Deservedly hailed as Northern Ireland’s premier restaurant for many years, chef Michael Deane’s Howard Street restaurant has developed a more relaxed style of late but it remains a beacon of excellence - and the benchmark by which other restaurants inthe region are judged.
A dramatically changing dining scene in recent years has seen new customer demands emerging, and restaurants have had to change with them - but Michael Deane and his team have effected a transformation with consummate ease.
This iconic Belfast restaurants understated grey exterior is unchnged but, once inside, the warmth of sumptuous reds creates an ambience that is both welcoming and relaxing – while sparkling chandeliers and the luxurious fabric of window dressings convey an air of discreet luxury to the restaurant’s ‘French brasserie’ style.
True to form, Deane understands better than anyone the dual demand for quality and casual (and, by implication, less expensive) dining out – and so offers the choice of fine dining in the restaurant (or private dining at the exclusive upstairs dining room, The Circle), and a more casual option at the relaxed Deanes Seafood Bar alongside.
Deanes Seafood Bar has its own entrance but is adjacent to the restaurant and opens into it. Quite small, with tightly packed tables and an informal style, it has been a hit from the start with local diners who adore the casual vibe, the bistro menu and the keen prices – all with the same great cooking that is the Deanes trademark. It’s especially busy at lunchtime, when there’s a terrific buzz – and no wonder with a £6.50 lunch menu on the table.
In the restaurant, where a calmer atmosphere prevails and the offering remains 'fine dining at its best', this is matched by a one-course £10 Linen Lunch and an à la carte menu offering about six choices on each course; it reads deceptively simply, yet of course it is anything but basic and offers artistically prepared dishes with many named ingredients, both locally sourced (Belfast smoked salmon, Carlingford rock oysters, Kettyle rib-eye beef), and from other regions of speciality (Sainte Maure goats cheese, for example).
At lunch time and pre-theatre, a shorter à la carte is also offered and the value is good. Outstanding homemade breads (£4) come with the best tapenade, olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, promising a memorable experience.
Many of the dishes cooked with such aplomb have become synonymous with Deanes, or variations of them; a beautifully presented, fresh-flavoured signature starter of pan fried Strangford scallops with young vegetables for example, which may also be offered with samphire in season.
Main courses may include timeless classics like a stunningly tender and well flavoured char-grilled 28 day aged sirloin triple cooked chips and green beans, with sauce foyoté (a variation on béarnaise), which is precisely executed; and, perhaps, an enduringly popular main course of whole dover sole meunière, with pak choi, brown shrimps cucumber & curry scented olive oil. Accomplished cooking allows the more-ish flavours and textures of each perfectly judged dish to star.
Desserts are predictably appealing - how could anyone resist a irresistible and a luscious and intriguing devil's food cake with, calamelised hazelnut semi-freddo and smoked sea salt?
The cheese trolley offers an exceptional choice of artisan French and Irish cheeses, expertly served at the table in peak condition.
A dynamic team provides the impeccable service that has always been synonymous with Deanes, and prices are very fair for the standard of food and service offered. Pre-theatre and lunch menus are outstanding value for money, offering a good range of carefully selected dishes with the same high standards applying. At the other end of the spectrum, a daily six-course local produce Tasting Menu is offered which, for harmony of service, must be ordered by all guests at the table.
An appropriate wine list includes a champagne menu, seasonal wine suggestions and many classic treats; an interesting page of 'Try Something Different' suggestions includes plenty of accessible bottles that should encourage diners to be more adventurous. There are also plenty of wines available by the half bottle and glass and, as always, the discreet advice given to match wines with the food is outstanding.
Deane and his ever evolving team have for many years spearheaded modern food in Belfast, and continue to provide discerning Northern Ireland diners with a cuisine choice of exceptional quality.
* Deanes Restaurant was the Guide’s Restaurant of the Year in 2008.