Impressive food, not to mention the vibe in this welcoming bistro in Belfast city centre.
Mourne Seafood Bar, Bank Street, Belfast.
Lively, stylish, welcoming. This new bistro, to the rear of Kelly's Cellars pub, has a small takeaway counter (with some queer-looking geezers staring up from the ice) opening back into a warm, tastefully decorated restaurant, with room for around 12 tables, all of which were taken when we arrived. Yes, word has spread about this seafood sanctuary (weekend nights are booked up a fortnight in advance) - a spinoff of its namesake in Dundrum, Co Down. The decor is a breath of fresh air - solid dark wood, cream walls, and a grand big chunky bar, with bottles of wine climbing the back wall. Not a chrome door-handle or shoddy artwork in sight.
A lively mix of punters - office groups, couples, and families enjoying a Friday afternoon treat.
Where do you start? It's extensive, with a variety of fish, seafood and even a few meat dishes. Items to catch my eye included seafood linguini; seared scallops with saffron risotto and gremolata; monkfish with Peking duck; roast gurnard; and the rather disconcertingly named 'local shark'. Prices range from £5.50 (piri piri prawns with warm focaccia) to £13.50 (sea bream).
What did we have?
After much agonising, I plumped for the homemade 'seafood fingers', but asked could I have chips instead of salad. My friend ordered smoked haddock fishcake with creamed leeks and soft poached egg.
Disability access/smoking policy?
The premises are all on the ground floor, with ramps, and a dedicated disabled toilet. It's non-smoking throughout.
My seafood fingers were definitely a step up from Bird's Eye, and the chips were delicious straggly wee things - but not the frozen, McDonald's-type. My friend's fishcake was a generous hunk (lucky her) and she pronounced it "bee-uuu-ti-ful" rather in the manner of a girl in a Herbal Essences ad. She was nearly beside herself when it came to the gooey egg.
Overall, we were highly impressed, not only by the food - which was fresh, well-cooked and well-presented - but by the vibe, which was most convivial and - frankly - called out for a glass of wine, a post-prandial coffee, and perhaps even a go at the chocolate pudding, none of which was possible on our rushed visit.
Seafood fingers £6.50; Haddock fishcake £8.50; 2 x sparkling waters £3.50. Total: £18.50.
There is a cod.