Bistro review: We take a big bite from 227 Restaurant
93a Cregagh Road. Belfast. Tel: 07984 456190
Most restaurants make sense. Despite the growing trend for replacing plates with bedpans and roof tiles, dispensing altogether with cutlery and service, which includes servers who will sit beside you while you order, I prefer restaurants that stick to their principal raison d'etre, which is to provide hospitality, sanctuary and fortification in the form of comfort, service and a starter, main course and dessert.
A requirement I consider essential is a restaurant's name. Names like 'Crapitto's', the 'Closed for Lunch' or 'The Golden Stool' should not be taken seriously, even though they exist. If they haven't got the sense to give themselves decent names, they shouldn't expect a queue outside the door. Same goes for people who use a random number to name their restaurant when it doesn't match its own street address.
So why exactly is 227 Restaurant at 93a Cregagh Road? Canadian owner Kathy Bennett explains. "When we were growing up my parents lived in a house whose number was 227 and we were always entertaining people and cooking and basically holding open house. After all these years working for the best restaurants in Belfast, I have managed to open my own tiny little place and thought to call it after the number that I associated most with warmth, love and hospitality."
Now you know.
The establishment is tiny, possibly the smallest in Belfast. It sits mid-way down the economically ravaged Cregagh Road, opposite B&M. Despite the modesty of its exterior, the rickety furniture inside and the brief menu, the mood, enhanced by soundtracks from Supertramp's Crime of the Century, some Elton John and plenty of The Tragically Hip (Canadian stars), is warm and relaxed and perfectly suited to a certain age group. What happens in the kitchen is less nostalgic. The food is wholesome, fresh and simple.
Bennett has been around long enough to have picked up tips and techniques from the best. She has worked for Paul Rankin and Michael Deane and knows her onions. And while 227 opened earlier this year with a chef in place, she had to go into the kitchen herself after he left a few weeks ago. And this is where this dyed in the wool, front of house restaurant manager discovered she can cook.
She's taking baby steps first, marinating things and grilling them, making posh little desserts like possets, brownies and sticky puddings and making a good fist of them. An added bonus is that when you bring your own (she does not think she will pursue a licence, although she might consider reducing the excessive £4 wine corkage charge) you get to drink from glasses salvaged from Roscoff and Cayenne, leftovers offered to her by Paul Rankin himself to help her get started. With friends like that it's bound to be good, right?
Well, yes, in fact. A plate of chicken wings with a fiery chilli sauce accompanied by a classic blue cheese dip were lip-stinging hot but just within screaming range. The blue cheese dip kept things relatively mild. And plenty of them there were too, with accompanying lemon water for the fingers and a stack of paper napkins to deal with the mess.
Bennett had earlier that afternoon tweeted a photograph of her latest creation, Greek souvlakis which looked divine. Hers is a classic souvlaki composed of cubes of chicken breast marinated in an old-school Greek combination of lemon juice, garlic and olive oil, cumin and oregano, grilled and then served with the other Greek flags: tzatziki, tomato, cucumber, red onion and feta. And because we are in east Belfast, there are a few delicate, new potatoes, sliced, fried and crispy.
I know it's simple, but Bennett has a knack of turning things into something deeper, richer and more memorable. Her posset was the same. This is a bland little thing that has been knocking around the kitchens of Britain since Henry VIII, but hers is denser and has more flavour. She adds chilled, firm blueberries to this and makes it an outstanding dessert, all palate-cleansing and deliciously cold on a sticky hot spring evening.
I've been to 227 a couple of times and have enjoyed both occasions. This should be on the list of top places to eat in the east for any hipster because it is not in Ballyhackamore or up-and-coming Strandtown. It has what everybody wants: authenticity. The service is good, charming and fast, discreet and attentive.
I went alone, which helps focus and scrutiny of every single minute and movement of the place, and I really cannot wait to get back. Remember to bring champagne as the historic glasses you'll be drinking it from were last handled by the likes of Liam Neeson, Kenneth Branagh and Joanna Lumley at the bar in Roscoff.
Wings .............................................. £6.50
Posset ............................................ £4.50
Corkage ......................................... £4.00