The Ormeau Road in south Belfast just took a step closer to its yearned-for title of the city’s official bohemian quarter.
Thanks to the opening of another corner restaurant, Shed, the scent of patchouli and the sound of Belle and Sebastian can only get stronger and louder in the trendy barrio.
The upper Ormeau already has some bang-on cafes and restaurants including Café Ormeau which is so de nos jours, that the beautiful people come up from the Lisburn Road on sunny weekends to queue for one of the three tables out front.
Soul Food café also has its share of born-again free-thinkers from the wealthier postcodes who come for the classy lattes and lunch-sized scones. And the ironic charms of l’Etoile and its BYO policy are so irresistible that it draws Audi drivers who can park outside in the on-street bays.
The woody, bare-bricked Shed promises to deliver a similarly urban neighbourhood vibe. It’s got the mildly Nordic look of an upmarket canteen and would feel austere if it wasn’t for the good lighting. Its corner position on the Ormeau Road and Florenceville Drive gives it plenty of street face and its warm, bright interior beckons through the large shop front window.
It also has the air of a place which will put some excellence and excitement on the plates. The kitchen is wide open for everyone to see and French chef Giles Willaume, who made his former employer Jason More and restaurant CoCo look so good, is at the helm. With someone like Willaume in charge you’d think there’s bound to be something to get excited about. For now, though, the owner is playing it safe, keeping the chef and his kitchen in check and watching the balance sheet.
The menu will remain unexciting but safe and appetising, says Eithne Bradley, the owner. She feels the Ormeau is not ready for anything too revolutionary or too posh.
The comfort and lighting are good and the service friendly and attentive. There’s a shelf with high stools at the big window which seems popular with people who like to see what’s going on outside at lunchtime. It has a bustling city centre buzz at this time and the lunch menu’s simple appeal fits in well.
For £3.95 you can get a spicy butternut squash and coconut soup with crème fraiche and coriander or a selection of bread, tapenade oil and butter. But for a few pence more there is chicken liver parfait with red onion marmalade, toasted brioche and mixed leaves or Caesar salad with a few extras thrown in, including crispy Serrano ham and black olives. I’m not sure why you’d want to fry Serrano ham but there it is. There are other starters including fishcakes, pasta or smoked salmon and each of them constitutes a decent light lunch alone.
Among the mains are fish pie at under a tenner or for the same money, battered plaice, minty mushy peas, tartare sauce and chunky chips. There’s also roast hake with garlic and herb crust, lemon and thyme roast chicken with duck fat roasties, lamb, pork and a sirloin. All of these give Shed that distinct predictability which Eithne is persuad
ed is the right fit for this part of Belfast. Predictability, however, was never Giles Willaume’s key value. Which is why in the evenings, the menu, while appearing very safe indeed, still holds the odd surprise or two.
Take for instance the loin of pork. This comes with potato and pancetta, caramelised apples and whole grain mustard cream. The pork is milky tender and pale with deep, memorable flavour. It is seriously very good and a huge step away from a regular bistro roast.
Similarly, the marinated grilled leg of lamb which comes sliced into escalopes is even more dramatic, with tenderness and taste whose memory, as I write, makes my mouth water. Accompanied by chargrilled polenta and asparagus it’s a marvellous, life-asserting dish.
Desserts are top class and a chocolate parfait is as light as air but packed with sinful pleasure.
Clearly Willaume is pushing the limits of his brief and the result is the best possible versions of safe combinations. Teething problems including furniture and floor plans are being remedied to allow more space between tables and easier access.
Shed deserves to live long and prosper and once everyone on board starts to get a bit more confident we can expect to see Willaume pushing the boat out a bit more.
Oh, by the way, last week I said we'd be looking at Nu Delhi. That will be next week now!
Peroni x 2 £7
Bottle wine £16
Large sparkling water £3.50
Breads and tapenade £3.95
Spicy fishcake £5.50
Potted duck £6.50
Chunky chips £2.50
Onion rings £2.50
Pork loin £14.50
Leg of lamb £14.95
Desserts x 3 £14.50
467 Ormeau Road, Belfast.
Tel: 028 9064 2630.