Who would have thought that a city centre, bouncer-protected palace of darkness and raucous night life would also harbour a kitchen whose staff are dedicated not to feeding deep-fried sustenance to armies of clubbers, but to providing something entirely classier?
Café Vaudeville, the beautifully blousy “luxe bar, club and restaurant” housed in a former early 20th century bank’s head quarters is famous for its 40ft-long bar, its glamour and cocktails, indoor palm trees and extensive mezzanine where professional dancers make appearances late at night.
The advisor and I have been many times and agree it’s one of the best-managed funhouses in the city.
What’s less well known about Café Vaudeville, however, is the quality of the food served here. When a place as popular as Café Vaudeville could get away with serving chicken nuggets and chips — people don’t come here primarily to eat, they’re here to dance, drink and pull — it’s a blessing to discover that the food isn’t just good, it is brilliant, exciting, clever and seductive.
The service and floor staff are exemplary as well and it’s high time that this corner of culinary excellence steps into the spotlight.
Entertainment experts talk about providing total packages. That is why we have places like Love & Death, which combines gritty club culture with live music, cocktails and exceptional meals. (Mind you, if L&D could stop charging £8 club entrance money from diners who’ve just spent £500 on the food downstairs, it would help.) Café Vaudeville might be less on the edge of life as we know it than Love & Death, but it has all the right ingredients to brighten the existence of anyone of any age.
A family dinner for five on a Wednesday night was faultless. Climb the steps into the grandeur of the main room with its completely decadent, post-Edwardian gin palace décor and you enter a world of promise and mischief. At 7.30pm, this is a very different place to what it will be in three hours’ time. It’s calm and you can see the full splendour of the place.
Taken to the back of the hall, the space is transformed into a kind of Arizona diner with western desert scenes, red leather banquettes and sunken floor. There’s also a waist-high fireplace in front of which we are happily placed.
Soon the pigeon breast arrives and a stream of other orders — including charcuterie that features Bayonne ham and some excellent if eye-watering, home-made piccalilli, rigatoni with dark and deep brisket bolognaise and Guinness and treacle wheaten bread with an unusual little slab of hand-churned Abernethy butter from Dromara.
The care with which all if this has been prepared and presented immediately sets the bar very high. The quality of the pigeon, which is very rare, firm and yet tender and melts in the mouth, is as good as Danny Millar’s in Balloo House. The potato gratin beneath is perfectly cooked with good texture and no resistance.
A dish of pork cheeks and jowls arrives and the generosity of the plate is almost overwhelming. The pair of cheeks glisten in a dark, sweet sauce and fold under the knife as easily as the famous Le Mans rillettes. The great slab of jowl, all golden and crispy, dominates the dish and under the crackling skin lies the beautifully creamy-coloured, flaky meat, as tender as the cheeks. It’s surprisingly very rustic, very robust, yet as exuberant and show-offy as the Café itself.
The advisor’s orzo with big prawns provide a lighter-than-risotto experience with all the warmth and flavours of the sea mixed with cream. Her braised beef is a match for the pork cheeks and jowls, bursting with deep taste and a monument to comfort food.
The teenagers get stuck into a medium-rare sirloin, some penne pasta with bolognaise and seabass. All three were textbook.
Generous fillets of seabass served with bright greens, the steak an inviting welcome mat of aged beef and the pasta another lesson in comfort and joy.
The lasting impression of Café Vaudeville’s food offer is one of surprise and amazement. We have to admire the bloody-mindedness of the management and kitchen to maintain culinary and service standards nobody really expects of a place like this.
It deserves every accolade and award and the fact that it won the Fate Best Overall Venue gives more value now to the Fate Awards than ever.
Charcuterie board £8
Small bolognaise £7.50
Two-course menu £19.95
Braised beef £15.95
Kids meal £5.95
Fries x 2 £7
Scallion mash £3.50
Chocolate cake £5.96
Doughnuts x 2 £12
Cokes x 4 £7.80
Mini prosecco £5.95
Bottle Pomerol £35
25-39 Arthur Street, Belfast BT1 4GQ.
Tel: 028 9043 9160