Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Fitzwilliam Hotel - Paying more doesn't mean that you get the best food

The restaurant at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, Grosvernor Road,Belfast, Tel 028 9044 2080

The Fitzwilliam Hotel’s menu has plenty to choose from
The Fitzwilliam Hotel’s menu has plenty to choose from
Joris Minne

By Joris Minne

Hotels have been trying hard to up their restaurant game in recent years. Taylor & Clay in the Bullitt Hotel, the Seahorse in the Grand Central Hotel and the Catalina in Lough Erne Resort are all fine examples of the new wave of hotel restaurants.

They have led the way back to the glory days of the Edwardian era when great railway hotels were the peak of chic and the only posh places to go to for a 'slap-up' meal. But after the war many of those hotels went the same way as the railways that spawned them, down the tubes.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, memories of those Sunday afternoon hotel dinners still send shudders down my spine. The cold, austere greeting, the convent whispers around the inevitably freezing and draughty dining room, the stiff and terrifying service which precluded any complaint - this was hospitality?

Still, the experience held some kind of social sway. A Sunday dinner in a hotel restaurant might be the worst culinary experience you could buy, but it was something to tell the neighbours if you were sensitive to keeping up with the Joneses.

The restaurant in the Fitzwilliam Hotel is one I know very well having eaten dozens and dozens of breakfasts there with clients staying over the night before. I've always rated the Fitz breakfasts as among the best three in the city (and the clients love the service and rooms). But could this kind of quality be repeated in the evening?

There is plenty to choose from: a £20 Summer Dining menu of two courses (or three for £25), the Five by the Fitz taster for £40 or an a la carte approach which will set you back a reasonable sum. To make things really awkward I chose the Five and the adviser went for a sirloin, one for the seabass and one for the £20 menu.

Things get off to a flying start with the excellent Peter ready with all the information and order book at hand. The wine list in here, by the way, is intriguingly attractive with Romanian whites, expensive French Bordeaux and Burgundies and that beautiful Irish wine Creu Celta grown by the McAlindens in northern Spain (here at a very decent £50 a bottle).

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The Romanian is brought forth. It's the cheapest on the list and I've enjoyed it before. Sweet and fruity, this needs to be super chilled. But it's too warm which makes it taste like the pint of warm Blue Nun I once endured on a waste management barge on the Thames 35 years ago.

A soup is poured with some theatre from a small cup over a grilled scallion and something else I can't remember. I can't remember because it didn't taste of anything. Meanwhile the cheap seats are all tucking into a generous big plate of grilled monkfish chunks and arancini. Delighted with themselves they poke fun at my expensive taste and the tiny scallop which arrives as second of the five. Again I fail to detect any flavour in it. Also, where did they find a scallop so small? I haven't seen one less than three times the size of this anywhere all summer. Duck liver parfait follows with two little pieces of toasted brioche. Not much flavour here either so I put loads of salt on it.

Things take a turn for the better with the lamb rump, a generous, beautifully pink chunk glistening in its own freshness. It is probably the best piece of lamb I've had this year and I've had plenty. Accompanying broad beans taste of cardboard and the ravioli containing lamb shank is rubbery and tough.

The Fitzwilliam Hotel’s menu has plenty to choose from
The Fitzwilliam Hotel’s menu has plenty to choose from

The three others are delighting in the steak, a plate of three perfectly pearly and moist seabass fillets and a chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto.

But in the end I win because the crème brulee which is the fifth of the five is another outstanding dish. People get away with over and under doing their brulees. This one is perfect, smooth, not too deep, the brittle caramel top thin and deliciously charred.

So the Fitzwilliam lesson for today is: go cheap and eat better.

The bill

Five......................................................£40

Monkfish x 2 ......................................£18

Seabass ..............................................£22

Sirloin .................................................£28

House salad ..........................................£4

Mash......................................................£4

Romanian wine..................................£24

Bodegas Calatayud ...........................£35

Total ..................................................£175

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