Restaurant review: Is James Street South bar & grill's new addition to menu a cut above the rest
James Street South bar & grill, Belfast. Tel: 028 9560 0700
We are very squeamish about veal. Wee calves tug the heartstrings much more effectively than, say, wee lambs, whose legs we happily remove, roast and devour. In my book, both are equally cute, yet calves must have a better PR agency because we don't think twice about the lamb's fate.
This is not the case on the continent of Europe, where veal aficionados insist on their meat coming from crate-reared animals who are kept in the dark throughout their short lives and who develop a milky white meat thanks to the low-iron feed they're given. The resulting meat is as tender as Japanese wagyu, although I would argue not as tasty as, say, a nicely hung Dexter.
Irish people take a dim view of this battery approach to raising beef herds, and much of this must be down to our 5,000-year relationship with cattle and the proximity, respect and depth of knowledge that exists between man and cow in Ireland. This reverence does not apply to sheep. Ultimately, it may be the reason why you rarely, if ever, see veal on the tables of Irish restaurants.
But things may be changing as we start getting used to 'rose veal'. Rose (sometimes referred to as rosé) veal is still meat from calves, but these animals have been raised in a heavenly sunlit upland (in this case, the Madigan Family Farm in Kilkenny) in groups which give them the comfort and confidence that makes for a happy life, supple musculature and very good meat indeed.
The RSPCA and top welfare-conscious chefs are backing rose veal as one of the more humanely treated meats. Surely this is a far better thing than shooting the newborn male calves of milking cows.
James Street South Bar & Grill features a rose veal chop on its new menu. Frankly, I was bowled over by it. It has magical qualities, especially when cooked and charred on a Josper grill by whoever in there has the skills of a surgeon and the timing of a pianist. But more on this in a minute.
Six of us descended last week on the establishment to mark the birthday of our teenager, who recently declared a pescatarian. I tried to explain to her that we Aries didn't believe in any of that zodiac stuff, but she put me right and ordered Kilkeel crab and a risotto to illustrate the point.
James Street South Bar & Grill has been around now for almost seven years. In this time it has been an anchor for Niall and Joanne McKenna and their plans to develop and diversify the business into a range including fine dining (next door's restaurant headed by David Gillmore secured best restaurant in Ireland from Georgina Campbell recently), cookery school and other restaurants around the town, including Hadskis and Cast & Crew. The apprenticeships programmes they have been able to run are in much demand.
The new menu reflects the soul of this place. Nothing shocking or unusual, apart maybe from the rose veal, is there to raise eyebrows. This place is all about comfort, craic, good service and the food. There is a sense of occasion about it no matter what time of the day you visit.
It has the city centre hustle and bustle - the unhurried kind that makes everyone feel comfortable - and it has very, very good food. Among the new appearances are whole grilled bream with shrimp, curried monkfish with sweet potato, steaks from Armagh, including that famous Del Monico ribeye from Hannan's, and then that rose veal.
This is a staggeringly good cut, generous (the veal calf couldn't have been that young), beautifully done at medium-rare and so full of flavour that you will find yourself gnawing at the bone long after you've stripped all the meat from it.
It's not a Game of Thrones extra, it's a star in its own right and it thunderously claims pole position among the other steaks in terms of texture, colour and savouriness.
There were other great dishes on our table that evening but I can't remember a single one due to the hypnosis induced by the veal chop. But according to the restaurant, people are staying away from it and it's a slow seller.
At £32.50 it might appear expensive, especially when the Del Monico is there at £28.50. But trust me. If you are a meat eater, let this one feature on your bucket list. Because as soon as I've finished writing this, I'm going straight back for another one.
Dundrum crab x 4........ £26
Terrine ..... £7.50
Squid .... 7.50
Crab linguini . £15
Rose veal chop £32.50
Armagh ribeye x 2 £49
Curried monkfish £17.50
Shorthorn burger £13.50
Bottle Rustenberg £26
Bottle Vina Bujanda £34