Restaurant review: Native by Yellow Door
The Mac, St Anne's Square, Belfast. Tel: 028 9023 5053.
The bright lights of food awards don't always shine on the best. Take Yellow Door, the long established caterer, baker, restaurant operator and general all round good guy.
Still going strong after more than 20 years, with its shops and operations in Portadown, Lisburn and Belfast's former Robinson & Cleaver and Mac, its many businesses which fall under the brand share a common theme: quality and spirit.
The Dougan family seems to have an endless supply of cousins and relatives and you will find Simon everywhere at all times, his cousin Andrew in the Ulster Museum and various other Dougans, picking leaves, fruit and vegetables, or baking loaves or preparing the meals for weddings and corporate events. Yellow Door has, in fact, won many awards for its products but its restaurants have, in spite of their consistency, gone largely unsung.
The firm was recently awarded the Mac catering contract, a three-year spell in which it would establish a new brand and loyal clientele. Both of these ambitions have been achieved within months of opening.
The Mac's restaurant is called Native (it's a new venture between Simon Dougan and Phil Rodgers), which nicely reflects the homegrown nature of the offer.
Apart from the meat and potatoes, just about everything else is home-grown in Yellow Door's gardens and fields. Even a simple, small dish like the mini-burger features a bun baked by Yellow Door and a tomato jam which is also made by them.
The meat is a high quality product from Doran's butchers in Lisburn and other quality sources Yellow Door go to include Hannan's and Pallas/Crossgar.
All this is great news, because, really, you only go to the Mac to raise your cultural stock, not to have a burger. But even if you don't go to any shows, the fact that you were spotted having a macchiato in Native is enough to set the tongues wagging that you're a bit of a Melvyn Bragg.
(Which reminds me to tell you that I sit on the board of the Mac's trading company, so if you detect any pro-Mac bias in this review, you're probably right.)
But never mind that. Because, no matter how good the shows in the theatres and arts space are, the restaurant operates largely independently.
To everybody's delight, however, Native puts on its own quality shows every morning, lunchtime and in the evenings. There is probably nowhere handier to have a pre-theatre dinner.
But, whereas the Mac's cutting-edge reputation means it may be perceived to be putting on a weekly spread of profanity, nudity and blasphemy (I wish), Native has to remain a bit more everyman. And it achieves this remarkably well by providing a range of compelling and traditional safe bets with a touch of slightly higher-octane excitement.
Among the bites (small dishes) are chicken goujons (buttermilk-fried Rockvale chicken tenders), which come crisp and golden with a rich little curry aioli.
There are Leggygowan goat's cheese and butternut squash risotto croquettes, Walter Ewing's smoked salmon and Kilkeel prawns remoulade with avocado salsa and a tiny burger made with one of the most well measured tomato jams in existence. Each of these for only £3.50.
There are full-sized dishes, of course, but variety is the spice of life, so those small dishes (three for £9) provide great entertainment especially at lunchtime. Also, three is plenty - even if you're a big eater.
The food was always good in the Mac, but now that Native is in, it has raised the bar even higher. It opens seven days a week and the brunches here should be among the best in the city.
Floor staff are well up to the job of dealing with sniffy arts lovers (although I've yet to meet any sniffy art lovers in the Mac: they must all go to the Lyric.) They are charming and, if you're not used to going to these places, it will take just one visit and you'll soon wonder why you didn't make it here earlier.
Oh, and the carrot cake is an earthy marvel. You can have it any time of the day. Art and food served all day. What more do you want?
Native Bites (x3) £9.00
Sparkling water £2.00
Carrot cake £4.00