Tucked away in a tiny dog-leg street next door to a reptile shop, Ginger has struggled valiantly with its location. Owner Simon McCance was always convinced that, despite its inauspicious, off-the-beaten-track and less-than-fashionable address, the restaurant would come good in the end and he was right.
Ginger is one of those enduring places. At one stage it was housed in a small unit near the bakery on the Ormeau Road and attracted lots of young and impoverished food lovers who could bring their own drink and enjoy high-quality fish and game at very low prices.
Now its Hope Street venue has doubled in size since opening four years ago. Dubliners rave about this place because they keep reading about it in restaurant guides. We in the north are not so easily led, however.
We don’t like lugubrious places unless we are on holidays in Paris, when that kind of thing proves that you aren’t a tourist at all, really. But when northerners go out to lunch or dinner, they like a few photographers to be papping them outside the door, they like a few bright lights and to be recognised when they walk in and ultimately, they like all of this to be on the main street. It’s a post-Troubles thing.
However, now is the time for a change of attitude and to embrace our own back-street restaurant culture.
Ginger has few equals throughout Ireland for not just fish (at which McCance excels) but also for duck.
Ginger’s pale-looking starter dish of Asian salt and chilli squid was far
better tasting than it looked. The use of corn flour as a dusting for the deep-fried squid pieces made the whole dish look wan, anaemic and unappetising. That’s because we’re used to deep-fried things being golden brown, according to McCance. His way of serving salt and chilli squid is the Asian way, apparently. I’m not convinced.
I had mussels, which were fine and as they should be. When mussels are offered to you in anything other than a mariniere pot (white wine, butter, cream, garlic, parsley) you are taking your life in your hands. Not here. The Asian-style soup at the bottom of the pot infused the fat little mussels beautifully.
Herring fried in a light coating of seasoned oats provided the main course and sent me on a trip back in time when plain food could be the saviour of a depressed soul. It was a revelation and as I studied my companion’s main course of duck confit, which shone glamourously and seductively on its bed of cassoulet of chick peas and chorizo, I became
aware of how mood-altering certain meals can be. There’s comfort food, food to warm your soul, food to excite you and food to melt your heart.
The confit of duck was better than anything my companion had enjoyed, even after five years of commuting to Paris and Bordeaux. The cassoulet was thick and deep with a few pak choi leaves thrown in, but this was the crispiest and moistest confit I had sampled in a long time.
A crème brulee may have spent a minute or two too long in the oven and was showing signs of separating. It remained, however, a vanilla-laden joy with ice-rink top ready for shattering with the spoon.
Ginger is doing better than ever and the credit crunch is having an oddly beneficial impact on the place – because of price. Few places in Belfast are achieving the value for money offered here every day.
Chilli mussels £5.50
Salt and chilli squid £5.50
Duck confit £8.50
Crème brulee £5.00
Bottle of water £2.85
Two coffees £3.20
Total £63.55SPACIOUS: The restaurant has doubled in sizeOUT OF SIGHT: Ginger is off the beaten track