posted on April 1st, 2020

Recreating Fine Dining at Home with Chris Rees

Chris Rees – Head Chef at Galgorm River Room Restaurant.

Whilst restaurants across the country have unfortunately had to close their doors, Chris Rees, Head Chef of The River Room at Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort, has created four delicious recipes so that you can recreate a taste of fine dining in your home during self-isolation. 

Cheese and onion tart with butternut squash and Périgord truffle

Cheese and onion tart with butternut squash and Périgord truffle.

This is a delicious vegetarian dish from the River Room menu, it consists of a sweet and sharp onion jam, rich Irish cheddar sauce and baked discs of butternut squash and is topped with roast onion and thin slices of winter truffle for that touch of extravagance.

Small flan tins will be required for individual tarts or a large one can be made in a bigger tin and portioned after.

Ingredients: serves 4

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 20g fresh truffle (truffle oil can be added at the end if these are unavailable)
  • 4 onions
  • Splash of sherry vinegar
  • 60g sugar
  • 100g hard Irish cheddar, like Coolea (Comté or Gruyère will do also)
  • 100ml cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 8 sheets filo pastry (about 20cm x 20 cm)
  • 80g melted butter for brushing
  • Spoonful honey
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper


For the butternut squash:

  • Firstly, cook the butternut squash, start by slicing the whole vegetable lengthways into pieces around 1cm in thickness, place these on a baking tray brush with oil and honey.
  • Season with salt and pepper and cook in a low oven (120c) until just soft. Remove and allow to cool then using pastry cutters cut into discs about half the diameter of the flan tin.

For the onion jam:

  • Slice 3 of the onions very thin, use a mandolin or Japanese slice for best results. Add to a warm pan with a little oil, salt and pepper.
  • Cook the onions slowly for about 40 minutes until reduced and very soft, add the sugar and allow to caramelise then add the vinegar and continue to cook gently until soft and sticky. More sugar or vinegar can be added to taste.

For the cheese sauce:

  • Place a pot of water on the heat and allow to boil, then place a metal bowl over the water to create a bain marie.
  • Add the cream, eggs and grated cheese to the bowl and gently whisk over heat, continue to cook until the sauce has thickened to a custard consistency then remove from the heat.

For the pastry:

  • Lay out 4 of the sheets of pastry then brush with butter and season
  • Top each sheet with another one to create 4 double layered sheets and cut into circles about 2cm bigger than the baking tins, then carefully press into the base of the tin.Put another tin on top to hold it in place while cooking.
  • Bake in the oven at 150c until lightly golden and crisp.

For the roast onion:

  • Cut the remaining onion in half and in a heavy based pan, add a little oil and butter over a medium heat, season, then place the two halves cut side down in the oil and butter. Allow to colour, then place in an oven to cook until very soft at 160c. Once cooked, allow to cool then cut each half again so that there are 4 quarters.

To assemble the dish:

  • Lay out the crisp tart cases and put a layer of the onion jam in the base of each one
  • Add a good layer of cheese sauce then slices of the squash on top
  • Place a piece of the soft quartered onion on top and warm through in the oven
  • Before serving, shave thin slices of truffle over the tart and finish with a few fresh leaves.

Wine Recommendation | Santa Alicia Chardonnay

The vineyards are located in the Maipo Alto area of Chile, at the foot of the Andes Mountains. The soil of alluvial origin is very permeable, with medium intensity. The lack of precipitation from November to March produces grapes of excellent health and quality, with well-developed aromas and flavours.

100% Chardonnay, Grapes are handpicked to avoid damaging the clusters at the end of March. 80% of them are fermented in fine grain French oak barrels and kept with its lees for 6 months. The other 20% are fermented in stainless steel tanks.

Golden yellow colour with greenish hues. The complex aromas exhibit great intensity and notes of tropical and citrus fruit, nicely balanced with notes of toasted oak, hazelnuts, cinnamon and vanilla. A delicate and elegant wine in the mouth, with a fine balance between the fruit and the wood, nice acidity and persistent finish.

