Belfast’s newest Michelin star restaurant, and only the second after Ox sets the bar high with food, drink, and ambiance. Getting a table is a tricky affair, but if you are willing to wait a while, you can get one far out. But the real question is, is it worth the wait and the hype?
Through the Looking Glass: Ambiance and Atmosphere
Entering through the attached Dean’s Fish restaurant, there’s a definite feeling of having arrived when getting to the upscale EIPIC portion through another door. The area feels set up a bit like a wedding with heavy black, silver, and white cues, and lots of sparkly lights. There are even little footstools for setting your purse down, I believe because setting your purse on the floor in certain cultures is considered bad luck. So refined!
The bar and small tables are great for a pre dinner drink with several cocktails and bubbly drinks available. After moving to the table (they only have about 10 and do only one seating a night per table because of the length of the tasting menu), food begins arriving.
There is an option of either a 40 pound menu or 60 pound which are largely the same with a few additions on the 60 pound one.
Give me Libations, or Give me Death!
You can also add a wine pairing with glasses or interestingly, shots (about half a glass) with each dish. We opted for the 60 pound menu and did the wine shots until we got to the big full bodied reds toward the end and switched to full glasses. Each wine was carefully selected by the great and personable sommelier who served each and told us about them as well as why they were selected. The Rioja was pure perfection in a glass. It’s been a long time since a sommelier payed such close attention to my preferences and reactions to wine and it really added a huge amount of personality and memorability to the evening.
Are You not Amuse-d Bouche-d?
The food was stellar from start to finish. Each course built a little upon the previous and got more flavorful and heavier. Everything was quite light though and even after 10 or so courses and cheese, the feeling was more pleasantly filled than overstuffed.
The onion and cheddar bites served as an amuse bouche got the party started. They were nice and crispy with just a hint of an onion and cheddar bite that didn’t overwhelm the prosecco or subsequent dishes. The artichoke and black garlic foam was creamy and fragrant without being overpowering again. A common theme of the night was a fantastic balance of flavor and texture that slowly built from light and airy to heavier and meatier from dish to dish. A truly successful tasting menu will not feel like a collection of unrelated good dishes, but rather a constant stream of food that builds upon the previous dish and transitions between, making it hard to discern how you got to the current place from where you started.
The bread and butter was out of this world good with a nice crusty crunch and slightly salted butter, all obviously freshly made. The place setting here gives a better idea of the atmosphere and what I mean by upscale wedding. The crusty bread is locally made and freshly delivered. The heavier grain bread is also fresh and soaked up the tasty butter into a delicious mixture.
Correction: the bread is all leavened and baked in house!
You Have got to be Yolking!
The egg yolk with pork cracklings was probably the least favorite dish as it was a bit salty and the large yolk was a bit too much of the eggy texture. The cracklings were delicious though and the tiny mushrooms were playful. I like to imagine a tiny woodland grove where butterflies are dragons and little nymphs prance between these tiny mushrooms. Just me? Moving on.
The sea bass, dill, and hollandaise was a nice transition from light appetizers into the bigger entree courses. The dill and hollandaise was filling but herby in a fresh and seasonal way. The fish was extremely tasty as well but the sauce and dill really brought out the flavor. Dill can so easily be overpowering, but this dish was nice and restrained and it was only a secondary or tertiary note instead of taking over. Similarly, the hollandaise was not heavy nor did the fish swim in it, unlike pretty much every brunch Eggs Benedict in the world. I like my fish to swim in the water, not hollandaise.
I’ll Take the Next Dish, Just for the Halibut
The halibut was almost more of a steak as it was served as a standalone filet seared to perfection. The “bone” sauce added a nice heavier flavor to the meaty fish and went very well with the heavier veggies like cauliflower. I need to find their cauliflower supplier as it was the most unique I’ve seen with color packed red and purple pieces and tiny miniature versions as well.
And a Partridge in a Pear Sauce, or Partridge Sauce
The partridge served as the poultry course and was memorable for the bold move of adding little shavings of crisped black pudding to it. It was also served in a tasty “partridge” sauce with cabbage. The meat was succulent with both a breast and thigh with ample meat. I’ll skip the three French Hens, the Turtle Doves, and just go with this dish.
Oh Dear! Still Have Room?
The venison was without a doubt the best course and probably the most traditional. The meat was a succulent rare cut with a beautiful sear and amazing coloring. It tasted even better than it looked and truly melted in the mouth. The pears were a nice citrus compliment to a heavy course and the pureed sauce added some more airy texture. The wine served with this course was my favorite as well and really stood up to the strong meaty and earthy course. If nothing else, go just for this course.
What a Friend we Have in Cheeses
An incredible cheese plate followed with about 8 selections of various soft and hard cheeses including goat, local, and several french varieties. Each was exceptional and while it was hard to choose a favorite, I think I preferred the goat cheese. It’s hard to go wrong with a nice creamy soft goat cheese. The Irish Cheddar was very solid as well.
Apples to Apples
A spiced apple slice with a crispy honeycomb was off the charts. The apple and honey flavors meshed perfectly together and the apple was cooked to a nice texture and consistency. I’m not normally a huge apple fan but this combination really brought out the best of the forbidden fruit. The crisp was also awesome and brought me back to childhood days of cereal and milk.
Death by Chocolate
The chocolate and chestnut cake with toasted milk was next and as a chocolate and ice cream lover, this one hit home with me. The complex flavors of dark chocolate and chestnut were extremely rich and satisfying at this point in the meal. It may have looked like a fuzzy yolk (my punk band name, my CCR tribute band is yuzzy folk), but it was chocolate indulgence. It was like being wrapped by a warm blanket of chocolate by the fireplace on a snowy winter’s eve.
Don’t Say it’s Over!
Last was a crispy cracker with raspberry jam and almonds. This served as an excellent digestif tied a nice bow on the meal. After this marathon of food, it actually felt like an accomplishment to have made it through to the other side. Wine with the desserts was hot and cold. I’m not a big fan of dessert wines, so I appreciate the quality of the one offered, but didn’t really love it. The port was quite tasty though and also leant an air of sophistication and finality to the meal. We finished with Bailey’s on the rocks because this is after all the Emerald Isle.
That feeling when you’ve had 11 courses all with wine and the crackers put you over the edge.