St George's Market. Belfast. Tel: 028 9043 5704
Thank God Danny Millar has rediscovered his mojo. After too many years of multi-tasking across three restaurants in Balloo, Hillsborough and Lisbane, Chef Millar had become restless. He had raised the bar to magnificent new heights in Balloo House, particularly in the posh upstairs dining room which felt like a beautifully restored ancient stone Breton barn decked out with high quality furniture and lots of linen and crystal. But getting the front of house staff proved a consistent challenge.
The downstairs pub restaurant in Balloo, the Parsons Nose in Hillsborough and the Poacher's Pocket in Lisbane worked more happily for Danny and volumes were strong. But even so, towards the end of his tenure I had one or two disappointing meals in Balloo downstairs and had come away thinking Danny's lost interest.
But you don't keep a guy like this down for long. He's got form and a gold-lined pedigree with a career which kicked off with Robbie Millar's unparalleled, Michelin-starred Shanks. For those of you from a different generation, this was housed in Blackwood Golf Club by Clandeboye and was as consistently brilliant as Roscoff had been.
And now Danny's back but this time he's running on his own ticket. With input from his old friend and mentor Andy Rea, owner of the Mourne Seafood Bar, Stock has opened on a historic site occupying the mezzanine in St George's Market.
This has proved to be a challenging location in the past but with the kind of talent brought to it now, it should be a winner. Judging by a first visit last week, it deserves every success because it is not only very good, but it's also different, more robust, rustic and thankfully, informed by the market in which it sits.
The dining room itself is a handsome, brightly lit, loft-like affair with a long, plushly upholstered central banquette. There are intimate tables tucked away in corners overlooking the bustling market below.
If you want a more immediate and fuller flavour of the market there's a wide balcony which extends into the market hall but the slight issue here is the smoke and smells wafting up from the burger, crepe and other cooking grills below.
Danny Millar's menu mirrors the market below: so much so, in fact, that on a daytime Saturday, Danny calls it the Market Lunch Menu.
There's a market fish soup, market seafood casserole and whole market fish for two, Carlingford oysters, crubeens, local tomatoes, sourdough bread, Ardglass herrings and much more comes from the stalls downstairs.
We try the oysters, raw with apple cider vinaigrette and finely chopped shallots, fine and crystal fresh. Crubeens are confited and breadcrumbed and come with a deliciously rich little green sauce. But the big oeuvre for today is the whole turbot for two people. "I picked it myself a few minutes ago," says Danny.
Sure enough the big dinner plate is too small for this whole turbot. Technically, this fish would have done four people.
But it's the delicacy and precision timing of Danny's treatment of this king of the sea which is overwhelmingly brilliant.
Neither the advisor nor I have ever had a better cooked, finer tasting turbot. The marbling white meat, the little tasty skirt bits and the pearly cheeks are all perfect. We work at the fish for seemingly hours lifting entire fillets from the skeleton effortlessly.
Crispy Comber potato wedges, market vegetables and unnecessary additional sides of chips and market salad, create a robust and voluminous lunch.
Thank goodness for the chilled Albarino to help it along its way.
Stock is the kind of restaurant you want to make habit-forming. Prices are modest for the quality/value ratio and the comforting dining room would go down well in the old Halles of Paris. Danny always had a wee French vibe going and Stock is a wonderful expression of his francophilia.
Fish soup £6
Turbot for two£50
Buttermilk pudding £5
Macchiato x 2£4.20
Glass Albarino x 2£13
Chieftain IPA pint£4.90