s not often this lensman gets assignments outside the city bounds so an invitation to beautiful Ballycastle was a welcome treat and a much-needed break for both me and my home-working partner.
We were booked for a night stay with dinner and breakfast in the Marine Hotel on Ballycastle seafront, a place we had only ever stopped in for lunch and had not contemplated staying in previously.
The drive took just over an hour from Belfast and the change from cityscape to countryside views kicked our brains into relax mode.
2020 has very few positives but making us ‘staycation’ and rediscover our own local beauty spots and tourist trails must be a redeeming trait.
The Causeway coast has, in recent years, become a global tourism hit with Game of Thrones enthusiasts as well as with golfers following the global circuit.
Beautiful Ballycastle with views across to Rathlin is the perfect central location for these visitors and more.
With its picturesque harbour and beautiful 1.2km beach, Ballycastle has been a long time hit with all types of travellers as evidenced by the growing number of caravan parks and new holiday accommodation.
The Marine Hotel is perfectly positioned on North Street to offer spectacular views of the harbour, beach and the beautiful rugged coastline out to Rathlin Island. When the sun comes out, hotel guests fill the outside seating for lunch and coffee and take in the outstanding beauty.
Arriving later in the day, however, we decided to take in the ambience inside and immediately felt safe with the presence of a one-way system at the reception and hygiene stations dotted strategically throughout the hotel — evidence of the hotel's AA Covid-19 accreditation.
The receptionist was warm and friendly and ensured that we had found the best parking while sorting our room keys.
We were given the front-facing Torr Suite on the first floor and with windows on both sides of the room, it was impressive — even in the half-light of dusk.
The grey and mustard décor gave a modern feel and matched with the industrial black metalware in the bathroom, the room was spacious, chic and comfortable. The huge bed faced out to the sea and I watched the last of the daylight with a coffee while Lady Lensman made use of the dressing area and full-length mirror to get ready for dinner.
We dined in the Marconi bistro on the ground floor, named after the Italian radio pioneer who wirelessly linked Ballycastle and Rathlin in 1898 and in whose honour the bistro is decorated with radio and telecommunications artefacts.
The long bar and checkerboard flooring give a retro feel and the comfy bench seats are accompanied by smaller window seats again allowing diners to enjoy the coastal views.
The waiting staff were attentive and knowledgeable and informed us of the chef’s use of locally sourced produce and suppliers including Keenan Seafood and Carnbrooke meats.
The a la carte menu is served from lunch to late evening and had plenty to suit every palate. The comprehensive wine list catered for all tastes and pockets and even included a variety of prosecco and Champagne choices for diners in a celebratory mood.
I started with the seafood chowder, which was generously packed with salmon, cod and mussels and delicately flavoured with wholegrain mustard.
Lady Lensman had a small portion of mussels to start and was most complimentary of the creamy leek and white wine sauce and tasty homemade Guinness wheaten bread.
For main I ordered the 10oz sirloin steak, which was served with chunky chips, onion rings and roasted tomato and mushroom topped with pink peppercorn sauce. The entire dish was delicious, the steak was tender and cooked to perfection and the pink peppercorn sauce topped it off perfectly. Lady Lensman had the grilled seabass with pak choi and egg noodles with orange and chilli dressing. The fish was also perfectly cooked and the dressing was a well-balanced accompaniment without overpowering the seabass.
Both meals were delicious and we vowed at this point to return and try more of the menu choices in the future.
We had eaten more than enough but after the waitress talked us through the dessert menu, our mouths were again watering so we shared the lemon tart and an ice-cream sundae.
The lemon tart was perfectly sweet and sharp without being sour and the Morelli’s ice-cream sundae was sticky sweet deliciousness. The perfect end to a wonderful meal. As we finished our wine, the staff talked us through the cocktail list and showed us the large range of local whiskeys and gins.
The bistro was busy with a variety of diners from families to couples to friend groups but the gentle hum of conversation made for a relaxed and warm atmosphere, helped by the glow of the fireplace at the back of the room. We decided against a coffee from the barista bar and headed back to our room to retire.
In the morning, breakfast was again in the Marconi bistro and there was an excellent selection to choose from. We were quickly seated with tea and coffee and had a choice of breakfast juices, cereals, fresh fruit salad and yoghurt or a freshly cooked breakfast. I went for the full Irish while Lady Lensman had cereal and toast.
The portions were as generous as the evening meals and were every bit as tasty. We then stopped in the lobby coffee shop to indulge in a Costa coffee and a fresh traybake. While here, we could hear guests checking out and more than a few, like ourselves, vowing to return.
We would have no hesitation in recommending the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle to any reader. The hotel offers a variety of room sizes to suit any party and even provide newly renovated self-contained rooms for larger groups/families.
The Marine Hotel is family-friendly, golfer-friendly and even dog-friendly so everybody can enjoy a break. The hotel regularly offers package deals and their website has their updated availability and offers. So if you are in need of a change of scenery, a break to recharge your batteries or just a few days away with the kids to explore the Causeway coast, the Marine Hotel is a must – in fact, it’s our new ‘Toast of the Coast’.