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Brave choice: We have a bite at The Wallace in Lisburn

By Joris Minne

The staff in this riverside eatery showed real courage when they helped a passer-by in need, but is their food equally as impressive?

It started out pleasantly enough. A news report the previous week had highlighted the Wallace as a sanctuary for a man who had been attacked by racist thugs on the Lagan towpath outside this huge restaurant/bar complex. The desperate man had been taken in by kind staff who offered him protection and safety.

This was a great, if random, piece of PR for the Wallace and I made a mental note to visit it as soon as possible. If the staff were that brave and kind-hearted, the service must be out of this world.

A Sunday evening in Lisburn is a bleak experience and while there was a sprinkling of vehicles in the car park, the Wallace was almost empty. Nonetheless, two young women were quick to meet and greet at the door of the upstairs restaurant and took the three of us to a table overlooking the Lagan and presumably the scene of the racist crime committed a few days earlier. Then things went very quiet.

The big room is bright and airy and the windows are large enough to allow views of the river pretty much from any table inside. But there is a chilly loneliness about it at this time of the day. The place seems rudderless and adrift. I ask if there’s a manager about but she went home earlier. Drinks orders are taken but take forever to reach the table.

Things looked up, however, when a Sunday menu brought out on a clipboard made a quick and favourable impression. Not the cheapest at £17.95 for two and £21.95 for three courses, there was “freshly prepared soup of the day with Wallace Kitchen’s Guinness wheaten bread and Abernethy butter”, “crisp tempura of beef with a light Asian salad, wasabi mayo and toasted sesame seeds” and “oak-smoked haddock with Maris Piper potato and leek chowder” with more of that bread, and a couple of other starters.

When the order eventually came (the place was empty bar one other table, and we could see the fault lay in the kitchen, not in the front of house) the hopes faded back to grey. The soup was parsnip, had what felt like too much cornflour (that nice sheen off the top and the gloopy texture could be the hint) and the Guinness bread was gelatinous. The beef in tempura was chewy not crisp and a “simple locally grown tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad with fresh basil and Modena balsamic” was memorable for the three barely perceptible halved green, yellow and red cherry tomatoes and the nasturtium leaves.

This was uncared for food, a dish abandoned rather than prepared by someone who really didn’t want to be there.

The main courses did little to raise morale despite the tempting “Lisnaskea free to roam chicken supreme with garlic, chardonnay and chestnut mushroom sauce”, “locally reared loin of suckling pig with Pink Lady apple and vanilla chutney and Irish cider cream”.

The “prime aged 8oz sirloin reared in Larne” with its £5 supplement didn’t make it past the advisor’s inspection. I had a bite and while the meat was of decent quality it had been overdone and well past the medium rare request — not enough to complain about and send back, but disappointing nonetheless.

The Confit of duck was excellent, crisp, full of flavour and flaking effortlessly off the bone. But the accompanying champ and veg were tired and tasteless. Dessicated parsnips were like little strands of rope you might pick up on a Kilkeel quayside.

Don’t bother with the Wallace on a Sunday evening. This is a no-go zone. Only the two women on the floor appear to give a toss. The kitchen takes a lifetime to respond to orders and judging by the low standard of food in general, it’s clear no-one seems to care too much. Which is almost criminal because the bill is still the same as it might be on a good day.

It’s a shame that a place which can show impulsive generosity of spirit and take in a victim of racist thugs fails to do what it should know inside out: how to take money off people in exchange for decent food.

The bill

Soup £4

Beef tempura £4

Salad £4

Hake £13.95

Duck £13.95

Steak £18.95

Pannacotta £4

Bottle Hoppelhammer beer £4.10

Glass wine x 4 £18.90

Total £85.85

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