Spoiler alert warning
There is certainly no chance of drawing a blank at Belfast’s newest casual fine-dining eatery.
Serving up only the best local produce is just one of the many reasons that Blank is set to become a must-visit for foodies flocking to the city over the winter months.
The Malone Road restaurant offers a surprise five-course dining experience curated using only local produce farmed and sourced on the island of Ireland.
The surprise being you know all the ingredients you are getting. Just not how they will be put together or in what dish.
Entering the chic premises through its grand Georgian exterior and classic monochrome tiles reminiscent of a stately home, the interior promises an equal balance of the homely with the grandeur.
The plush green velvet seats are designed in semi circles next to neat round tables, arranged so that the guests are facing outwards, as if awaiting the curtains to be drawn and the show to begin.
General manager Alex Daley and co-owner, Christina Taylor, have joined forces at the front of house to create an unforgettable hospitality experience offering wine pairings, drinks suggestions and friendly chit-chat to make you feel immediately at ease.
One thing they won’t talk to you about, however, is what dishes will be served throughout the evening.
In place of what would be a traditional menu is instead a simple list of ingredients and their source, dubbed ‘The Blank List’.
This offers an exciting edge to the truly unique dining experience while also taking the stress out of deciding what to order.
Fresh produce and ingredients take centre stage to this foodie extravaganza.
Head chef Niall Duffy has been busy working closely with chef and owner, Jonny Taylor, to design the main culinary elements of the show.
Niall told the Belfast Telegraph that the ingredients were the driving force behind his dishes.
“We are very produce-led here,” he said.
“It’s ingredients first and foremost here, then we design the dishes and cooking techniques second.”
Beginning our foodie exploration for the evening, we start off with was described as “a little bite of cheesy heaven” by co-owner Christina.
The amuse-bouche consisted of melted Knockanore Irish farmhouse cheese, sourced all the way from County Waterford, in a crispy choux pastry.
Next up, a splash of a sharp French Vouvray perfectly complemented the salt cured salmon from Donegall Fisheries, which was served as the first course.
The citrus tannins of the wine balanced well with the marinated and pickled cucumber served alongside the fish, which was bathed in a light buttermilk and dill sauce topped with edible nasturtiums.
For the second course we stayed on the white wine accompaniment, this time a South African chardonnay, which gave us a hint that we would then be continuing along Ireland’s coastline for some of its famous seafood.
As we correctly guessed, we were presented next with a bright white fillet of pan-roasted Atlantic cod, which was landed locally in County Down.
The fish was topped with a hazelnut crumb and served with celery and celeriac foam to complement the earthy flavours.
Course number three was announced as “the main event of the evening” and probably my favourite of all the dishes served on the night.
A rich-bodied French pinot noir helped to bring out all the sweet seasonings of the roast Skeaghanore duck from West Cork, while also adding to the crunchy and savoury toasted buckwheat and popped tamarind seed crumb topping the tender red meat.
Fresh roasted beetroot, nutritious autumnal blackberries, beet puree and wilted swiss chard, all sourced from County Down farms, served alongside the duck made this meal the perfect winter warmer for the cold months ahead.
Winding down for the fourth course, we received a taster of a sweet Bordeaux dessert wine to be paired with a tart Granny Smith apple granita and topped with marigold leaves.
This palette cleanser was definitely needed in between the rich duck and even richer chocolatey surprise which was up next.
Nestled in the Mourne Mountains, Neary Nogs is a small batch chocolate factory which ethically sources single origin, speciality cacao beans from farms in Central America, South America, the Caribbean islands and West Africa.
Each cacao bean is hand sorted, roasted and then tempered into the sumptuously rich 70% dark chocolate which was used to make our lavish Cremeaux dessert.
It was covered in a deep chocolate mirror glaze and topped with Achill Island sea salt, edible gold leaf and Neary Nogs chocolate nibbs, served alongside a light Chantilly cream.
This dish was paired with a South Australian red port muscat with some mild toffee notes, accompanying the richness of the chocolate flavours superbly.
The grand finale of the tasting menu took us around the border to Armagh, where a semi-soft Brie-style cheese, made by the Wright family of Ballylisk, was served alongside a fresh mixed herb salad with walnuts and Pink Lady apple slices.
What made this course extra special, however, was the fine slices of black summer truffles with a truffle and cream cheese filling sandwiched in the middle of the wedge of cheese, a pairing which was nothing short of genius.
The summery salad helped to brighten the deep flavours of the mushroom and cheese, served with a rich red North German Spätburgunder, rounding off the evening with an alternative yet wholesome twist on the typical red wine and cheese pairing.
The Blank experience certainly took on a whole new meaning to supporting local and the importance of fresh, seasonal produce, and one thing’s for sure, I can’t wait to see what they’re going to serve up next!
For more information on Blank or to make a booking, visit the www.blankbelfast.com website.