French chef Passard ruffles feathers in Belfast with pigeon's head on gourmet dish
Is it a bird? Is it a rack of lamb? Bizarre pigeon dish served at NI restaurant ruffles feathers
A gourmet restaurant has ruffled feathers by serving up a pigeon's head on a platter.
Three-star French chef Alain Passard, from Paris restaurant L'Arpege, treated diners to a chimera of the bird combined with a rack of lamb to celebrate the sixth birthday of Belfast's OX.
Although his signature dish went down well with cooing guests at the Oxford Street premises on Sunday and Monday night, it left a bad taste in the mouths of others.
The menu describing the chimera reads: "Confusing and fascinating at the same time... the mix of these two animals is even more disturbing as they suit and complete each other."
The so-called 'star' of the 11-course tasting menu was inspired by contemporary German sculptor Thomas Grünfield, of Misfits artwork fame.
He is best known for his series of hybrid taxidermied animals, which feature dead animals sewn together.
Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne was among those to sample the creation made famous by the Frenchman, whose Parisian restaurant is one of the top 20 in the world.
"It's quite an old medieval thing and it does look disturbing," he said.
"I saw it being served at various tables and everybody was surprised but very pleasantly because it actually may have looked shocking but it was out of this world. It was the best piece of lamb I've ever had."
As regards the bird, Joris said it "went down really well".
"Wood pigeon is very gamey, it's a very dark meat. It's much more moist than, say, pheasant, but it is very distinctive and it has the same strength of meatiness that lamb has, so actually the two of them work incredibly well together," he said.
"But it's the visuals really that are the stand-out. If you take a stark photograph out of context, as I did, and put it on Twitter, it does look shocking.
"When you have the thing presented to you, it is no more shocking than a whole fish on the bone, but I understand how this one would prompt squeamishness."
Joris stressed the dish was "outstandingly good".
"Eating animals is always going to be controversial," he said.
"This is such an honest dish - there's no disguising what this is. It's very honest food.
"I suppose it's not everybody's cup of tea and a lot of people are going to react negatively and I fully respect that. My own daughter Charlotte (19) is a vegetarian and didn't look too kindly on it. She wasn't hugely impressed by it."
The Belfast critic admitted that "foodies are going to be a lot more tolerant of shocking-looking dishes".
He added: "To be honest, though, this is a celebration of Irish produce at its best. What we're very good at is lamb and game, and what Passard has done here is put the two together in an extraordinary dish which not everybody will be a fan of."
Other dishes on the tasting menu that were more familiar to local palates included raw scallop with buttermilk and mussels, Jerusalem artichoke and candied tomato with 12 flavours.
OX owner and front of house Alain Kerloc'h said the lamb pigeon chimera was "weird, but it's a work of art".
"Alain Passard is an artist - I still don't know how he manages to cook both meats so perfectly, but it's his signature dish in Paris," he added.
But Mr Kerloc'h also understood some of the negative reaction on social media.
"I can understand how something crazy (but in a good way) like this could put someone off, especially if you're vegetarian," he said.
"Anything creative and anything new causes a stir. That's why when we presented the dish we explained the thinking behind it to the customer. That's very important."
OX business partners Alain Kerloc'h and Steve Toman met at L'Arpege and Mr Toman returned again to work in the Paris kitchen before opening the now Michelin-starred OX at the end of March 2013.
This week's dinner at OX is the third visit by mentor Mr Passard, who described the produce in Northern Ireland as "amazing" and he said it was "a pleasure to team up with OX".
On social media users were divided over the dish and someone said it was enough to make them turn vegetarian.
Former BBC journalist Natasha Sayee said: "I'm sorry OX, I know you are a terrific business for Northern Ireland and hugely successful and I truly want to support you, but this is just ghastly."
Aodhan Connolly, who represents the retail trade in Northern Ireland, disagreed, however and said: "That's one I would like to try."