Restaurant review: We take a bite out of Deane's at Queens
Deane's at Queens, 1 College Gardens, Belfast. Tel: 028 9038 2111
Deane's at Queens, the brasserie housed in the former Queen's University common room, has reopened as a new bar-restaurant. Belfast bar-restaurants are a marvel of the 21st century.
Places like the John Hewitt, the Northern Whig, Bert's Bar and a good few others provide the manly comfort of an elbow-height counter against which lads can lean with confidence and, pint in hand, talk about football, cars and pretend girlfriends. These places also have a proper restaurant, usually within eyeshot of the bar.
Under the stewardship of award-winning chef Chris Fearon, Deane's at Queen's has become an attractive, modern and dual-purpose venue serving pints and/or lunches and dinners, seven days a week.
It was always a pretty venue. The interior was airy, spacious and bright, yet intimate and comfortable with those vast windows overlooking the front lawns of Methodist College. There was a touch of old airport glamour about it.
Thankfully, none of this atmosphere has been lost. If anything, it has been enhanced by the subtle design changes and the unobtrusive yet prominent bar.
And then there's the food, which seems to be better than ever. A recent visit with two fussy eaters, one a vegetarian, was a big hit and Chris Fearon wasn't even in the kitchen that day. (If a chef can achieve the levels of quality from their team they expect of themselves, even in their absence, you know you're in good hands.)
A terrine made of "organic" Portavogie crab (there's another kind?), potato and cheddar was a little castle surrounded by a moat of light, carroty coloured gazpacho. Unusual and surprisingly good, the tangy cool gazpacho played a great second fiddle to the terrine.
Crab should always be eaten cold as the delicate flavours fade in the heat and you're normally left with something blandly chewy. This was seaside on a plate.
The vegetarian St Tola ash-rolled goat's cheese salad with beetroot, truffle and multiseed crisps was another departure into something more California than modern Ulster. The goat's cheese had acquired as extraordinary blue-grey colour having been gently whisked and aerated. It looked fabulous and reports were very positive.
The menu is adventurous and Chris Fearon's imagination and creativity, first seen on Great British Menu with his infamous curry take-away, are in fine shape, yet not liable to frighten the sensitive.
Crisp squid, for instance, comes with charred leeks, horseradish, watercress and dulse; sea bass is presented with pureed potatoes, roast black cabbage, tomato and prawns and Hannan's salt-aged pork belly appears surrounded by an oriental troupe of shiitake, pickled apple, pak choi and teriyaki onions.
The specials today include whole roast sea bream, which is the size of two oven gloves. It's grey skin has been crisped and turned dark gold, the white meat within perfectly moist and firm.
My mouth is watering right now as I remember the salty, brittle crispiness of the skin next to that soft meat, falling from the bone intact and at the least prompting.
The big draw to Deane's at Queen's promises to be Fearon's mastery of the new Mibrasa charcoal oven. Here all the charms of a top barbecue will be hard to resist: pork belly chops from Moyallon, local chicken, Hannan's now legendary Delmonico ribeye (and that sea bream) will be blessed, charred, grilled and plated up with triple-cooked chips, roquette, parsley and shallot salad and a choice of sides at £3.50.
Front-of-house management is a smooth as ever, with seamless service and attention to detail which never becomes intrusive. The business of adding the service charge to the overall bill is welcome. No more faffing about looking for tenners, or asking if we can add the tip to the bill.
I'm glad the refurb is a success, because this is a landmark restaurant which has raised the bar in the University Quarter.
Goats' cheese salad £7.50
Crab terrine £8.00
Sea bass £10.50
Sea bream £14.50
Veg terrine £10.50
Mixed leaf salad £3.50
Almond cakes x 3 £21.00
Coffees x 3 £6.30
Bottles water x 3 £10.50
Service charge £9.23