Former fans of the excellent and much-missed little fine dining restaurant Brulées of Limerick will be interested to find that owners Donal and Teresa Cooper have fetched up here, in Belfast’s most exciting cultural quarter right beside the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) - and Limerick’s loss is proving to be Belfast’s gain as this less formal but equally polished operation is well able to stand up to strong local competition and earning new followers by the day.
Cleanlined and smart, it may not stand out from its louder neighbours but its quiet tone is aesthetically pleasing and, with outside tables set up welcomingly - and protected from the elements by St Anne’s Square’s iconic white colonnade - it is an inviting destination.
Inside, large windows in the high celinged room allow a view of the square, and some old fashioned china (particularly the dainty coffee cups) on the nicely laid tables gives a welcome break from the relentless trend of plain white ware.
Friendly and efficient staff are quick to deal with arriving customers and, while menus don't give to much away - similar dishes feature on many other rmenus and there's not much mention of provenance other than a general 'Northern Ireland quality suppliers' sourcing statement - there are some promising options to try on a first visit, and you're sure to be back for more.
The mussels may be tempting, for example - from Dundrum or Strangford Lough, they're steamed and served in a roast vegetable Thai green curry and available as a starter in the evening and also with chips as a main course for lunch.
Or in another dish with oriental origins, delicious firm-fleshed Glenarm Organic Salmon comes with a soy and ginger glaze, steamed greens and noodle salad with a chilli & coriander dressing, making a full flavoured but fairly light dish for summer.
Some of the free range chicken dishes also have an Asian bent, but there are bistro classics too - a good Chicken Caesar for example - and traditionalists should be well pleased with the dry aged steak, whether in a tasty lunchtime onion focaccia sandwich with skinny fries, or steak and chips for dinner, with subtly updated classic accompanimments of grilled tomato, flat mushrooms and the de rigeur onion rings, along with a choice of peppercorn sauce, gorgeous Cashel Blue cheese or roast garlic butter.
It's all predictable enough sounding food on the face of it, but it's the cooking that makes a difference - you can take the fine dining out ofthe menu and the style, but you can't take the classical training out of the cook.
Desserts include old favourites and plenty of chocolate - brownies, of course, and chcoolate fondant - there may be a house variation on Eton mess in summer and farmhouse cheeses are offered too.
As would be expected from this talented team, smart service is matched by an interesting and well priced wine list - and good value overall.
One to try.