Co. Antrim Quail, with Mustard Tarragon and Spring Vegetables

Co. Antrim Quail, with Mustard Tarragon and Spring Vegetables.

This delectable dish has featured across The River Room Tasting Menu and embodies Spring.

It uses quail, a small, poultry like bird that we get from a small artisan producer, Sebastian McMichael based in County Antrim. The dish itself is one of the more popular offerings on the menu and is highly rated among our guests. It comprises of quail breasts, dumplings made from the legs and potato, spring vegetables and a mustard sauce.

This recipe can have the quail replaced by poussin, a small chicken, or a larger chicken as a main course, if quail is unavailable.

Ingredients: Serves 4

  • 4 quail (or 1 large chicken as a main course for 4 people)
  • Good quality mustard like Savora or English.
  • 100ml white wine
  • 150ml cream
  • 30g chopped tarragon
  • 250g dry mashed potato
  • 1 egg
  • 50g strong flour
  • 200g sprouting broccoli
  • 8 baby carrots
  • 80g broad beans
  • Butter, olive oil, salt and pepper


For the Potato and Leg Dumplings

  • Remove the legs from the birds and gently poach in the white wine until the meat can be easily picked from the bones, strain the stock and set aside.
  • Combine the leg meat, potato, egg and half of the tarragon and season to taste.
  • Form this into a dough and roll into small balls, about 2 per person, poach these in boiling water until the float for a few seconds then remove and set aside, coating them in a little oil to ensure that they don’t stick together.

For the Mustard Sauce

  • Take the poaching stock from the legs and reduce it by half, add the cream and reduce by half again, at this point add the mustard to taste and the remaining tarragon, season and set aside.

To cook the Quail and the Vegetables

  • Have a pot of water on for the vegetables and a frying pan on for the quail.
  • Firstly, remove the backbone from the birds leaving only the crown, cook these crowns in a little oil in a hot pan until golden on each side, add the butter and when it starts to foam, spoon into the cavity of each bird to baste them.
  • Place the birds in the oven on a tray for around 5 minutes at 180c. When cooked allow to rest. The dumplings can be added to the still hot pan at this point to give them a crisp texture and golden colour.
  • While the birds are cooking, the baby carrots can go in the water for around 8 minutes, followed by the beans and the broccoli near the end of this time, allowing vegetables to all be ready together.
  • Transfer the vegetables into another hot saucepan with a little olive oil and toss to allow any excess water to evaporate, season with salt and pepper.

To Assemble

  • Remove the breasts from the birds by cutting along the breastbone with a small sharp knife and working the knife along the inside of the carcase towards the wing bone, then remove the wing bones from the breasts.
  • Place the breasts on a wide bowl or plate and arrange the leg dumplings and vegetables alongside.
  • Warm and pour a little of the sauce to one side and garnish with a few picked tarragon leaves.

Fillet of Irish beef with nettles, smoked aubergine & beef fat carrots

Fillet of Irish beef with nettles, smoked aubergine & beef fat carrots.

Beef fillet is always on the menu at the River Room, it’s a crowd pleaser and never fails to satisfy. We alternate the garnish every few weeks to suit the season and in this instance it’s served with a smoky aubergine puree. As nettles are everywhere now, we pick them from the surrounding area and make an intense nettle oil to split the sauce.

Some organic carrots are cooked in beef fat and tossed in beef dripping breadcrumbs for a bit more substance and texture, along with a few other token seasonal vegetables for good measure.

