Millar's Restaurant, 135 Upper Lisburn Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 960 01545
Restaurateurs face a new post-lockdown challenge: getting people to work for them. While many restaurant workers were furloughed or protected under the job retention schemes others were dumped at the first sign of lockdown in March 2020 and understandably have had a bellyful of the hospitality sector. Is it any wonder that they are not rushing back?
Cork business leader Pat Phelan tweeted last weekend that he “was sick to his back teeth of hearing it’s hard to get staff”. “It’s absolutely not,” he says. “It’s hard to get cheap staff. Pay your team.”
A few months ago I was asked to do an interview along with a local restaurateur about the restaurant economy. He said restaurants were under intense financial pressure and on top of this they had to pay staff a minimum wage. I said nobody should be in business if they can’t pay staff a living wage. It sounds more like exploitation when employers can get away with business models which rely on poorly paying their staff. But for as many unscrupulous restaurateurs are out there, you can rely on a greater number doing the right thing.
Despite this set of challenging circumstances new restaurants are opening. Millar’s in Finaghy is the newest neighbourhood joint to open its doors and what a pleasant little place it is. At first sight, the bright white marble effect tables and floors in the dining room give you a Turkish baths meets nail bar vibe, but a quick look at the menu quickly settles the nerves.
Among the starters are quail, red mullet, smoked salmon and crab terrine, and mushroom risotto. There is daring and boldness here for a suburban restaurant which could have chosen to go down a more tried, tested and breadcrumbed route. That’s because chef Daniel Boyle is there. Chef Boyle has been doing great work in Saphyre and Oliver’s. Now he’s putting his mark on Millar’s, raising the game and offering some excitement.
The red mullet comes with a bisque-like broth, rich like a bouillabaisse, and packed with unmistakeably Port de Marseille flavour. The mullet filet is tender, flaky and firm and is accompanied by a thin crispy slice of toasted focaccia for added texture. The little quail filets and legs have been finished in a pan with a little scorching and smokiness. This works a treat with the bitter sweetness of the pickled blackberries, beetroot and hazelnut dressing.
The roast rump of lamb with Clonakilty black pudding croquette, goat’s cheese, black garlic and rosemary jus jumped off the menu at me. But poor communication with the kitchen meant nobody had told front of house it had sold out. This would happen again later when we ordered three cheeses including St Tola’s, Durrus and Cashel Blue only to be given the last two and a cheddar substitute for the St Tola’s without warning. These are small issues, but they disappoint.
Grilled pale haddock with cockle Thai red curry and lemongrass sauce, sauté potatoes and coconut foam was a fine replacement for the lamb. A generous filet, subtly spiced up with a hint of chilli fire, the haddock, not used to being a star fish (it lacks stage presence) was transformed into something exciting and surprising.
An apple and pear frangipane with nutmeg custard, ice cream and burnt apple gel maintained the standard of the food right up until the end. Millar’s just needs to engage more meaningfully with its customers. When it does, it will be one of the best neighbourhood restaurants in town. It already is the best in Finaghy.
Red mullet £7
Haddock x £2 £29
Parmesan fries £4
3 cheeses £9
Glass of Chardonnay x 3 £19.50