Belfast Telegraph

Food review: Beef and Bird

Beef & Bird, celebrating a successful year in business, delivers much more than expected

By Joris Minne

Trends, fashions and gimmicks all have unusual influence on the restaurant trade, making it a very precarious investment. Yet restaurants keep opening, bringing untold pleasure to hundreds of thousands of us every year.

What's also exceptional about restaurants is the sheer range now available. You can have just about anything with or without cutlery or furniture, standing up, on the run or sitting down. Some of us prefer to eat in a car park. Just look at any shopping centre at the weekend and you'll be amazed at the number of families sitting inside their steamed-up Toyotas, eating their Big Mac meals, KFCs and Burger Kings.

Then there is another genre, one as likely to return a fortune to the investor as bring heart-break. This is the out-of-town leisureplex restaurant. Think in terms of KFCs and Pizzahuts and standing next to gaming arcades, municipal swimming pools and cinemas.

These successful outlets are hugely popular, attracting thousands of visitors each month. They also have heavy overheads, high rents and service charges, so anyone considering opening a restaurant in one will have thought through very carefully what will and will not work.

Celebrating its first 12 months of successful operation at Lisburn Leisure Park is Beef & Bird, the creation of local couple Bronagh and Anthony Campbell, also known for the Del Toro steak house in the city centre.

The leisure park is strictly family territory. This one includes an Omniplex cinema, the Lagan Valley Leisureplex and its impressing pools, and the Lisburn Bowl, all of which adds up to a rainy day's worth of activities. Cheek by jowl with these are the kind of restaurants that any child aged between four and 18 will lap up.

Beef & Bird is an independent competing with the big multiples, and it delivers a bit more than expected.

It's not all wings and ribs, burgers and chicken fillets. In among the menu's recognisable standards are some sirloins and rump steaks. There are specials of the day which, on closer inspection, reveal a commitment to local produce. And when asking what the most popular dish might be, it turns out to be the most expensive: a 10oz sirloin with chorizo, mozzarella and red onion chutney for £18.95. There is a plainer sirloin for £2 less.

In the passenger seat today is Ali Askir, a restaurateur himself and the founder of the Irish Curry Awards.

He knows all about this kind of food operation, having been in the business more or less ever since coming here from Manchester 20 years ago. I'm keen to get a commercial rather than a culinary view.

He loves the branding and the interior with its funked-up, stripped-down timbers, booths, chicken and cow motifs all over the place. To him it says young teenager. To me it says children and families and every eye-wateringly bright, popular music sound-tracked, plastic table-topped, corporately-approved, bleach-clean, clinical hell-hole I've visited, and I resign myself to eating something battered, deep fried and covered in industrial BBQ sauce.

Once again, I am proved to be profoundly mistaken, full of preconceived judgement and immediately outed as a snobby git when the first mixed platter of wings and pork ribs appear.

The wings come 'neath a coating of tangy and spicy sriracha, which cut through the crispy lightly battered wing skin to provide something squelchily hot and moistly rich. The wings are quality, and time has been spent to confit them to a tender point as appealing as the ribs. The ribs are generous and plentiful, falling off the bone in ample mouthfuls, but there is too much sauce suffocating the delicate pork flavours (note to self: next time, ask for any accompanying sauce to come on the side).

A sirloin is requested, black and red. It comes with its margin fat crisp and dark, the meat in the centre dark red, rare and butter-soft.

It is an outstanding feat, as good as any from Michael Deane's Meat Locker. The salty flavours are everything you wish for from a steak that comes from McAtamney's in Ballymena. What's more, it is accompanied by a very French team of runner beans, buttery cabbage and broccoli and a grilled piece of yellow bell pepper. The tobacco onions are fine and light.

Ali's dish of sizzling beef and chicken goes down well. I can never understand the popularity of this when you consider how long it takes to let a piece of beef rest before its ready to be eaten. But what do I know; he loves it.

Beef & Bird is unexpectedly and surprisingly good. It's a place for romance if you're in your teens, and it is ideal if you're impressing a client from the creative industries - they'll love the cartoon decor.

If you want to give your family a good day out, there are few activities of greater excitement as accessible as the Leisureplex, nor any popular restaurant chain as quality-conscious as Beef & Bird. I'll be back.

The bill

Sharing platter: £8.50

Beef & Bird sizzler: £12.95

10oz Sirloin: £16.95

Total: £38.40

Beef & Bird

Lisburn Leisure Park, Lisburn. Tel: 028 9260 7306

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