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Restaurant review: We take a bite from Deanes Deli Bistro in Belfast

36-40 Howard St, Belfast. Tel 028 9033 1134

Michael Deane is a formidable force in the restaurant sector.

His network of bistros and brasseries, cafes and fine diners is unique to the north. He is our Jason Atherton. His restaurants personify a fair snapshot of what Belfast's sector does best: great dishes using the best possible local produce served in pleasant surroundings by staff who are at the top of their game.

You can't fault him on his choice of ingredients.

Only the best will do whether it's seafood (thank you Walter Ewing), meat (and yourself Peter Hannan) or the produce (good man, David and Helens Bay Walled Garden). There are dozens of high class suppliers these days ranging from Keenan's and Carnbrooke to North Down Group and Seasource, and they are starting to understand the need for visibility too.

It doesn't matter which Deanes you pick: Eipic, Deane & Decano, Vin Café or any of the others (my favourite is still Deanes at Queens), the ingredients are quality. And the cooking is good too.

The advisor and I rarely go out at short notice. Normally we have to give the household staff and the close personal protection team a few weeks' notice before we can venture out but when we can, we sneak out to the Meat Locker to share a prime rib or chateaubriand with some of those unbelievable chips which frankly, no one else in this town comes close to.

Steak lovers should take note: there is nowhere quite like it and the forensic attention to the instructions you give regarding the way you like your steak cooked (we like it black and red) is unparalleled in Belfast.

Deanes portfolio also includes Love Fish and, I think the earliest of them all, Deanes Deli. Love Fish is remarkable for the value to quality ratio.

I had a lunch for £6.50 in there last year which turned out to be unexpectedly voluminous, appetising and served faster than a Big Mac.

Deanes Deli is a city centre favourite. Being close to Broadcasting House and Blackstaff Studios, there is a higher than usual celebrity quotient in the dining room.

Invest NI across the street must also use it frequently enough to impress visiting investors as there always seems to be an international buzz about the place.

Perhaps I've overlooked it because of its longevity (I've eaten there many times but never reviewed it for these pages) but a recent lick of paint and some new furniture prompted a closer look earlier this week.

As it happens, two important visitors, one a professor from the Isle of Wight, the other a sea captain from Portsmouth, were in town and I thought I'd take my lead from the BBC and Invest NI and bring them to the Deli.

The miserable Monday night did not bode well. The restaurant is gloomy (even after the painters have been in) and the pouring rain outside added to the darkness. But I'm a cheerful soul and so are the Deli floor staff whose enthusiasm and engagement are worth a few hundred watts of brightness, so by the time the two bedraggled Englishmen arrived, we were on fire.

A decent little menu makes decision making easy and fast, and an interesting wine list with plenty of choice by the glass entertained the connoisseurs wholeheartedly.

The server spotted hesitation from the professor as to which red he'd like and she promptly brought out three little tasting glasses for him to try the Medoc, the sirah and the pinot (he went for the Medoc).

The restaurant quickly got busy within 20 minutes, the mood lifted and soon we were settled with a fresh, crunchy and creamily generous goat's cheese salad with figs and crystallised walnuts, a bowl of tender squid and a crab cake, curiously swimming in a deep pool of scallion veloute and some samphire.

Roast hake with asparagus and a whisked hollandaise was perfect although the hollandaise did not have the buttery, vinegary heft to begin with for its flavour to survive the aeration.

The rump steak (cooked on the big green egg BBQ) with garlic butter, salad and triple cooked chips was described professorially as outstanding and proof that the flavour and texture of a quality rump can stand shoulder to shoulder with a fillet.

Deanes Deli may be dark and echoey, but you can't go past it on a Monday night if you are in need of quality at a fair price.

The bill

Goat's cheese salad ........................ £6.50

Salt & chilli squid ............................ £7.50

Crab cake ...................................... £7.50

Hake x 2 .............................................. £31

Rump steak .................................. £16.50

Wine by 6 glasses .......................... £42.50

Total............................................... £111.50

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