The first restaurant to open on the beautiful new St Anne’s Square in Belfast’s buzzy Cathedral Quarter, this stylish younger sister to Dermot and Catherine Regan’s well known Newtownabbey restaurant, Oregano, has been the talk of the town since opening in late 2010.
Despite the grandeur of its location under an impressive white neo-classical colonnade, and its soaring iron columns, this classy contemporary bistro with is a welcoming space. Tall windows flood the room with natural light, and its comfortably understated wooden furniture, white wood panelling, slate grey floor (deliberately reminiscent of the cobblestones outside) and the informality of an open kitchen all make for an atmosphere that is relaxed and comfortable.
Like its sister restaurant, the aim is to allow diners to enjoy good food in an informal setting – and the food philosophy is focused firmly on using the freshest of ingredients in dishes that are imaginative yet allow the food itself to star.
Menus are admirably compact yet offer plenty of choice. The range offered includes a well-priced and seriously tempting lunch menu (anyone for ‘Potted Hen’ Chicken terrine with spiced tomato & aubergine relish and grilled homemade focaccia? Or Kilkeel prawn risotto with chilli, ginger and coriander?), with vegetarian and coeliac friendly dishes highlighted, and many dishes available as starter or main course portions.
Similar choice and value is offered on both the 2/3 course pre-theatre menu and the “Lazy Sundays at The Potted Hen Bistro”, when parents are invited to ‘Relax and take it easy while the children eat free’...
The main evening à la carte menu makes up in interest anything it may lack in length, offering plenty of temptingly simple dishes that depend on skilful execution to make them special.
And special they certainly are - whether it’s a fine rump of lamb, a well hung local ribeye steak, a tender breast of free range Armagh chicken or a stunningly fresh fillet of cod, its fifteen or so dishes showcasing fresh local ingredients are all cooked and served with flair – and, as on the lunch menu, some dishes are available in starter or main course portions too.
And, while each dish delivers on flavour, a restraint and desire not to overwhelm the palate is evident in the cooking and choice of garnish – pork belly comes with a refreshing apple sorbet, for example, or pan fried mackerel may be served with a dainty potato salad and pickled cucumber.
Desserts are a vibrant affair of citrus fruit possets, fruit soups, classic crème brulée...but be sure to try the peanut butter and chocolate semi freddo served with balsamic poached cherries – it’s a revelation.
In tune with the food, the drinks menu includes locally brewed beers and cocktails as well as an accessible wine list. Staff are friendly and helpful but, if there is any downside to the mainly excellent experience at The Potted Hen, it would be that service can come under pressure when the restaurant is busy.
However, with a winning combination of a special setting, classy bistro food at a fair price and long opening hours, The Potted Hen has made lot of friends.