Lottie, 306 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9065 5539
Just when you’re getting used to Yugo East’s modern ways down it goes into eating-out history, filed under “Too Exciting for East Belfast”.
Yugo East is now Lottie. Gone are the gorgeous far eastern visuals. In their place are classy, bare, art studio walls and beton cru, softened by hundreds of pot plants. It has added services too: there’s a bagel and coffee takeaway hatch for the too-busies.
It’s more Manhattan than Shanghai in mood and comfort and there are European resonances with an actual charcuterie in a corner where salamis, hams and various sausages hang in an ageing cellar next to a beautiful old school slicer which gets cranked up every few minutes to populate a board of cold cuts the likes of which you’d have to travel to Bologna or Lyon to see.
The room is divided into sections which creates lots of intimate corners and the kitchen is a stage on which you can watch the magic unfold. It is restaurant as theatre and the serving staff are as much part of the creativity as they are conduits to the diners. It sparkles and bristles with energy and friendly efficiency, and that’s before we have even seen the menus and wine list.
The wine list is unputdownable. From magisterial Bordeaux including a Les Fillottes Pomerol (£126) to kitchen favourite vinho verde from Portugal (£25.50) it reads like a bucket list which will render my life a failure if I cannot have them all. Thankfully they use the Coravin system which allows them to pour a glass without removing the cork so you can at least enjoy a glass of the expensive wines without investing in the whole bottle.
The menus, including one mildly more conventional for Sunday, are bang on trend with snacks, charcuteries, fish, pasta, vegetarian, grill dishes and extras (truffle fries, green bean salad, BBQ hispi cabbage with hazelnut and romesco).
This is dangerous territory because the supposedly small dishes lull me into ordering, er, nearly all of them. Black pudding scotch egg with Lottie’s own brown sauce raises the humble pub snack to new heights. The sausage meat darkened and enriched with the black pudding is encased in light, crispy crumbs and the egg within is just about runny and possibly brought to this perfect state through a sous-vide treatment. The sauce is rich and tangy, a perfect match to the soothing egg and dry meat.
Duck rillettes come in classic French form with pickled cornichons and baby onions, chutney and two big slices of sourdough. Moist, plentiful and rustically charming it might benefit from a little chilling to solidify the fat on top but nonetheless its flavour is unforgettable.
The last time we saw vitello tonnato was in London’s La boca di luppo and this very Italian version of surf’n’turf is as good. Finely sliced rare beef fillet sits in generous layers covered in a tuna-flavoured mayonnaise covered in rocket leaves crowned with grated pecorino. It is refreshing, deliciously lush and perfectly balanced, the slight vinegariness in the mayo enhancing the beef no end.
The journey continues almost breathlessly with a bowl of linguine bursting with juicy curled langoustines, heated up with nduja and given a bit of texture with gremolata. The pasta is firm, just the softer side of al dente and the sauce is like an augmented puttanesca. We squeeze in a ribeye, charred and perfectly medium rare and chips which are brittle, crunchy and dreamy.
All the while, the adviser is taking full advantage of the coravin, the dishes are arriving without any rush or hurry. The table beside ours populated by a Freight team clearly on a research trip/workday out (thanks for the drinks, Christy McQuillan) is providing entertainment and laughs and it occurs to me that Lottie may have picked up some influences from their container-bound friends down the road.
We loved Lottie, the service, the food, the ambience and the fair pricing. I sincerely hope Lottie is not too exciting for the east because it deserves awards.
Scotch egg £6
Crispy chicken £6
Vittelo tonnato £9