Shed Bistro, 467 Ormeau Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9064 2630, www.shedbefast.com
In an unusual experiment made possible thanks to Covid restrictions, I was able to review a dinner kit from Shed Bistro last week. This week I return to Shed to order the same dinner except this time chef/patron Jonny Taylor is doing the cooking.
Making the dinner kits can be as daunting as some of the old school Blue Peter challenges. Putting together a model of Tracy Island to house my son's Thunderbirds fleet back in the Nineties appeared so simple when Anthea Turner made it. Just do this with the washing-up liquid bottle and pipe cleaners, do that with the PVA glue and green and brown crepe paper, and Virgil Tracy's your uncle.
Mine turned out looking like a gastroenteritis-afflicted cowpat. I was never good with my hands. Nonetheless, the repeated practice of completing the dinner kits has immeasurably improved my kitchen skills.
The Shed dinner kit was a success largely because of the just-so cooked components and clear instructions on how to finish them. All three courses worked well.
But now, in the warm embrace of Shed, newly refurbished in the style of a classic French brasserie with Limoges FC red banquettes and booths, the difference a chef makes is about to be revealed.
Bright, smiling, attentive and well briefed, servers in Shed glide about their business quickly and efficiently under the warm and hospitable guidance of manager Christina, Jonny's partner.
Having someone bring drink and food to your table, no matter how upmarket or modest-budget the restaurant might be, is a luxury to be savoured. It really is all about the hospitality. I'll forgive almost any food crime if the service is that good. In Shed Bistro, everything works well. Taylor's brasserie menus (a la carte and Christmas) and fine little wine list fit the bill. It's the right food for the right place.
The salt and chilli baby squid ringlets are as appetising as I remember them from the week before except that this time, the composition is so much more compelling.
Here the lemon aioli is dotted on the elegant crockery like tiny pieces on a draughts board, the mound of crispy ringlets on the other side of the tangy slaw. One-nil to Shed.
The pan roasted duck breast, a solidly chunky, pink and well crisped wedge, is firm yet tender and full of gamey, back of the mouth, duck flavours.
This is backed up with a clever and equally chunky piece of artichoke with all its earthiness enhanced by zingy high-tone blueberry jus.
Boulangere potatoes, buttery with soft onion and heightened with some breathy herbs completes the French home cooking. Compared to the one I had at home, it's better, but the bar was already set very high. Two-nil to Shed.
One thing I didn't have at home and which merits a mention here is the side order of brussels sprouts. Even die-hard haters will change their minds when they shovel some of these in with the sweet, salty and crunchy blend of pecans, maple syrup, pancetta and parmesan balancing the sprout tang finely.
And finally, the desserts. And the cheeses. This is where we score a draw because Shed's Christmas pudding and brandy sauce were outstanding at home and in the restaurant. But those cheeses are something else.
These are treated with the reverence good cheese deserves and there's a full menu with loads of useful one-upmanship information to help you achieve expert knowledge.
Probably the weirdest and most unusually enjoyable, among the Ballylisk and Young Buck was the Norwegian Geitost, a semi-hard blend of goat's milk and cow cream, it's sweet, caramelly and brown, just like fudge.
So the final score is 2-1 to Shed sit-in. And proof that a good chef can make you look almost as good as s/he is in your own kitchen.
Scallops x 2 £19.90
Rump steak x 2 £43.90
Cheeses (5) £12
Christmas pudding £6.95
German pinot noir £26