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Restaurant Review: Square Bistro, Lisburn

18 Lisburn Square, Co. Antrim BT28 1TS. Tel: 028 9266 6677

By Jorris Minne

As Lisburn launches its first Restaurant Week, the Square Bistro showcases all that’s good about local produce, cooking and serviceThe city status attached to Lisburn a few years ago should come with the same conditions imposed on food producers who achieve greatness through their EU-approved geographical designation.

For instance, eels from Lough Neagh, Armagh Bramleys and Comber Earlies are deemed to be very special and have joined the exclusive club that boasts Champagne, Stilton and Parma as members.

But recently a threat was levelled against Comber Earlies producers for squandering their new distinction and not trying hard enough to promote the product. The dark warning was that Comber Earlies might lose their status.

The same fate should have befallen Lisburn, which won a competition for city status only a few years ago. My belief was that this should be removed and given instead to Bangor, Ballymena or Enniskillen, who have festivals, celebrations of music, arts, commerce, education and heritage — they try harder.

But something happened in Lisburn last month and I am now swallowing my words. A number of restaurateurs got together and unveiled plans for a Lisburn Restaurant Week, just like the one in Belfast. Here was a group of people who believed in the city’s potential — and if the council, developers and local businesses could not be bothered to ratchet up Lisburn’s reputation as a wealthy, prosperous and exciting place to be, then it fell on the shoulders of cooks, chefs, servers and bottle washers to do it for them.

Lisburn Restaurant Week is a full-throated expression of civic pride. The place may not have the volume of restaurants of much bigger Belfast, but what it has is trying hard. So where better to start the restaurant week (which kicks off this Monday, June 16) than in the heart of the place, Lisburn Square.

Lisburn Square is a strange appellation that does little to clarify the location’s identity confusion. It’s not the same place as Market Square, so just check before you go.

At either end of Lisburn Square are two notable landmarks: the Tuesday Bell, a JD Wetherspoon’s super-pub; and the much less raucous and more bijou Square Bistro.

Lisburn Square may be a concoction of 19th century-style Ulster urban architecture (it was only built about 10 years ago) but the fact that a bistro of quality has been here since 2006, it seems longer established. Empty retail units don’t help, but this does not take away any of the intimate atmosphere generated by Square Bistro’s team.

The front of house is slick yet old-fashioned and hospitable, the dining room was cosy and packed this Saturday night but there was enough elbow room to prevent any claustrophobia.

And then there’s that menu. Specials were separately presented on a handwritten, photocopied A4 sheet, which hints at homemade freshness and immediacy. We are alerted to the one remaining T-bone and spend too long deliberat

ing — ten minutes later news reaches us that “it has went”.

Instead, there is whole plaice roasted in the pan and served with shrimp and brown butter, pea shoots and chorizo. There was also a ribeye from McAtamney’s of Ballymena and fillet from Peter Hannan (see what chef Stephen Higginson is doing there? He’s helping the mighty Hannan, winner of more awards than I’ve had sirloins, avoid the temptations of complacency). Duck from Silverhill and langoustines from Kilkeel were all top-notch components. There wasn’t a cheap ingredient in sight.

Langoustines served split in butter and chilli were easily accessed and not overdone. Being split in two like this makes them prone to drying out and overcooking very quickly, but these were juicy, moist, firm and have just absorbed just a little of that salt and chilli butter to make them sinfully bad for you. A very well-dressed green chopped salad rode side-saddle.

The plaice was a generous big thing topped with a variety of battered and plain shrimp and those nutty pea shoots. A side order of basil mash was like a comfort cushion, providing velvety texture to the moist, buttery fish.

The advisor’s rib-eye, at first a poor substitute for the T-bone, was a salty, peppery, charred wonder with the deepest flavours in the pink middle. This is easily as good as the rib-eye in Deanes Meat Locker (and £5 cheaper).

The duck fillet came with its crispy skin and the lush, tender, dark red meat, medium done, was sliced into irresistible little tongues. The desserts were proper Ulster party food: Turkish delight brulee, Strawboffee and fondant all scored a star each.

Help Lisburn discover what it really means to be a city and support Restaurant Week. And start here.

Twitter: @jorisminne

The bill

Langoustines x 3 £18.75

Plaice £14.25

Rib-eye £23

Duck £16.95

Desserts x 3 £16.50

Prosecco £19.95

Glass wine x 2 £9

Total £118.40

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