Restaurant review: We take a bite from new bistro Yugo
3 Wellington Street, Belfast
The Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink concludes this month with culinary fireworks at various venues including the Europa, independent restaurants and bistros and countless market squares hosting food stalls, festivals and tastings.
It is a tribute to Tourism NI that the year designated to pay tribute to our agrifood sector as well as the restaurants was so comprehensively embraced by the sector. Every month was themed: there were the breakfasts in January, fish and seafood of July through to September's breads and baking to this, the month of premium foods. (Anywhere else this might mean caviar and foie gras but in this country, premium foods are pretty much what we get every day from the supermarket's meat, fish, poultry and produce aisles; it's that good).
Which brings me to this week's subject - the intriguingly named Yugo in the middle of the city. Fittingly, the restaurant opened in the last month of 2016 to provide a kind of punctuation mark to the year of food.
Here you will find dishes you may not have heard of before: the Belfast curry, son in law egg and the Bao with brisket, Kraft cheese, ketchup and mustard. The latter echoes some of the classic white trash cooking from the low rent end of the US, something now celebrated with not a little irony in big city restaurants. It is a marvellous bridge-building dish which President elect Donald Trump would do well to recognise. His 'One China' approach might be more palatable to Beijing with this cross-cultural sandwich.
Elsewhere on Yugo's menu the dishes may be super exotic, but the ingredients are distinctly Ulster.
More significantly, the flavours and textures are a departure from the norm. The son in law egg is a Thai staple. Normally reserved for canape duty, the hard boiled egg is deep fried and served here with chilli jam and crispy shallot. Curious and delicious, the dry egg white, chilli jam and shallots provide a tri-partite accord which is fun and tasty.
That white-trash bao could be too sweet or bland what with the Kraft cheese and ketchup yet the brisket gives it a bit of a serious head and dignity.
The whole fried seabream with nahm Jim - the salty, sweet, spicy and sour dipping sauce - is big and indeed whole. The head and everything is still there which is a pleasant surprise as too many chefs opt to appease the squeamish by removing these. It's a perfect combination of crispy, pesto covered skin and white, glistening, soft but firm pearly meat within. It's not the cheapest dish at £16 but it does constitute the perfect lunch with a glass of pinot grigio.
The advisor today is former politician Daithi McKay, who has more time now to indulge his love of food and good coffee. He's enjoying his special of the day, deep fried chicken thighs and wings with a hint of the east, rather than the south.
Dirty fried rice with peas and ham is a wonder. Composed of all the tastiest bits from the bottom of the pan (and which you preserve for yourself when cooking), it's a perfect partner for the fish and the chicken. It has depth and flavour with a slight aromatic hint and great texture.
Yugo's menu is not the only surprise. The look and feel of the high-ceilinged, modern and beautifully lit restaurant is more Muji than Oscar & Oscar.
There are graceful references to the modern far east with baskets hanging from the ceiling and white wood and iron framed benches and stools. Crockery is equally exotic but functional and the whole experience is very well orchestrated.
Service matches the quality and the only thing to look out for is over spending. This is not a cheap lunch but if you watch yourself, you can eat wonderfully well and enjoy something which is unparalleled. There is nowhere quite like it.
What better than to (almost) finish the year of food with a new restaurant which reminds us of the excitement and craic there is in eating well?
Bao brisket £3.50
Glass pinot grigio £5.00
Crab claws x 2 £14.00
Whole seabream £16.00
Dirty fried rice £6.00
Eastern fried chicken £11.00
Espressos x 2 £3.40
Desserts x 2 £11.00