Tedfords chef patron Alan Foster always gets his market right. Making the most of Belfast's river front is a tough call, particularly down at Oxford Street where the frontage has sunk beneath generations of road building which now block the views to the river.
Tedfords was always a classy operation. Its appeal was largely among the expense account set, many of whom might be attending conferences over the way at the Waterfront Hall.
A new Tedfords operation, Tedfords Kitchen in Lanyon Square, is now up and running. It's ready for the anticipated opening of the Waterfront Hall's new and controversially designed extension. Not everyone admires the modern new lines of the £27m exhibition hall (but then there were loads of newly appointed architectural critics who gave the Lyric, MAC and Ulster Museum merry hell when they opened). But so what? When people like Alan Foster and the McKennas (Niall and Joanne of James Street South, Hadskis and Cast & Crew fame) are investing in the immediate surrounding area, you just know they're onto something successful.
Tedfords Kitchen is a success. Even in its earliest moments you just know it's a hit because everything about it is right. The high ceilings, the weirdly shaped room, the light and the floor staff all work in tandem to create an atmosphere of next generation hospitality. It's classy, relaxed, urban and quite different from anything else in Belfast. The food has hints of Korea and other bits of Asia and some of the best white wine from France, Grappin Chardonnay, is served in 50cl carafes because they don't have bottles of it as it comes in a box. How terribly cool ... you might think, but none of this is self conscious posing. It's just the way it is.
The menu is a journey into new territory for many of us. There are crispy Korean spiced chicken wings with kim-chi, harissa spiced prawns and shrimp cocktail, goat's cheese pannacotta with smoked beetroot, candied walnuts and croutons and crisp flatbread with braised lamb, yoghurt, spiced cream, rocket and Parmesan.
The two of us are in fish and game mood. The rabbit ragu with pasta, basil and nut pesto and smoked fish cake with tarragon and anchovy cream, tomato and fried egg are delivered swiftly but not before a quick exploration, courtesy of chef, into pork belly amuse bouches. These are an Asian sensation, crispy, fat, light and very fulfilling in a whole hearted, deep throated porky way.
The ragu and pasta dish is a very good impression of a rustic Tuscan dish I had on my honeymoon 20 years ago (thank you). There is darkness and depth to the sauce and the flaking meat has plenty of gamey-ness. The pesto mixed in there is competing with the sauce and is unnecessary, but this is still a flavoursome, tasty and satisfying starter.
The slow braised Irish beef dish comes with potato, curry, chilli and pineapple, naturally. This surprising combination works brilliantly as none of the flavours is present in overwhelming volume. The sweetness and heat are carried off fantastically well by the robust beef.
There are all sorts of strange and exciting sorties but as many more conventional standards. This is so as not to frighten the natives, nor the travelling delegates who, I'm sure a survey would quickly reveal, are not prone to culinary explorations or experimentations.
Tedford's Kitchen is a surprise. It brings life and verve to one of Belfast's up and coming quarters, offering up a menu which nobody else in the city has ever considered. And it's not as expensive as its older brother. It's a great asset to the city, it's a clever investment and it deserves to be booked out the minute that extension opens. In fact it deserves to be booked out now.
Rabbit ragu and pasta £6.50
Chicken wings £6.50
Smoked fish cake £6.50
Carafe Grappin Chardonnay £18.00
Braised beef £15.50
Sweet potato fries £4.50
Large sparkling water £4.10
Small still water £2.40