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Restaurant review: The Seahorse in Belfast's Grand Central Hotel

As our food critic Joris Minne predicted below, by the time you are reading this all restaurants have been ordered to close. A review to savour for some time then...

The Seahorse

The north's restaurants, bars and hotels are feeling the cold draught of caution as fewer of us venture out beyond the school run and to work. At the time of reading even this may be verboten. All the more reason for takeaways to gear up as I predict a surge in the food deliveries business. And deliveries could be the way forward for restaurants who don't currently do takeaways. Think about it - Michelin-starred takeaways from Ox, Muddler's Club and Eipic.

Yes, I'll have the remoulade and air-dried lamb and celeriac veloute with chestnut, truffle and thyme to start; then could we get the Chateaubriand with salsify, persillade and miso, please? Forty-five minutes? That's fine.

If The Seahorse did takeaways then they have the perfect menu for it. I had understood the new Shop & Savour menu was a clever device to get people in early for a nice bit of scran at affordable prices. A simple early bird menu available from 6.30pm to 8.30pm provided good timing for office workers, shoppers and anyone wanting to avoid the rush hour.

What I had not expected was how the quality-to-price ratio would turn out to be among the best in the city. Three courses for £24 or two for £19.50 (wine pairing for each course at £4) are Nineties prices.

Cheap prices can mean cheap cuts and smaller portions but in this case, the savings have been made possible by clever simplicity.

A choice of three starters, four mains and cheese or two desserts means exec chef Damian Tumilty has a tight rein on ingredient costs, allowing him to come up with intriguing dishes including a duck ragu with zita pasta.

He calls it a duck Bolognese as it has all the look of one: a rich tomato-based sauce; shredded, tender duck meat; and little zita tubes in a generous portion that is earthy, the duck flavours strong and welcome.

A salmon gravlax balances cold, salty smokiness with a spoonful of pickled kohlrabi, nasturtium leaves and lemon mayonnaise. For volume, some thick-cut slices of very dark treacle bread are placed centre of table.

The mains choices include braised blade of beef, roast cod, roast Irish chicken and curry roast cauliflower.

The beef is a very large roundel of tender, 14-hour braised meat covered in a squall of gremolata made with sourdough crumbs. It is seriously good, the flavours enhanced by the fat allowed to seep through. The crunchy gremolata works very well with this softness providing crunch and bite.

Elsewhere on the plate is a croquette and the red wine jus is sound. Beneath the meat are lightly poached leaves of kale and some broccoli.

Wholesome, generous and very tasty, just what the doctor ordered on a gloomy Tuesday night as we wait for further gloomy public health news. There is much to be said for fortifying yourself with a good dinner.

The mood brings with it a slight touch of the last supper, for which I blame the adviser whose outlook is based on a simple strategy of eat, drink and make merry while there's still time. She has a glass of champagne (you never know where the next one might be) with her Irish chicken.

Her "ch" food group includes champagne, chocolate, chips and chicken and she announces her approval and delight at the addition of champ this evening.

Our restaurants and bars need our support more than ever and unless Dr Michael McBride and Minister Robin Swann tell you not to venture out, The Seahorse is your man for an after-work, after-shopping or pre-theatre quality dinner at remarkable prices.

The bill

Shop and Savour menu x 2 .............. £48

Two glasses wine ................................£8

Total .................................................. £56

Grand Central Hotel, Bedford Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9023 1066

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