Why all the hype about Belfast? Lonely Planet has called it ‘a city on the rise’. In 2009, Frommer’s rated Belfast one of the top 12 world holiday destinations. And we all know how the locals boast about the Titanic being built here… But is Belfast really a foodie’s city?
Deanes is a star for several reasons. The food, obviously. The service, absolutely. Consistency, yep. But to thrive in an up-and-coming city centre you must impress the jaded diner with details and not be too stuffy.
I decided to do some serious investigative reporting, pop over to Belfast City for the day and see for myself. After all, this is a city transformed. The Troubles are a time gone past, and let’s be honest, there are few things we love more than a reinvention (See Madonna, Britney Spears, Berlin). And well, since I am fresh off the boat from New York City, it’s a pretty swish thing to tell the kids back home. ‘No biggie, I’m going to Belfast for lunch’.
After an ungodly early start, I arrived in Belfast city centre at about 9am. While I waited for the city to wake up I did a little perusing of the January sales (shopping threshold: sixty minutes flat), I had a cup of tea (kudos to you The Little Cupcake Café—lovely cuppa), did some people watching and then set out to find Deanes, Northern Ireland’s well-known restaurant.
I appeared thirty minutes before my reservation ready to chew my own arm off hoping they could squeeze me in early, but completely prepared to saddle up to the bar and eat cocktail fruit if need be.
I was delighted to find my table set out, patiently awaiting my arrival. The setting was impeccable—minimalist with starched white tablecloths, unscuffed wooden floors and chic red walls. While the room was awash with suits devouring chargrilled ribeye, crisp duck leg and triple cooked chips talking business, the atmosphere was rather relaxed. With Deanes sparkling reputation, I expected more pretention, more attitude and I found none. Impressive.
I chose the Strangford Scallops (£12.50) for my starter paired with a light South African Chardonnay. I was surprised at the portion size, enough for eight New York fashion people (read: four medium-sized scallops seared to perfection, an art form in and of itself). They were served on a celeriac mash alongside a bite-size bed of wilted spinach. I passed on the crispy bacon and black pudding that it is normally served with, but think that it was delectable without.
Not two minutes after my appetizer plate was whisked away, the seabass arrived, one of the day’s three specials (£24). Served with more wilted spinach and a medley of mushrooms and a couple of tomatoes thrown in for good measure. The wine pairing for this course was a bit trickier as I didn’t really see anything on the menu that caught my fancy.
The plate included six generous portions of the chef’s choice including a mature cheddar from Cork that resembled Swiss, but was much milder than I was expecting. I like a good surprise though and that it was. The rest ranged from stinky and stinkier, precisely what a cheese plate should be. The honey had a cinnamon flavour and the chutney changes with the season depending on how they are feeling in the kitchen.
If I had to find one squabble with the meal… and of course I do, I’m a New Yorker, it would be the rosemary biscuits that accompanied the cheeses. I felt they competed with the cheese and if combined with the honey or chutney the flavours canceled each other out. Do your taste buds a favour and opt for the oaty biscuits instead.
36-40 Howard Street
028 9033 1134
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away
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