Shu, 253 Lisburn Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9038 1655
It’s been a tough two years for everybody but Lisburn Road’s top restaurant Shu has had more than its fair share of stresses. A huge refit last year created a bijou triple decker with lounge bar and restaurant in the basement, a comfortable and stylish main dining room on the ground floor and extensive private dining upstairs.
All fine and dandy but then the master chef himself, Brian McCann, and Shu went their separate ways after nearly two decades. What does a restaurateur do when the culinary brains in the operation leaves after years of building and finely honing the restaurant’s reputation? Call Matt Jordan back from the Ledbury in London. That’s what.
Chef Matt Jordan knows the Shu operation having been sous-chef there in the past. He knows how high the bar is that Brian McCann has set. But can he reach it, never mind jump it?
As we settle into the sumptuous banquettes, the reassuring confidence of a well-run restaurant is evident. Front of house supremo Julien’s effortless hospitality which generates an atmosphere of joy and relaxation from a happy crowd out on a Friday night instantly blows away any lingering doubts that Shu has lost its mojo.
The service levels we associated with Shu for years are intact and the menu looks as reassuring as ever.
Roast asparagus with nduja, lemon and sourdough crumb; potato and wild garlic velouté with croutons; corned beef croquette with remoulade and wild garlic mayonnaise among the starters paint a picture which is distinctly McCannesque.
The croquette is comforting soft and salty, its richness and warmth happily offset by the sharp and crunchy remoulade. Salt and chilli squid is now a high risk area as it is so common and people now know where to go for their favourite versions. This is classic Shu with good bite, crunch and tangy dressing.
Whatever may have happened between chef McCann and Shu, it must be gratifying that the formula, the kind of big hearted cooking and the attention to detail he brought, is now entering a second generation. Shu is a chip off the old block and Matt Jordan is walking a fine line keeping the restaurant’s beating heart steady while bringing in a good deal of new thinking.
The roast rump and slow cooked lamb shoulder comes with a potato and rosemary emulsion, crispy potatoes, garlic, rosemary and balsamic. It is a wonder. There are actually three lamb dishes on the plate: the roast rump is firm and lean, the flavour pure hill farm.
There is a big dark nugget of lamb shoulder beside it which falls apart at the touch of the knife and then a small kofte-like rough shaped roundel.
This is a rustic dish where few artistic sensitivities are spared but everything on it is outstanding. The emulsion is mousseline like and amplifies the little sautees thrown into the rustic mix. The textures and flavours are all from a wide spectrum and combine to create a dish I could eat every week for the rest of my life.
The advisor’s halibut is a much prettier, more elegant looking composition. Colours are beautifully paired, the broccoli puree, fennel emulsion and crushed potatoes coming together as sedan carriers for the brick of halibut, pearly, slippery, chunky and perfect.
There are all sorts of joyful visual and taste moments and surprises throughout the dinner, so much so that it prompts the desire to return.
This was Brian McCann’s secret. Creating stuff you wanted to come back to get more.
Matt Jordan is achieving the same sense of excitement without going overboard on the creativity. BT9 may like to think of itself as progressive but it knows where to draw the line. Shu 2.0 is now with us and long may it succeed.
Pouilly Fume £43