Joris Minne: Restaurant Victoria by Raymond McArdle
Celebrated chef Raymond McArdle is back with a bang. But does his new Belfast HQ deliver the goods to match his reputation?
The arrival of a new restaurant arouses curiosity and intrigue at the best of times, but when Raymond McArdle’s name is involved, it becomes a significant event. Chef McArdle was Michael Deane’s right hand man in the early years in Helen’s Bay and subsequently in Howard Street.
Then he left for bigger, if not necessarily better, things and was off the local radar for over a decade.
But now he’s back and this time there’s no mistaking his presence because a huge picture of his face is stuck to the front of the restaurant formerly known as Bourbon and now operating, rather grandly, as Restaurant Victoria by Raymond McArdle.
Belfast city centre needs a quality restaurant to add to its small portfolio of fine dining excellence, which includes James Street South and Deane’s. But Victoria is more blousy brasserie than cut crystal.
The restaurant interior is an explosion of rococo, French belle epoque and Edwardian splendour with sparkly objects, chandeliers, fancy ceilings and a great high altar of a bar. The whole lot is infused with a happy mood brought about by a background colour of electric aquamarine which cannot fail to raise even the most depressed of spirits.
For McArdle, fine dining is about luscious big dishes with lots of volume, textures, flavours and Irishness. The Sunday menu displays excitement and solidity, imagination and convention and irresistibility in every dish.
Who could go past summer vegetable soup, croutons and cream on a balmy July evening? Or summer salad with asparagus and truffle dressing? Among the Sunday starters are baked chicken wings with curry mayonnaise, potted prawn and salmon cocktail with Guinness wheaten bread, and smoked seafood chowder with crab toast.
The kids menu is worth a mention also, because it provides a three-course choice. Starters include caramelised hot pot baby ribs, summer vegetable soup, spicy chicken wings and prawn and salmon cocktail.
Childrens’ mains have the mandatory cod goujons, steak burger, pasta with bacon and spinach cream and roast stuffed chicken. These are served with a choice of side dish — champ, chips, mashed carrots and parsnips and onion rings. The desserts are equally appetising and include ice cream and sorbet, chocolate brownie with ice cream and fresh fruit salad (three courses are £8.50, two courses £6.50).
This is the kind of children’s menu most likely to encourage families out and if you consider the overall Sunday menu price of £20 for three courses, it’s within range.
But does the food stack up? Well yes, but not without some hiccups. The starters, for instance, are not as expected.
The volumes are definitely there but the flavours in the prawn and salmon cocktail are too muted and bland. Big prawns and poached salmon might go down well in some provincial hotels, the adviser suggests, but as a starter in a city restaurant, a better quality prawn and less of the salmon might be advised. She says it would have made a good lunch had the prawns had any flavour.
The rigatoni with goat’s cheese, bacon and young spinach a la creme was distinctly average. It too suffered from a lack of flavour but I put it down to the super heating it had been put through just before delivery to the table — it was far too hot and with delicate flavours and textures like spinach and cream, the finer points of taste can be wiped out by the heat.
But the mains were in a different class. A special of the day with a £6 supplement was hake served with a very fine chopped tomato and onion salad.
The hake was perfect, a solid, flaky big brick of fresh white meat with all the powerful flavours of the sea. The accompanying carrot and parsnip puree and champ were excellent. These sides could have commanded the stage — their mousseline-like quality offering up a great degree of comfort and
warmth. The adviser’s caramelised old spot pork with apple puree and thyme jus was just as delightful. Packed with flavours, the two pork belly cuts looked like Danish pastry whirls and did not disappoint.
A sirloin for the teenager was excellent and the chips were addictive. An earlier child’s starter of chicken wings had been accompanied by curry mayonnaise which would have been a sinfully brilliant dipper for these chips.
A lavish hazelnut praline cake with sweet squash ice cream and chocolate soil put a glamorous end to the meal. This was more top quality, on a par with the very best outputs of pastry chefs anywhere in Europe.
Restaurant Victoria is a welcome addition to Belfast’s culinary map. The service is polished and friendly, Raymond McArdle will make the food memorable, the prices are reasonable and its location means success is almost guaranteed.
Let’s hope it stays the course and McArdle remains in the saddle.
3 course menu x2 £40
Child’s menu £6.50
2-course menu £15
Diet Coke x2 £3.90
Large sparkling water x2 £7.80
Bottle Rose D’Anjou £16.95
Service charge 10% £9.02
60 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7BB
Tel: 028 9032 4040