Restaurant review: Food this good makes for an unforgettable experience at Hadskis
Review: Hadskis, 33 Donegall Street, Belfast, Tel: 028 9032 5444
Every city should have a Hadskis. A busy, atmospheric, handsome bistro with quality lunches at £6.50? It's a must-have for any self-respecting capital. Planners and city developers should ensure that all future visions for urban regeneration in all cities integrates a Hadskis.
Last week I raved about Pichet in Dublin largely because it reminded me of the best bistros in Belfast. I was thinking of a few and earlier this week thought I should just check I got it right. Sure enough, I navigated on autopilot through the cobbles of Cathedral Quarter on a busy Monday lunchtime and ended up in the long, railway-dining car-like restaurant with a menu of lunch dishes to make Burger King cry for help.
A celeriac soup of the day with truffle oil and a muffin of dark treacle bread for a fiver, seafood chowder with mussels, bacon and wheaten bread for £6.50, Italian pork ragu with orecchiette pasta and parmesan for 8.50, fish and chips and mushy peas for £9.50 and others ranging between £7.50 and £11 made it look like a tasting menu.
Instead of ordering all of them I managed to regain control of myself and settled for the soup and the orecchiette. One would have done the job of providing lunchtime sustenance but I would have been left with little to tell you.
The celeriac soup is unctuous, deep and warms the soul. The sinful addition of truffle oil sexes it up no end with its breathy sensuousness. You might have thought this was wholesome, but that truffle flavour takes it into pure red light district.
The orecchiette, little ear-shaped pasta rings, was a dish of such richness and powerful flavours, I felt I could take on the week single-handed. As it happens, I was alone and eating alone heightens your appreciation of what you are eating. The spiced pork has ringing tones of cumin and spice, the ragu sauce, light yet assertive and the generous cloud of finely grated parmesan tops it all with that meaty cheesiness. Again, this dish alone would have made an ample lunch.
Niall and Joanne McKenna have refined their restaurant over the years to make it the absolute standard by which most other quality bistros are judged. Part of the secret is the brightness and comfort (and lack of drafts now that the new front door system has excluded the slightest of air movement).
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But it's also the variety on offer. On the a la carte menu are confit of rabbit with mustard cream and pasta, roast coley with spaghetti nero, kelp and sauce vierge, aubergine terrine with humus, baba ganoush and pomegranate to rekindle those memories of east Mediterranean holidays; there is a breadth of menu which is neither overwhelming or over ambitious. It all seems exactly right.
In the style of canny French restaurateurs, the McKennas even have various 'formules': a Taste the Island Menu which includes two courses of apple, Young Buck and hazelnut salad followed by a main of pork belly, champ and greens for £23. There is also an award-winning brunch on Saturdays and Sunday from 11am until 2pm.
While Hadskis ticks every possible box I can think of, including levels of service, good lighting and uplifting environment, it is not entirely without flaws. For instance, the breads in here are legendary so when I lift the muffin of dark bread beside the soup bowl I realise it's come straight out of the microwave or some other rapid-heat hell: gone is that rocky, crunchy crust, the texture transformed instead into a damp sponge.
This is considered a minor crime in any other restaurant, but here, where that famous McKenna attention to detail counts and expectations are at peak tail-wagging anticipation, it's puzzling.
But the small matter is fast forgotten with a slice of chocolate and hazelnut pie. The Hadskis pies are uniquely seductive, propped up near the pass where you can see them displayed in their full glory, beckoning and irresistible. Three unforgettable pleasures for £20. Can't beat it.