Stock Kitchen, St George’s Market, Oxford Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9024 001
There is a little corner of Belfast which will for ever be in Paris. While it may never have been his intention, Chef Millar has created the most Gallic of restaurants in Belfast and in the continuing absence of travel freedoms this is a consolation for many of us.
Stock Kitchen is the closest you will get to a bustling, blousy and shouty, 10th arrondissement brasserie. All the elements are here. Long banquettes, cosy corners, an elegant bar, open kitchen and a menu featuring fresh produce straight from the market downstairs as well as meats and wines of a quality to match any in the French capital. It’s a wonder chef patron Danny Millar doesn’t ask you for a French GCSE before allowing you in.
Such is the spaciousness that even under safe-distance restrictions allowing fewer diners in than normal, the place is buzzing and atmospheric, chattering and laughing echoing all around. And then, just to remind you that you’re still in Ireland after all, there are salty, crispy, rich crubeens, sparkling fresh Killough oysters, just softened spring asparagus and other starters, amuse-bouches, snacks and openers to lead you confidently and comfortably into your dinner.
Matching the bubbly atmosphere, there is a funny little, almost effervescent white wine which works dangerously well with those oysters. The German Grauburgunder is an unexpectedly great match for the oysters, the fizz amplifying the brine.
The crubeens have been a feature of Stock Kitchen since it opened. These savoury bonbons made from boiled pigs’ feet might not sound exactly glamorous, but the porky flavours from those trotters are intense and unparalleled.
While the brasserie concept has fast service at its heart, here in Stock, the pace is more mellow. Savouring every bite, people-watching and soaking up the happy mood are central to the moment. The food matches the mood and comes in large mouthfuls. The rustic and informal vibe is a backdrop to some of the best food available in Belfast and you get the strong sense that Danny Millar cooks what he wants to cook, dishes he loves which are large, colourful, broad in textures and a spectrum of flavours.
There are few steaks more assertive than a cote de boeuf, and when it arrives, sliced and presented like a sacrificial offering to the gods, it has all the deep, magical beefy flavours of high-end dining and the more base munchiness of a fresh baguette.
The cote de boeuf is salt-aged from Hannan’s which cannot be bettered. It stands head and shoulders above any other. I’ve tried a few (although if the people from Carnbrooke are reading this, forgive me as I have yet to try yours) and so far nothing matches Hannan’s flavours. There is a salty, almost umami depth in the crusty char which complements the soft and iron-sweet, medium to rare flesh within to provide layer after layer of sublime textures and tastes.
It may seem dear at £75 for two but it isn’t. This is unparalleled quality, and once you taste it you’ll not want to go back to anything else. I’ve cooked a couple of these at home and find that they are pretty much fool proof, but nothing compares to what Danny Millar does with them.
Elsewhere on the menu are Strangford lobster with peas, broad beans, lobster and prawn ravioli with a lobster and brown butter vinaigrette. For £25, this would be enough to tempt Londoners and Dubliners to Belfast for a weekend.
Millar frequently films himself on the market floor on Friday and Saturday mornings for instagram looking at fresh fish. His halibut dishes appear frequently but if none available he will always have some whole fish on the bone (seabream, seabass, red mullet and others) which he serves with roasted fish bone sauce.
Stock Kitchen should really feature more prominently on Belfast’s listings of top restaurants. Places like Stock which are just off the beaten track can be overlooked too often. Yet ease of access, parking and other practical considerations should help keep it on everybody’s agenda. Heaven knows, it deserves awards never mind good reviews.
Oysters x 6 £12
Cote de boeuf £75
Domaine Julienas £36