CLOSED - MOVING TO NEW LOCATION
Formerly the Bourbon Restaurant & Bar, Victoria Restaurant is the latest venture by Raymond McArdle, the talented chef who earned his stripes with the Northern Ireland greats – Paul Rankin, Robbie Millar, Michael Deane – and then, not only went on to make the Nuremore Hotel & Country Club in Co Monaghan one of the country’s top foodie destinations but, in 2000, also opened his own restaurant, the successful Restaurant 23 in Warrenpoint, Co Down.
This large restaurant is his first in Belfast and it’s already making waves. Famous for its theatrical ambience, the premises has had a makeover – and it’s for the better. While the dramatic architectural features remain, the heavily baroque décor has been lightened and softened with a more elegant scheme of green, cream and silver, enhanced by natural wood tones.
Simple bistro-style table settings make their own statement – bare darkwood table tops, generous white linen napkins, quality cutlery and fine glasses - while a row of crystal spheres hung along the bar adds a touch of glamour.
Very attractive seating options include tables for two in the window looking out on Great Victoria Street and a raised dais with circular balustrade – and, in the well of the space, there’s a range of tables, many of them circular, also light green velvet-upholstered pairs of bench seats creating booths for four along one wall.
Although very large, this Belfast restaurants many divisions create a sense of intimacy and it makes an opulent setting for some very good cooking – and good value too.
Chatty blackboards in the small entrance foyer are a nice welcoming touch, making suggestions and pricing your meal - lunch at £9 for one course, £12 for two, or £15 for three, is one example of a wide range of menus for different times and occasions, covering everything from a very reasonably priced pre/post-theatre menu (especially important, given the location so close to the Grand Opera House and other city centre venues including the Ulster Hall) to a Prestige Menu, designed to showcase the chef's talents. This is available to a complete table every evening, or to groups of six to 10 at the Chef’s Table, where guests gathered around a ‘butcher’s block’ can get a bespoke menu, extra special service and a view of the busy pass.
It may be a big space to fill seven days a week but Raymond and his team have put a lot of thought into the very appealing range of menus offered (including a short but inventive vegetarian menu), the cooking is excellent and the friendly and well-informed staff ensure that customers enjoy it at its best.
The cooking style is contemporary, with widespread influences but classic undertones – dishes crossing several menus include gazpacho, pasta, risotto, Thai curries, wontons, French onion soup, and ‘assiettes’ on several themes (including local seafood, and also Fermanagh pork with black pudding fritters and mustard sauce, on the Sunday menu) – and a welcome feature is the flexibility between menus.
At lunch, for example, you not only have the choice of one to three courses (plus lovely specials, such as lobster linguine and mussels Thai style), but some dishes may also be ordered as starter or main course portions – and, should you wish to pass on the desserts offered, you could opt to share the dessert platter (£10) off the à la carte, or just have the reasonably priced petits fours 'ideal for two'.
Raymond McArdle is well known for his commitment to quality produce (much of it local, or at least Irish) but a sourcing statement would be welcome. Fermanagh pork is mentioned, also ‘old spot’; Angus and Hereford beef are both named on various dishes (sirloin and fillet steaks, homemade burgers, Sunday’s slow roast beef), but without a specific source, and the provenance of poultry is not noted. However, menus are sprinkled with reassuring references such as, Kilkeel crab, Glenarm salmon, Mulberry farm salads, and St Tola cheese (from Co Clare).
It’s nice to begin with breads that include the local Belfast batch bread (white bloomer) and Guinness wheaten bread; this is one of a number of sociable ‘dishes to share’, which include other starters - a duck liver paté (with brioche toast and honey truffle jelly), seafood platter (with the Guinness wheaten) and crisp pork pastillas à l’orientale (with dipping sauce) – and also the dessert platter, which offers a selection of four small desserts possibly including a delicious, fresh-tasting strawberry sorbet with hibiscus and – the star of the show on a recent visit - a miniature kilner jar of coconut and white chocolate pannacotta with start anise and passion fruit, which comes topped with a little passion fruit foam.
Raymond McArdle's reputation has preceded him and will be a great asset to this new venture. Excellent food, lovely surroundings, good service, value for money and a central location in Belfast's 'Golden Mile' – what more could you want?