Restaurant review: Belfast bistro Shu
253 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7EN. Tel: 028 9038 1655
Shu claimed its place as the best restaurant on the Lisburn Road years ago. The BT9 crowd took a shine to it from the minute it opened and chef Brian McCann has kept the place revving at race speed ever since. What's more, the floor staff have always been among the best in the city. One of their greatest skills, incidentally, is making wine ignorant cretins like me appear knowledgeable and sophisticated. Please take note, business leaders and influencers.
Now that the restaurant is about to undergo some radical rebuild and structural work - plans for the downstairs club and the private dining room upstairs as well as the main dining room are bold and ambitious - it's time to take a last look at an old favourite before it reappears as a second generation version of itself.
However, there's no rush. Things will move along as they always did for some weeks and months to come. What is of immediate attraction, however, is the 3-8-3 lunch menu which brought me there earlier this week. A £14 lunch in Shu? They must be cutting corners, surely, to make this possible?
On closer inspection, the menu is generous, imaginative and beautifully executed. Also, under the watchful eye of supervisor Natasha Clements, things happen quickly, efficiently and with elegance. For old hands, fear not, Julian is still in charge.
There isn't a bad table in the place. Whether you're at the window or further inside, Shu's dining room is a pleasant place to spend a lunchtime or a few hours in the evening. During the day, you can tell the time has come for a makeover.
However, in the warm fuzzy glow of a Friday night, this will not be a consideration.
The 3-8-3 menu offers ham hock and pea soup, fresh tagliatelle with smoked salmon and sauce vierge, confit of chicken salad with lentils and sherry vinegar or risotto of leek and parmesan.
The latter is a flawless composition featuring the tangy green friskiness of the leeks and the warm, breathy cheesiness of the parmesan in a creamy rice pool of which there is enough to constitute a small and healthy lunch alone.
Jane Williams, friend of chefs and an distinguished amateur foodie, is my CPS today and she declares the tagliatelle to be excellent. The sauce vierge has a good balance of lemon and olive oil and the salmon is abundant.
The mains at £8 feature rose veal liver with creamed potatoes and devilled sauce, roast brill with cauliflower and squid ink, spiced pork belly, apple, fennel and celery salad and a vegetarian tart of red onion, beetroot and spinach with Humming Bark cheese.
The liver is silky fine and the flavour so much lighter and less bloody than the pork or beef equivalents. It slices easily and there are two hefty pieces to provide the sustenance needed on a hard Monday lunchtime. The creamed potatoes take me back to my granny's mousseline, airy, thick and yet light and bursting with flavour.
The pork belly, something which went out of favour for a couple of years, is welcome; its flavours and textures deep and earthy. The CPS approves very strongly.
Being incapable of sticking to a plan, I order sides of salad and chips as well as snacks to start.
The padron peppers in hot sauce will not leave my memory for years to come and the taster of monkfish with Jerusalem artichoke cream, crisp and mash are like medals of honour reminding us just how good the people in the kitchen are - please take a bow, chef Matt Jordan.
Shu has earned a place as one of Belfast's best, yet it has been overlooked by commentators, including me. I'm not sure why this is and I was grateful that someone had raised the 3-8-3 lunch deal and consequently, a reminder that Shu is still doing the business.
And what outstanding business this is. There are no other restaurants doing what Shu does. It takes me back to what Paul and Jeannie Rankin did originally in Roscoff.
It has that happy mood which only comes from a sense of confidence which is justifiably strong and based entirely on the quality of the food.
Two lunch menus ......................... £28.00
Glass of Picpoul .............................£7.00