Restaurant Blank brings its high concept tasting menu experience to south Belfast’s Malone Road. John Mulgrew was among those getting a first taste of what’s on offer and finds moments of stand out cooking, using a wide pantry of local ingredients to create some culinary classics
In many ways, this review, in and of itself, reveals what’s behind the magician’s curtain at Blank.
The new offering from the husband and wife team behind Shed on the Ormeau Road brings a semi-blind tasting menu to south Belfast’s Malone Road.
Christina and Jonny Taylor are upping the tried and tested ‘eat local’ concept, and pushing it a little further. A menu consists of a selection of ingredients, and their whereabouts, as a guide to the dishes on their way out of the kitchen.
And in the kitchen, the credentials are certainly there. Co-owner Jonny is joined by head chef Niall Duffy, who counts stints at Dublin’s two-star Patrick Guilbaud and Gordon Ramsey.
Housed in a grand Victorian townhouse, inside, it has the atmosphere of luxury living room – well lit, warmly, long drapes framing a bay window, narrow, and leading towards the pass towards the back, with a large skylight bathing the rear section in sunlight.
The tasting menu offered up is £50 for five courses, with a wine pairing coming in at half that again.
The cocktail game is strong. A ‘Gin One’, essentially a classic martini, is beefy, and not over-diluted. There’s a balanced whack of booze, tempered by orange zest and the gin’s herbal notes.
A take on an Old Fashioned – although not given the title – is solid. But as Black Bush provides the spirit, it doesn’t have the requisite warm wood and caramel roundness that comes with bourbon or rye, instead, finishing with a hit of grain whiskey.
We start with a salt cured salmon. Two perfectly formed and tidy pillows of fish sit pert on the plate, joined by spirals and balls of cucumber with a split buttermilk dressing. The salmon is fresh and soft on the palate with enough striations of fat to keep it extremely moist. It’s cut with the cleanness of the cucumber, the acid of the dressing, while bubbles of bright orange roe provide welcome texture.
A cod dish saw the star of the show making way for a piece of celeriac – due to this reviewer’s white fish allergy. It’s a lot of earthy flavours from the root vegetable and slightly braised celery, with hazelnuts and warming brown butter.
The duck really does lead the way during the evening. It’s about as good as the poultry can be. It’s cooked medium, something more restaurants should do in my opinion as undercooked duck lacks the definition and texture of something like beef to be served rare. The hefty fat cap is rendered down and topped with crisp, brittle skin. It tastes of nothing else but duck, as it should. The sauce is a big balance of meatiness and savoury. It’s sticky and fruity, with some acid coming from the blackberries and solidity from the earthy beetroot.
A palate cleansing granita with zesty Granny Smith apple is a solid pre-dessert, but is a touch too sweet, especially when paired with a sticky sauternes.
A glistening chocolate dessert is a perfect expression of cocoa. The outer coating is made from 100% cocoa chocolate. It’s rich, bitter and tempered by a few flakes of savoury salt. It makes way for a lighter, chocolate mousse, and crisp layers and crunch of feuilletine praline. It’s a take on the grand Louis XV, the signature dish of Alain Ducasse’s three-star Michelin restaurant in Monte Carlo. It’s worth your time. It’s a lot of work from the pastry chef, and a perfect encapsulation of why we go to restaurants. This isn’t something you’ll be knocking together in the kitchen of an evening.
Accompanying wine pairings stood up well to the dishes on offer. Am earthy and funky pinot noir with the duck drew out the fruit of the sauce, while a muscat alongside the dark, rich chocolate dessert was the winner of the evening – a cacophony of sweet, sticky dates and dried fruit helping balance strong cocoa and a touch of savoury from the salt atop.
The night comes to a close with rich dairy. A slab of Ballylisk’s triple cream is sandwiched with black truffle – a local take on brie aux truffes, which can be found at good delis here. It’s a fatty and savoury punch only the real thing can deliver – avoiding that chemical tang of fake truffle oil.
This experience was on the media night, just a day before the doors opened to the public. Service was thorough and warm, without being overzealous, and helpful.
Blank is going up against some stiff competition in the city, with pricing and tone pitching it close to Michelin-starred OX, Deanes Eipic and Muddler’s Club. But it has already set out a strong stall. Some elements of the cooking are as precise and expert as they come at this level, while the experience itself feels entirely welcoming and natural. One to stick on the list.