Life is hard for restaurant workers. They have to put up with knuckle-munching customers and temperamental chefs. I’ve worked on building sites, in sewers, pig food mills and restaurants — and restaurants are by far the roughest and hardest places to earn a buck.
The mood of unhappy staff can occasionally spill over into the dining room to make life slightly uneasy for the paying customer.
Take a recent trip to the re-opened Beatrice Kennedy’s in the University area of Belfast. BK had suffered a fire earlier this year and had had to close down for a few weeks. It re-opened in April, its intimate Victorian interior enhanced by a lick of paint and some funky new wallpaper.
Reports from Beatrice Kennedy’s had largely been positive over the years. It features very highly and favourably on Trip Advisor. My brother and his wife are regulars and they know a good bit of scran from a mediocre one.
So six of us, in-laws included, booked a table last week to have a go. As soon as we were taken into the heart of the busy place, seated at the table and handed the menus, I sensed tension. It was hard to put a finger on it. Was it that everyone in the place was, classroom-like, on good behaviour? Was it the slightly, embarrassingly loud and negative response to a request for a bit of chicken for the ten-year-old (“There’s no chicken on the menu — so, no, there’s no chicken!”) or was it the stern, clipped manner of the maitre d’?
Anyway, the menu looked great and we shrugged off the oddly cold reception. Plenty of seasonal dishes, local produce and unpretentious simplicity. While they had no chicken, half portions were available for children (except the Kettyle’s rib-eye steak). Fine.
But when the maitre d’ came to take the orders and my father-in-law (not feeling the best) asked for a half portion of the duck dish, she said no. I asked why not? “It’s policy.” Father-in-law, a reasonable and accommodating man who would never make a fuss said, sure, give me a children’s portion. “No. They won’t do that.” What do you mean, ‘they’?” “The kitchen. It’s policy.”
This kind of absurdity is enough to put anybody off their dinner, no matter how good the food is. But despite the Kafka moment we persevered. And the food in Beatrice Kennedy’s is very good. An excellent carpaccio of scallop with crab meat was fabulously moist and briney, the adviser said. My asparagus with bread chips and poached egg was good but tiny (two spears of asparagus for £7.45) and while the egg was too hard and failed to bleed as desired, the bread chips were brittle, golden and sinfully good.
The shoulder of lamb with apple puree and celeriac remoulade was brilliant — the delicate but assertive favours of the lamb enhanced through slow cooking and served like a rough ballantine. It was unforgettable.
Father-in-law did, in the end, get his half portion of duck breast, which was also outstanding. Beautifully cooked with dark charred exterior bursting with salty flavours and a light pink and tender interior, this was one of the best magrets I’ve tasted in years.
Everything, particularly the accompanying side shows — pommes Anna, fondant potatoes (roasties), gratinee, rocket salad, sauces and the wheaten bread — were high standard, tasty, fresh, carefully and lovingly prepared and voluminous.
The desserts — we had zabaglione and steamed toffee pudding — were good and less good respectively. The zabaglione was a surprise. We expected something warm and lighter. What we got was a toffee-coloured moussey thing with a shot of sherry at the bottom.
After getting over the readjustment and the surprise, the BK interpretation of zabaglione was declared very good indeed. The steamed pudding was forgettable, dry and uninteresting. Even the butterscotch sauce and ice cream failed to resurrect it.
During the meal the maitre d’ brought additional stuff (water, butter, gravy) to the table quickly and graciously and it occurred to me that the trouble here is that Beatrice Kennedy’s is perhaps very much for regulars. Regulars know what to expect.
Half portion duck breast £8.95
Salmon x 2 £35.90
Fondant potatoes £2.95
Zabaglione x 2 £9.90
Sticky toffee pud x 2 £9.90
Bottle Macon blanc £18.95
Bottle Rioja £18.95
Diet Coke x 2 £3
Lge sparkling water £3
Glass semillion £3.95
Serv chrg for over 6 £17.20
44 University Road
Belfast, County Antrim BT7 1NJ
028 9020 2290