Restaurant review: Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill
Park Avenue Hotel, 158 Holywood Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9065 65200
Before any of you get any ideas about my, ahem, close and personal relationship with rock god-like chef Marco Pierre White and his anointed representatives on earth, Mandy and Eddie Patrick, let me declare that I was involved on a professional basis with the launch of their new restaurant last year.
I was glad to be involved, because a lot of sniffiness emerged around the more upmarket parts of Belfast (including around the bigger houses in the east) as news filtered out that the greatest chef on the planet, the man who had secured Michelin stars before he could walk, the curly-haired Adonis for whom the term "Chefs are the new rock and roll stars" was first coined, was to come to Belfast and open a restaurant. In the Park Avenue Hotel.
Some people fainted in disbelief. Others said they had never been to the east: where was it? But, mostly, there was jubilation, because no matter what happened, or where he chose to go, Belfast was going to be a better place now that he was here.
Except that he wasn't really here. His name was going over the door, but it would be down to chef Eddie Patrick to make it work. (Marco Pierre White didn't come over until 10 days ago to host a dinner and check things were up to scratch and take a diva's guided tour of Belfast and the sights. No photographers, no interviews please, unless you're Stephen Clements.)
Eddie embarked last autumn on a secret and intensive training course in England, which required him to use his two days off each week so nobody would notice. This went on for weeks until Marco Pierre and his people were satisfied that Eddie could deliver the standards required of the brand.
Eddie's wife, Mandy, and her family own the Park Avenue and they had decided last summer that what they needed to do after spending millions in recent years upgrading the rooms to four-star status was to enter a new phase. The place was always renowned for its steaks. Now it would be super-steaks.
And they are. Eddie passed with flying colours and very quickly the new Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill has worked its way into the soul of east Belfast.
This area is foodie heaven. It's in Strandtown, so neighbours include Baker Street, Bennett's and Slim's. In nearby Ballyhackamore are Graze, Il Pirata, Bistro Este and Neill's Hill, plus a good sprinkling of Chinese, Indian and Mexicans.
People around here know their food, so the pressure on Eddie to deliver has been intense. The meat comes from Rodgers' in Carryduff and is excellent. Hannan Meats and Carnbrooke are not the only butchers in the country and Rodgers do the job very well.
Sirloins, ribeyes, fillets and other cuts are fine quality. The flavours are powerful, the textures are just right and whether you like yours nuked or blue, the steaks here are always right. I know this, because I pop in from time to time and people who know tell me.
But what is more impressive in many ways are the starters. There are rillettes, pâtés and all sorts of charcuteries that match the best I've had (Petit Ormeau) in Belfast; the French onion soup is textbook, boiled jellied ham with parsley, homemade piccalilli and sourdough toast is wonderfully salty and stays with you like a friend and my favourite - smoked trout tartare with melba toast, capers, shallots and pickled cucumber - is something straight out of Gordon Ramsay.
There are some service issues and once in a while a steak might turn up overdone. But they know how to deal with errors and mistakes beautifully - always the sign of quality.
The value for money is better than any other Marco Pierre White and this one beats the two Dublin outlets hands down for quality. When he was here, I had the roast rump of lamb, two generously ample pieces, which came with the most outstanding potato dauphinoises this side of the Dauphine and soft, crunchy green beans. This was under £20. By the way, all steaks come served with a grilled tomato, watercress, onion rings, triple-cooked chips and a choice of sauce.
When the great man visited last week, his charisma and star quality were instantly palpable. He did a good turn at Belfast Met with the catering students there and then over at Elim Church, where he spent time with a group Eddie devotes a lot of time to.
Marco Pierre White, for all his commerciality, is still one of the greats. He will go down in history as the man who fundamentally changed the way we eat out.
And what did he make of Eddie's efforts? "My name is in the hands of an outstanding, professional and talented chef."
Smoked trout tartare £7.95
Fritto misto of calamari and shrimp £7.95
10oz ribeye £26.95
Lamb rump £19.95
Glass of Gavi (250ml x2) £21.50
Glass of Pinot Noir d’Oc (x2) £12.90