Two days before the restaurants closed again on October 16 I went to the Mourne Seafood Bar for the first time in over a year.
I had liked it from the moment it opened 15 years ago because it was the response to a question only the middle classes and recently returned fancy pants holiday makers had been whispering for years: if our seafood is so good,Mourne Seafood Bar’s cook at home kit presents a challenge but the end result is a very satisfying one where is it and why do we have to go to expensive places in Spain, Portugal and France to enjoy them?
The closest we got to some decent crustaceans or shellfish in Belfast was on a rare trip to Roscoff (the Belfast restaurant).
It's fair to say that the arrival of the Mourne Seafood Bar had a similar impact to the city's broader foody reputation as Paul Rankin's Roscoff some 15 years earlier. At last, we had a cool, informal, pub-like place to go where we could act out all our seafood fantasies, order Muscadet and generally get on just like the people of La Rochelle, Lagos and Oviedo.
The Mourne Seafood Bar made it okay and affordable to order crab, oysters, fish on the bone, langoustines, mussels, squid, lobster, salt cod and all the other brilliant local fresh sea life.
Andy took it a step further and opened the fishmongers at the front of the restaurant where people could see all the fresh fish and seafood glistening beneath the market stall lights stylishly strung up to show off the bright white tiles and the big shiny rubber aprons of the people shucking oysters and fileting fish. He even had freshwater perch, roach and carp in for proper Polish Christmas.
The chance to indulge in shellfish and crustaceans without a hint of self-consciousness (the seafood thing is no longer the preserve of the fancy pants or the pretentious) was all the more welcome with the second lockdown around the corner.
Oysters and mussels from Carlingford and Strangford, lobster and langoustines from the Irish Sea and some very generous cuts of hake were all consumed merrily enough, but the real reason for the visit was to see how the Mourne@Home kits were coming along.
A few days later I came back to collect a box of the stuff, brought it home, switched on the iPad and tuned in to the Mourne Seafood Bar YouTube channel.
Since the first lockdown, Andy has become a YouTube star, instructing novices like me in the ways of cooking fish and preparing seafood. More precisely, he walks you through the cooking instructions specifically devised for your kit.
The result was a recognisably MSB-like and more than passable three course dinner of mussels with fennel cream, panko crusted hake with shellfish ragu and a pair of chocolate fondants.
Just on the fondants: this is a very popular choice of desserts chefs add to their dinner kits, so if you're thinking of becoming a regular dinner kit maker check the last bit on the menu just to make sure you're not overloading on fondants.
The instructions are easy to follow; there's just enough concentration required to make the dinner kit a challenge without becoming a do-or-die statement about your cheffy abilities and the results are tasty, nutritious, healthy and very satisfying.
The attention to detail is impressive. It takes a chef to understand that every little nuance of flavour is predicated by a very firm grasp of volumes of herbs and spices. Sometimes it can be alarming to see just the weight of butter, cheese and creme fraiche that goes into these things while other times you're thinking will a pinch of fresh dill make any difference?
Stick to the script no matter what doubts may be creeping in.
If you, like me have developed the worst possible habits when cooking, ignore your instinct and go with the chef. They know best.
Order online www.mourneseafood.com and collect. Delivery available.
Mourne at Home meal for two: £40