Restaurant review: Made in Belfast
21 Talbot Street. Tel: 028 9024 4107
Thank the stars that Emma Bricknell, creator of Made in Belfast and other restaurants, didn't flee to Ibiza after all. A few years ago some political rumpus prompted Emma, who had come to Belfast from England and made a significant mark on the city with her whacky-looking but good-quality bistros, to declare that she had had enough of us and was heading to sunnier climes. I've never met Emma but I understand that while she may have left at the time, she may have since returned. Whatever. Her restaurants are still here and the one in Talbot Street is now doing brunch.
You might think that brunch amid the mad decor of this place - there is a bright, gloss-red, full-size statue of an ostrich at the front door, comics plastered on the ceiling and crazy furniture - could be disconcerting, mildly alarming and even paranoia-generating (are we the joke here?). Yet it has the opposite effect. It's more like being in a benignly nutty aunt's front room: the room created by a woman who until recently led a stultifyingly conventional and respectable life possibly as a civil servant and who late in life discovered her bohemian soul and is trying very hard to go through all the identity crises (adolescence, existentialist, mid-life, artistic, and the rest) in as short a time as possible. All that's missing is a working pottery wheel and a mindfulness corner.
Ryan is doing front of house this quiet Saturday morning. He is attentive, hospitable and charming. Nothing nutty about Ryan. The advisor is shy of asking for a Bloody Mary (Ruby Blue vodka, Ruby Blue chilli liqueur (both made in Moira), tomato juice, Earl Grey syrup, Tabasco, Worcester sauce, lemon juice and celery salt) and he takes charge of lifting the burden of guilt from her shoulders to remind her that she is a grown-up and she can have whatever she likes so long as she's not driving. I take a sip: deep, spicy, full of those reawakening flavours, the Bloody Mary has the kick of smelling salts but none of the pain. It's one of the best in Belfast.
The brunch menu which runs Saturdays and Sunday from 10.30 to 12.30 is brief but rich and varied. The Breakfast Sarnie features outdoor bred sausage and bacon, black pudding, fried egg and toasted Veda bread. If it doesn't sound very posh that's because its actually quite an artistically composed open sandwich. The Big Breakfast will be recognised by most as an Ulster Fry with added beans and sourdough; all the other components are there including the potato farl. Match that to a pot of Suki tea and you're on your way to brunch heaven.
Veggie Breakfast is made of poached eggs, toasted sourdough, avocado and whipped feta with roast fig and liquorice chutney while the Acai Berry Yoghurt breakfast has fresh fruit and homemade honey granola. This is particularly generous, packed with raspberries and strawberries; three spoonfuls of this and you're fit for anything.
The Irish flat iron steak (medium only due to cut) comes in bite-size slices with mushrooms, spinach, hash brown, curried hollandaise and a brace of poached eggs. For £11 this must be one of the best value dishes in the city because the steak is light yet full of flavour and the volumes are again enormous. It is an absolute triumph and delicious in every respect: taste, texture, composition and combination. The hash browns have been homemade, not the usual frozen, breaded rectangle, and are a revelation.
There is a carb-free option Eggs Royale with poached eggs, smoked salmon, spinach, mushroom and that curried hollandaise again.
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Back in the old days, brunch was quite a glamorous thing, it was something unconventional, a phenomenon that travelled across the Atlantic from America and was exciting. I still love brunch for this reason yet I always fear that everyone will have the same idea on a Saturday or Sunday morning when you're 'hangin'. Made in Belfast in Talbot Street is big enough to take the numbers so queueing will not be a challenge. And anyway, Ryan is the type of guy who'll make it entertaining if you do have to wait a minute or two.
Bloody Mary £8.75
Acai berry yoghurt .£7
Breakfast sarnie £7
Irish flat iron steak £11