Joris Minne: Linen Hill Kitchen & Deli
Talented chef Shaun Hanna has brought some of his trademark culinary class from the MAC to a Banbridge shopping centre
When the MAC (Belfast's Metropolitan Arts Centre) opened two years ago it was quickly embraced by the arts community, aesthetes and various poseurs as the city's new workshop in which to forge works of drama, music and visual art. The MAC would help Belfast define itself and introduce a whole new generation to the creative industries, a sector which now employs more than one million people as musicians, designers, commercial artists, photographers, gamers and entertainment professionals.
While those of us planning the MAC reassured funders that blasphemy, profanity and nudity would feature on stage only three or four times a week we also knew that artists and their fans and followers could not survive on a diet of laughter, loss, lust and revenge alone. There would be a need for sustenance of a more earthy kind. And so the Canteen at the MAC came to be and in its heart was placed a chef as creative as any of the talented performers flocking to the centre.
Few come more earthy than Shaun Hanna, a larger-than-life Kilkeel man who is part Henry VIII and part Pogue and still remarkably young. Shaun drew up menus for the Canteen at the MAC on which you'd find things on slates, pig's cheeks, chowders and freaky salads, just the kind of culinary gems beloved by the creative community. But after 18 months Shaun moved on to Banbridge and opened the Outlet Centre's Linen Hill Kitchen and Deli restaurant, formerly occupied by Michael Deane.
This bright, goldfish bowl of a restaurant with its floor to ceiling windows, is reason enough to go to the Outlet Centre. I had never been to this elegant crescent of shops and stores and having arrived early for lunch with Banbridge-based buddy and television mentalist David Meade, managed to take a dander through the place to get a feel for it. Even on a stinker day of hard rain and wind, the Outlet Centre had a warmth and comforting aura about it and when I reached the end of the walk and reached up to the glass door of the Linen Hill I was ready for lunch with a side order of mentalism.
The menu is extensive and clever; apart from the coffee shop baked goods offer for morning or afternoon rests, there are plenty of daily specials featuring exciting things like venison, sharing platters including a seafood board of smoked salmon, marinated prawns, rollmops, taramasalata and breads or a cheese and charcuterie board of cured meats, local cheeses, olives, hummus, pesto and breads.
There are small plates at £3.50 each of ham hock crubbeens with piccalilli, BBQ'd pulled pork slider, beer battered fillets of coley, squid, prawns, chorizo and a few others. And then there are more conventional dishes so granny doesn't take a hernia over what I though were pigs' ear crubbeens (as Shaun Hanna used to make at the MAC but which are presented here as ham).
For those of you thinking about a group visit to the Outlet, Linen Hill has a group bookings menu: cooked breakfast including dry cured bacon, pork and leek butcher's sausage, grilled flat mushroom, soda bread, black pudding and scrambled egg with tea or coffee and toast for a fiver. Light lunches from £6 and full three-courses for £12.95 are also good value.
The mentalist and I had some of the small plates which are not diminutive at all and three of them would have constituted a decent lunch. The crubbeens, chorizo and battered coley were all tasty and fun. The day's special of slow cooked venison brought a flavour of rural Down to the table and the red wine jus, cabbage and dauphinoise provided just the right fortification to tackle the rough winter's day.
Shaun Hanna is an impressive chef and his food is robust. But it is also very high quality, matching his skills to the excellence of the produce he works with. Many shopping centre restaurants succeed because they have a captive audience but here is one which provides as much a reason to visit the Outlet Centre as any of the bargains on offer in the neighbouring shops. Owners John and Fiona Robinson have pitched the tone just right and in Shaun Hanna they have a chef who understands the conservative tastes of the local population but who also encourages them to push the envelope a bit.
The Linen Hill's only down side is the cold air which slides off those huge windows and blows gently down your neck should you be close to the glass. The trick here is to sit in the middle of the place where you will avoid any draughts.
Small plates x 3 £10.50
Venison x 2 £18
Belfast Ale x 2 £9
Bread board £4
Dessert x 2 £5
Large sparkling water £3.95
Large still water £2.50
The Outlet, Bridgewater Park, Banbridge
Tel: 028 4062 6957.