Restaurant review: We take a bite from bistro Home
22 Wellington Place, Belfast. Tel: 028 9023 4946
Chef/patron Andy Rea is one of the bright stars in the Belfast restaurant firmament.
He's held his position for almost a decade with consistency of performance and quality from the Mourne Seafood Bar, Home and, more recently, the seriously good La Taqueria.
These are three of the city centre's more popular restaurants and they are a fair representation of the kind of mix of quality and informality, beer by the bottle, food in your hand, and not too big a number at the bottom of the bill, which exemplifies the Rea approach.
Rea always had a sense for Belfast's tastes and desires and when he plunged into the deep end with the Mourne Seafood Bar in notorious Bank Square, it was a measure of his courage and commitment. The seafood bar has now become one of the city's iconic restaurants.
It's been five years since I last reviewed Home. At the time, Home was in transition from pop-up to grown-up. Having first appeared in Callendar Street (where Bubbacue now stands) it moved operations following a two-month incubation to a former fashion shop in Wellington Place where we all thought it would stay for a short while before moving on again.
And so, the former shop was given a quick make over by Andy's business partner Bob McCoubrey and his brother. A few four by twos, some cabling, new lamp shades and second hand furniture and Home was soon, er, home. Five years on, it's exactly the same. The only change is the pictures on the wall but then, they're for sale.
But while the interior may seem ready to be dismantled at any moment, the output from the kitchen and the service on the floor remain among the most consistent and best quality in Belfast. At lunchtime, this place comes into its own. A take away counter means you can lift a substantial or slim-friendly packed lunch out (the spicy Asian broth is a signature dish). But because they can get you in and out quickly for lunch without making you feel rushed, it's the kind of city-centre operation which has set the right price and the right choice of menu to make it habit-forming.
That hot and sour Asian broth is a cure-all, by the way, the kind of soup they should hold in a vat at every A&E in the country and ladle out to arriving casualties for instant relief. The broth has evolved over the years from its original appearance as one of the most high-octane spicy blasts in Belfast to something more refined yet still firey.
Covered in a thick floating nest of chopped coriander and scallions, the broth beneath is a dark brown, chilli and lemon grass infused bouillon with rice and chicken at the bottom. It's invigorating and fortifying like no other soup you'll have in town. (Ignore the accompanying anaemic white bread toast which shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near it!)
The skinny lunch menu features all sorts of equally appetising starter offers: scallop ceviche with avocado, tomato, corn tostada and herb salad, crispy shredded duck, Japanese salad with citrus miso dressing, seasonal super salad with cashew mayo and other exotica.
Among the skinny mains is a fillet of cod with sweet potato, smoked ham hock and bean cassoulet. This is colossal in flavours and textures, the generous fillet crowning a beautifully made cassoulet packed with chunks of tender ham, tomato and proper fabes beans.
Cassoulets are a frequent let down in Belfast. Their home in south west France and Spain (where it's called fabada) sees them more usually with duck or pork meats and tend to be rich, hearty winter dishes. This Home version is light and tasty and you will feel quite virtuous on completion.
The only thing that might slow you down at Home is making your mind up. Lunch choices include dishes for under £10: seafood linguine with saffron cream, wilted greens and chill gremolata; butternut squash risotto with Parmesan, crispy sage and bacon; spinach and ricotta ravioli with rapeseed sauce vierge and winter greens; and among the regular mains are homemade burger; herb roast chicken with gnocchi, wild mushroom and spinach ragout; Hannan's ribeye with chimichurri sauce and roast cherry tomatoes, chips and rocket; and plenty of other fish and veggie options.
The only meaningful improvement would be in the service which while being quicker than everyone else, could be even a couple of minutes faster still, but that's maybe just me as I'm always in a rush.
Hot & sour broth...............................£5.95
Cod and cassoulet.........................£14.85
Small sparkling water....................£2.00