Since the last review of Molly’s Yard some four years ago this cosy little island of rustic bliss has reached new heights lifting awards and recognition in globally distributed guide books, travel websites and media reviews.
So what exactly happened in the last 48 months to make it so good? Er, nothing. It was always that good. And you read it here first.
Nonetheless, it is intriguing (and pleasing) to read and hear about some of our favourite places being talked about internationally so a return trip seemed timely.
Accompanied by my Wicklow friend Michael, a man who enjoys eating almost as much as he does talking about it — he does both at the same time — we entered the old commercial premises complete with dormant micro-brewery, high-brick walled yard and tiny but perfectly formed bar on a quiet weeknight.
Molly’s Yard starts the whole rustic therapy thing the minute you duck in through the street door framed by the graceful large arch. There is the Harry Potter transition moment as you leave the 21st century and the bustling street, go past the little brewery, the tables and benches in the courtyard and into the bar. By the time you have completed this 15-metre walk your drooping spirit will have perked up, your stressed, anxious and worried existence will have been transformed into a sense of wellbeing and you will be persuaded after ordering your glass of Barney’s Brew, Belfast Blonde or Chocolate Stout, that, in fact, everything is going to be alright.
When you sit down on the cushioned banquette along the wall facing the bar or at the tables up the rickety stairs, you are no longer in the capital but somewhere in the Irish countryside. The beers are from the Hilden Brewery outside Lisburn whose family owners also operate Molly’s Yard. Dad Seamus Scullion had returned from brewery-rich Kent back in the 80s convinced that he could introduce the micro-brewery concept to Northern Ireland. He did and now the whole family is involved not just in brewing fine ales but also running the two restaurants, The Tap Room at the Hilden Brewery itself and Molly’s Yard.
The food in both is very high standard, the value for money is excellent and consistent and it’s pretty hard to fault.
Michael and I took our seats close to the bar, checked the beer and wine lists and settled down to three courses, each as carefully composed as the other. Seared scallops the size of large marshmallows and with good squidgy texture hit the spot but the thick cut pancetta which came with these was a complete surprise. A spiciness to the pancetta added some higher notes to the pork’s deep flavours and the hazelnut and coriander butter provided further fun and softer tastes.
The depth of piggy taste, the saltiness and solidity of the big chunks of pancetta played a great counterbalance to the more delicate scallops. Both of these worked beautifully together and neither Michael or I spoke a word while we ate, out of hushed respect for the dish.
The following mains of venison and turbot were no less impressive. Strong flavours, dark sauces, an abundance of root vegetables and buttery, smooth mash accompanied us into the night with the beer and wine playing a gentle second fiddle.
The dishes were, again, carefully balanced, full of interesting additions, a speck of root mash here and a bit of roast scallion there. The haunch of venison, which comes from Denis Lynn’s fabulous Finnebrogue farm near Downpatrick, came served with creamed celeriac, sage dauphinoise potatoes and a blackberry jus. Fusspot Michael was very happy. Being from rural Wicklow, he knows a thing or two about red deer and declared this Finnebrogue to be very fine indeed.
The turbot, although filleted, had all the juicy and lightly briney tastes you’d expect. A thin crispy skin splintered over the firm sweet flesh underneath and the fennel and mussel curry, basmati rice, anchovies, and caper and mint salsa turned what might have been a rustic dish into something very refined.
Molly’s Yard desserts are a celebration of some of the fanciest of our local produce: Molly’s Chocolate Stout ice-cream, Tully vanilla ice cream, Armagh apple posset, Abernethy butter fudge, Co Couture chocolates, Suki tea and more.
This choice included an Irish cream and banana bread and butter pudding with Tully vanilla ice cream. Next day, I can still remember the warm, invigorating sweet flavours and melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The Yard is a must for any visitor to Belfast. It’s also a reliable, consistent and international-standard bar restaurant which distils every drop of Ulster charm and hospitality and recreates it the moment you dive in through those low little stable doors.
Scallops x 2 £15.90
Glass Sauvignon Blanc £4.25
Bread & butter pudding £5.50
1 College Green Mews, Botanic Avenue, Belfast BT7 1LW, Tel: 028 90 322 600.