Ingredients: Serves 4

  • 4x beef fillet steaks (or any other beef steak)
  • 100ml beef sauce or gravy
  • 2 aubergines
  • 8 baby carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 1 hispi cabbage (or savoy will do)
  • Few potatoes on the side
  • 100g beef fat
  • 40g bread crumbs
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • Good handful of nettle leaves per person and a little baby spinach
  • Salt and pepper
  • 50ml cream


For the aubergine puree:

  • Preheat an oven to around 190oc. Roast the aubergines over an open flame, (we use the gas stove or blowtorch) and when a dark almost burnt colour is achieved, place on a tray and bake in the oven until soft.
  • When slightly cooled cut them open and remove the centre with a small spoon being careful not to get any of the burnt skin.
  • Place in a saucepan and cook to remove excess moisture. Add the cream, season then blend in a food processor until smooth. Keep warm and set aside.

For the nettle oil:

  • Heat the oil in a small pot until hot, (around 90oc) and pour into the food processor.
  • Add the washed nettle leaves and spinach and blend until the oil turns very green for about 5 minutes, add a pinch of salt.
  • Transfer the hot mixture to a fine sieve lined with a jay cloth, and strain over a bowl with another bowl of ice below. This will rapidly cool the oil keeping it green, once the oil is collected keep aside, ideally in a small bottle.

For the carrots:

  • Take the tops off the carrots and wash them, blanch them in a pot of rapidly boiling water for around a minute then rub off the skins with a cloth, the carrots should still be raw at this point.
  • Transfer them to another pot of warm beef fat and cook gently until soft, use a small knife to check.
  • When the carrots are done, reserve a small amount of fat in a frying pan and cook the breadcrumbs until lightly golden, keep this aside to roll the carrots in prior to serving.

For the additional garnish:

  • Cut the onions in half, leaving the skin on and season, do the same to the potatoes and place in a saucepan with a little beef fat, place in the oven and cook until soft.
  • Use the water from the carrots to cook the cabbage leaves. Set aside.

For the beef and to serve:

  • Season the beef fillets and pan fry at a high heat until dark in colour, then place on a tray, pour over any juices from the pan and cook to your desired temperature (for a thick 10oz fillet steak this is around 7 minutes at 190oc for medium).
  • Allow the beef to rest for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, heat the beef sauce and the vegetables on a tray in the oven. Once hot, place a spoonful of the aubergine puree on a warm plate and arrange the vegetables to one side.
  • Slice the beef and place on the garnish.
  • Pour over a little sauce and split the sauce with the green nettle oil.

Wine Pairing: Lunaria Coste di Moro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2013

This biodynamic Montepulciano d`Abruzzo is made from carefully selected grapes and left to ferment naturally using wild yeasts before ageing in a combination of oak and stainless steel for at least four months.

Deep ruby red in colour, the nose is intense of red fruit, black cherry jam and a toasty note from the oak ageing. The palate is fairly full bodied with concentrated black fruit notes combined with cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla held together by chewy tannins and a long, fruity finish.

This wine has a beautiful smooth finish that will clear your palate from all the richness of the Irish Beef Fillet.


Monkfish tail, summer vegetables, scallop and shellfish sauce

Monkfish tail, summer vegetables, scallop and shellfish sauce.

This dish, and variations of it, are always a staple favourite on the late Spring and Summer menus of The River Room, featuring as a fish course on tasting menus and sometimes simply with scallops as a starter on the evening menu.

The star of the show is really the complex sauce that brings everything together. Although this dish requires effort, the results are well worth it.

Ingredients: Serves 4

  • 8 New Potatoes
  • Prawn or Lobster Shells
  • 2 500g Monkfish Tails
  • 4 Large Scallops with Roe
  • 1 Gem Lettuce
  • 4 Baby Courgettes
  • Globe Artichokes
  • Samphire

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 Orange (peel and juice)
  • 1 tsp Tomato Puree
  • 1 Small Onion
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 stick Celery
  • Star Anise, Garlic Bay Leaf
  • Splash of Brandy
  • 1 Glass White Wine,
  • 300ml Fish Stock.
  • 60ml Cream
  • 50g Butter


To make the sauce:

  • Cut all of the vegetables into small pieces and gently cook in a heavy saucepan, along with the garlic, star anise and bay leaf, until soft and translucent.
  • Add the tomato puree and continue to cook for a few minutes, then add the wine and brandy with the orange juice and peel.
  • At this point the roasted shells and scallop roe can be added to the sauce. Simmer for about an hour at a medium heat and pass through a fine sieve. Add the cream and whisk in the butter to create a thick sauce.

