With modern style and quality food, Ink is making its mark in the Four Winds area
If you’ve ever seen Hitchcock’s brilliant North by North West starring Cary Grant you will remember the dramatically modernist house at the end of the movie that belonged to the malevolent Phllip Van Damme, played by James Mason. The house stands just above the huge heads of the four US presidents carved into the cliff-side of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and provides the breathtaking location for the thriller’s climax.
Ink, the restaurant in the Four Winds area of south Belfast, is a bit like that. It’s not modernist but it does dominate the side of the hill off the Saintfield Road overlooking Belfast. It looks like a small cathedral built in the style of a Swiss chalet and has acres of glass windows to allow diners within to enjoy the majestic view across the city to the Black Mountain, Divis and Cave Hill. One big difference between Ink and the Van Damme house is that Ink is real. The Van Damme house was just a set that was later dismantled.
And Ink is an attractive place. It is a local bar for local people. There’s a wine bar downstairs and restaurant upstairs and the loyal clientele is largely drawn from the surrounding housing developments. But it also has history. Older generations will remember the Four Winds as it was then called as a real treat of a place, somewhere to go to on a special occasion. It’s where your parents took you after you graduated. The current building is a 10-year-old replacement for the original, but it hasn’t lost its gloss.
The adviser had called into the Ink wine bar with friends a couple of weeks ago and discovered that £35 bought you two courses for two people plus a very decent bottle of wine. She had thought the prawn cocktail was the best this side of Oslo and that it was worth a punt for us to have a go at the restaurant upstairs.
The interior of this restaurant is no less dramatic than its exterior. The duplex floors, plush bright purple carpets, lime green banquets, light wood panelling and exposed beams (and what look strangely like hundreds of chromed boomerangs are bolted into place to act as a safety railing where small children or tipsy guests might be at risk of falling over) give Ink a distinctly Australian or Mid-Western mood. It’s grand, groomed and glamorous in a Renee Meneally way and, about 45 seconds after you arrive, it feels like a place you really ought to have dressed up for.
The menu is no less shiny and with three courses at £27.50, a little alarm bell goes off alerting you that there might be a bit of fur-coat-and-no-knickers going on. I mean, how could a restaurant that takes such clearly obsessive care of its appearance possibly have any energy left to devote to the food? But that’s just my naturally paranoid outlook because, on close inspection, the menu is well thought out and, as it happens, not badly priced after all. And even though the much-praised prawn cocktail does not appear (it’s confined to the cheap-seats wine bar downstairs) the adviser looks deeply into the eyes of the waitress who falters momentarily under the glare, and makes a request for it. Nobody refuses the adviser.
This is an attractive menu and there are hard choices to make. Starters include two soups (goat’s cheese and courgette or carrot and ginger on this night), warm lemon scented chicken mousse served on a sun-dried tomato, puy lentil and rocket salad and balsamic syrup, pan-fried red mullet on warm crushed comber potatoes with scallions, Parmesan and roast shallot dressing, winter pear, roasted walnut and stilton salad with pink grapefruit dressing ... we are starting to get that American/Australian flavour.
The adviser selected the carpaccio of venison (the prawn cocktail was for the smaller Minne) and this was a marvel. So finely cut you could use it as cling film, this melt-in-your-mouth tender Finnebrogue venison was also deeply tasty and full of earthy and gamey flavours. My bruschetta with olives, goat’s cheese and sweet peppers was equally delightful. Best left simple and uncomplicated, this rustic little dish looked uncomfortable in the splendidly lit and fancy surroundings but it performed beautifully nonetheless.
There were high expectations for the following sturdy beef wellington priced just inside £21. A 5oz chunk of Irish fillet with a shallot and mushroom duxelle (a minced up mix of the two) all encased in a puff pastry shell in the shape of a small haggis looked just as wholesome as the previous dish and therefore slightly out of place, especially with the rough cabbage and bacon beneath and the accompanying Guinness gravy. But it was pretty decent. My taste for rare beef was mildly disappointed as this was closer to well done, but hats off to any chef who can be bothered to do a beef wellington at all as they must be one of the most painful dishes to cook.
The oven-roasted Fermanagh free-range chicken supreme served with onion and thyme puree and potato galette and red wine sauce is a safe and unadventurous choice — all the more reason to be on the alert for anything that could go wrong with it. The chicken was indisputably of the highest quality and the red wine sauce echoed its rich and savoury tones for minutes after. But it’s a shame the puree was cold. I’m sure that, had we said anything, they would have been mortified and changed it but by the time the adviser had reached the puree seam she was no longer hungry so we didn’t bother.
Desserts at Ink are ambitious and at £6 a pop one does consider whether or not it’s worth it. But venture we did into a surprisingly good babycake — a chocolate fondant with a runny hot middle served with vanilla ice cream, and a tiramisu that was rich and moist with added chopped hazelnuts. The children’s verdict on the homemade ice creams was very positive — particularly the chocolate, mint and honeycomb flavours.
It’s a safe place in which to spend your special occasion. The surroundings scream “If this isn’t classy, then go and jump” and the food is carefully fussed over before it gets to you, cold puree notwithstanding. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes, including three starters and three mains and I won’t bore you here with the details.
Quirky in a good way and classy in a suburban, Mid-Western, (or possibly Australian) mid-eighties way, it’s time to think of Ink for a special occasion once more.
Prawn cocktail: £5.95
Venison carpaccio: £6.75
Beef Wellington: £20.95
Chicken X 2: £25.90
Kids chicken: £3.95
Side veg: £3
Baby cake: £6
Ice cream: £0
Sprite zero x 2: £3
Bottle Beaujolais: £17.50