Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Deane's at Queens

1 College Gardens, Belfast. Tel: 028 9038 2111

The bright and airy interior of Deanes at Queens
The bright and airy interior of Deanes at Queens

By Joris Minne

Deane's at Queens keeps winning the awards and has been one of the most consistent, high performing restaurants in the Deane portfolio. Nestling in the Queen's Quarter away from the hoi polloi and in the more rarefied atmosphere of College Gardens, this restaurant is a sanctuary for those who like space, a bit of elegance moderne and most significantly the best acoustics of any restaurant in the city.

Add to this a simple but incredibly well executed menu and you can now see why it's a winner. Following a relatively long absence, I went back on a family visit and as well as the glories it revealed one or two warts as well.

The weak spot in Deane's at Queens is the absence of the kind of hospitality offered in the other Deanes. I never understand why restaurant front of house staff would be restrained or reluctant to make people feel welcome when they arrive. This is the simplest thing to get right and it goes a very long way to quell any possible misgivings arising later: should the food be disappointing or the service slow, the room cold and draughty or poorly lit or the seats uncomfortable or whatever else can be wrong, it will be overlooked because of the goodwill established in those first few seconds. If someone has given you a warm welcome at the door, you're on their side. If they don't offer the greeting, then I'm looking for faults.

And yet despite the lukewarm start, the slow arrival of menus and offers to take drinks orders, my granite-hardened heart melted at the first mouthful. They can be as offhand as they want, I thought, but the quality of the food is worth it.

The adviser steps in when she detects that I may be prone to a diva-attack. She argues that the staff have been more continental European than Irish and that their approach is the correct way to behave as restaurant professionals. I mutter something about the failed failte and blame Brexit.

Four of us are here, including one vegetarian. There is a veggie menu which features a risotto with parmesan(!) and was judged by the green teen to be "lush".

Chef Malachy McCaffrey's cooking rises above what went before. That's saying something, considering all those awards and all. He is meticulous; everything which comes out is beautiful to look at, balanced, composed and appetising. His kitchen is where conventional dishes go to become classics. St Tola's goat's cheese with chunks of dark red beetroot and layers of leaves is a lesson in textures; a duck confit on bed of Mediterranean vegetables and fondant potato is crisp and crunchy, unctuous and moist in all the right places.

The adviser's sea bass features two sizable fillets, skins roasted in the pan, the pearly white meat slippery and shining. The bed of cracked potato beneath is creamy and champ like in depth of flavours. Incidentally, a side order of chips turns out to be the best we've had, beating even those from sister restaurant, Meat Locker.

We feel we are in good hands, McCaffrey's judgment impeccable and his ability flawless. Meanwhile, the wine list is adventurous and helpfully features a handful of good ones in carafes. How civilised is the carafe? The single diner's best friend and today, a friend to us all as we try a Portuguese Alvarinho here, a Malbec there.

The dining room seats and tables are graded during the day so that even on a gloomy, drizzly, grey afternoon, the light coming in is bright and uplifting. A row away from the floor to ceiling windows allows less drama and possibly a bit more comfort to those for whom a sunny day would just be too much. And then there are the booths facing the kitchen pass. I've never eaten there but can imagine that at night, they must be very cosy and intimate.

Deane's at Queens remains a class act. It has that feature most sought after by restaurateurs and diners alike: reliability. Consistency is everything in this business. Which is why some win awards and others, even those who might be brilliant 90% of the time, don't.

The bill

Goats cheese salad x 2......................£14

Squid starter x 2 ................................£18

Duck x 2...............................................£33

Sea bass..............................................£18

Veg risotto.......................................£8.50

Chips......................................................£4

Mixed salad..........................................£4

Carafe Alvarinho...........................£19.50

Cheese.................................................£10

Jam sponge...........................................£6

Coffees...........................................£10.50

Glass Moscatel ...............................£6.25

Bottle Prosecco............................ £26.95

Service charge...............................£17.72

Total..............................................£196.42

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