Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Bar & Block - Why this foreign sourced menu leaves a mixed taste

Bar & Block, Premier Inn, 2-6 Waring Street, Belfast, Tel: 0871 527 8070

Bar & Block at the Premier Inn
Bar & Block at the Premier Inn
Bar & Block
Joris Minne

By Joris Minne

I don't want to be the kiss of death for any new restaurant venture but you have to question the wisdom of opening a steak house in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter and only serve beef from Latin America, mussels from Scotland and prawns which never came within 100 miles of an Irish shore.

I'm a fan of the Premier Inn and have stayed in many over the last 20 years. They're clean and they always feature a restaurant which is branded specifically not to be directly associated with the hotel. This is clever. We're happy to spend the night in the hotel equivalent of a Burger King but we'd rather eat in a place which has cutlery.

The new Bar & Block restaurant on the ground floor of the Premier Inn in Cathedral Quarter must be the result of a strategic decision taken somewhere in the senior management tiers of Whitbread which owns the Premier Inn brand.

Any sensitivities towards the local market seem to have been quickly buried under what I imagine was a storm of accountant-led arguments to do with cost management, sourcing and experience consistency.

But, come on, this is Northern Ireland. We've been declared the best foodie destination in the world (2018 World Travel Market, London) and Tourism NI has just embarked on the second chapter of the Year of Food and Drink phenomenon with a new scheme this autumn called Taste the Island. This time, the scheme is in collaboration with Tourism Ireland and Failte Ireland and is aimed specifically at promoting local food and drink.

Not that long ago we had a tendency to look down our noses at produce grown or raised here. We assumed that anything that came off a boat from Britain was superior.

But these days, we're splutteringly proud of the quality of our beef, lamb, pork, fish, game, seafood, breads, dairy, vegetables, fruit, beers, ciders, gins, vodkas and teas. Public money has been spent on the independent food producer sector to help them become competitive and the big food businesses here are part of a global industry committed to maintaining and growing the sector here.

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Of course, it's a free market and we should embrace imported foods, too. John Copeland who runs the intensely successful fish and chip shop John Long's serves fresh Sea-Source cod, haddock and lemon sole from Kilkeel every day but still imports his potatoes from Cambridgeshire because he maintains the Irish ones just don't make as good a chip.

So, what of the Latino steak? The 12oz ribeye in Bar & Block this week was excellent, full of deep flavour, good, firm texture and cooked medium rare with a decent char and served with samphire. It was worth the £21 tag. But I was not able to determine whether it was from Argentina or some other Latin American nation, despite asking. This has now become a requisite in Ireland. Know your food's provenance, big up the supplier, write it in the menu.

The brother's mussels (Scottish, we asked) looked plump and uniformly generous in size, but as soon as they went into the mouth they turned to sand. They may have been frozen, or something else had happened to them which ruined their texture. They were still edible but not as we know them to be.

The middle eastern king prawns were not at all bad but the roasted red pepper, tomato, harissa and garlic sauce was tooth-dissolving sweet. The accompanying flatbread was, conversely, rich, salty and full of flavour.

Bar & Block is part of a business strategy rolled out across the UK without a moment's pause to see what the surrounding area is like: in this case, Cathedral Quarter, a district packed with very good, independent restaurants and bars.

While the front of house staff are particularly bright, cheerful, charming and fleet of foot, there is a soullessness about the place. You cannot help feel that you are just a revenue centre in a process-driven business rather than a diner in a restaurant. Who knows? May be this is one of those places for people who just aren't interested in food.

The Bill

Prawns..............................................£6.95

Squid.................................................£6.50

Ribeye.............................................£21.50

Mussels.............................................£8.50

Water.................................................£1.00

Espresso............................................£1.65

Americano........................................£1.95

Total................................................£48.05

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