For the vegetables:

  • I have chosen these vegetables; however, any in-season summer vegetables can be used.
  • Peel the leaves off the artichokes, then using a peeler trim into shape, scoop out the middle and poach for around 8 minutes in a little water, olive oil and lemon juice. Season and set aside.
  • Simply cook the potatoes in salted boiling water then with a small sharp knife remove the skins and dress with a little olive oil. Use this water to cook the courgettes for around 3 minutes depending on size.
  • Cut the gem lettuce lengthways in 4 and wash with the samphire and set aside.

To cook the fish and assemble the dish:

  • Season and pan fry the monkfish tails in a large hot pan with a little oil until slightly golden. Transfer to a flat tray and place in a low heated oven (80-90c) for around 5 minutes until the flesh feels slightly firm.
  • Using the same pan, gently cook the scallops. Once cooked, place the scallops beside the monkfish on the tray.
  • In a small saucepan with a little butter, add the vegetables and the gem lettuce and gently warm through, until the lettuce has wilted, then season to taste.
  • Remove the fillets on the monk tail with a sharp knife by cutting along the single bone on each side, place each fillet on a plate with the scallops and dress with the vegetables.
  • Finish with the shellfish sauce.

Wine Pairing: Reserve No. 1 Chenin Blanc Unwooded 2014 South Africa

With vineyards situated in the prime Paarl region with varying climatic zones, grapes are hand selected for the Reserve No. 1 Chenin Blanc.

The cool breezes from the nearby Atlantic Ocean from the early afternoon result in cool night temperatures of 15-17 degrees Celsius. Moderate temperature differences allow vines to rest during the night. This combined with the hardy soil type leads to robust ripe fruit flavours.

Deep, bright gold. Super attractive nose with waves of tropical fruits, citrus and honeysuckle backing. Rich and full in the mouth with deep flavours and crisp acidity. All in fresh, youthful mode. Guava, granadilla and some mango with lots of citrus.

Flavours seem to be endless as with everlasting finish making this wine perfect to stand against the delightful sauce in this dish.

This Chenin Blanc shows an exceptional expression of the Chenin Blanc variety. The perfect balance between the prominent litchi fruit and the depth of guava flavours on the palate. The “sur lie” extended lees contact period, adding complexity and a creamy, textured mouthfeel to the wine.



More about Chris Rees, Head Chef of The River Room at Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort, Ballymena, Northern Ireland

  • With a motto to keep your standards high, enjoy your creativity and make dining fun, Head Chef Chris Rees is making waves in the Irish food scene. His creative dishes are exquisitely constructed to showcase the best of local artisan produce.
  • A self-confessed ‘messer’ in the kitchen, Chris’ dishes are packed with seasonal ingredients sourced from carefully selected local suppliers and the Resorts very own kitchen garden, all imaginatively served to complement an extensive wine list.
  • Having joined the Resort as a sous chef in 2009, Chris quickly worked his way up, becoming head chef in 2012. After four years as Head Chef, he worked for nearly three years at Belfast’s Michelin starred ‘Ox’ before returning home to the kitchens of the Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort as Executive Head Chef.
  • His signature style is to keep things simple and sustainable. Quality produce is paramount and creativity with your ingredients is key according to Chris – and he enjoys the freedom of creativity he has with the menu for The River Room, one of only four restaurants in Northern Ireland to be awarded 3 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence. It embodies the ethos of Galgorm in its menu and dishes, offering a unique and memorable dining experience.