Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Ora Belfast - Reimagining of tapas bar quite simply a sensation

Ora Restaurant 12 Victoria Street, Belfast, Tel: 028 9031 5565

Ora offers an outstanding experience
Ora offers an outstanding experience
Joris Minne

By Joris Minne

Marty Murphy, chef patron of Howard Street Restaurant, is a man of unusually combined talents. Cautious on the one hand but daring on the other, Chef Murphy's direction means Howard Street has joined Belfast's restaurant elite through its consistency of exciting food and good service. The dining room itself is a cool, bare-bricked affair full of urban bustle and flattering lighting and it has grown a loyal client list who will now be tempted by his new opening, Ora.

When I heard Ora, just around the corner from Howard Street on the main Gt Victoria Street strip, was to be a tapas joint with decent wine, I thought this might be a lo-cal, lite, economy-class version of the big brother.

Not a bit of it. Ora may look more intimate, but a quick flick through the menu and wine list tells you to brace yourself for something entirely more recherche and refined.

There are beautifully briny and sparklingly fresh raw Galway Bay oysters served with pickled shallot and burnt cucumber seasoned with kimchi, Iberico pluma pork with sticky lentils and Manchego Caesar tacos with blackened chicken and anchovy mayo to kick things off. I say that, but this is a small and medium plates den, so you could be having them for your dessert for all Marty cares. Out with convention! Again!

And where things become even more interesting is in the wines to pair these with. This is a loose term, because I find that unless you go for a Sauternes with your steak, you're probably safe enough. But here in Ora there is a magnificent English sparkling white, Nyetimber (Classic Cuve) which enhances everything you eat with it. This is a belter made with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes and as good as the best champagnes from France but with a price to match (£75).

Staff here know their subject and suggest various exotic combinations including the Golden Mullet Fury (two-thirds Semillon and one-third Viognier) which has the balance of dryness and heated wood notes to make you want three dozen of those oysters. Interestingly, the wines are listed under price categories (£30 and under, £40 and under, under £50 and over…) which is helpful.

A brace of scallops are on as a special and appear in a homely little coquille St Jacques lined with some earthy lentils and the delight continues.

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Three of us have been on the rip, I mean, on diplomatic duties all afternoon, meeting important people and keeping the wheels of industry turning. We are in need of sustenance and the gamble of coming to the new and untried Ora is paying off.

The night continues and we are joined by the adviser and her close personal security detail and we order monkfish in squid ink tempura. The sinister looking rocks are like medieval ordnance until we break into the brittle batter and uncover the perfectly cooked monkfish chunks within. These are outstanding and even the subtle squid ink plays its role admirably. A parade of dishes includes chicken and chorizo fritters with smoked tomato relish, confit of duck leg pasties with spiced red cabbage ketchup and soy braised shiitake mushrooms with crispy chicken skin and hazelnut - and none of us can catch our breath because it's all so exciting and entertaining.

Marty Murphy's tour de force does not stop at the cooking. There are front of house personnel here who would get work in any multi-Michelin star restaurant. They are attentive and even with a rowdy city centre Friday night mob, are gracious and not without the right dose of authority.

Ora is a sensation, which is as big a surprise as was Ox when it first opened (and Roscoff for that matter). The location won't be loved by everyone, but those who do will enjoy the tight quarters, the intimacy and the sheer quality of the experience. I honestly can't wait to get back. By the way, they reopen on July 17, so now's your chance to get a table next week (www.orabelfast.com).

Galway oysters x 9....................... ..£36

Chicken and chorizo fritters.............£5.50

Shiitake mushrooms........................£5.50

Manchego tacos..................................£7

Monkfish............................................£12

Hake....................................................£28

Iberico Pluma x 2................................£28

Lamb ribs.............................................£8

Fries.................................................£3.50

Cauliflower steak.................................£3.50

Bacon & egg soldiers x 3.....................£10.50

Crab wontons x 3..............................£15

Scallops x 3........................................£21

Mash & gravy......................................£4

Nyetimber Classic............................£70

Golden Mullet...................................£52

Bruno Riesling...................................£42

San Pellegrino x 2..........................£7.50

Double espresso................ ............£2.50

Tip........................... .......................£38.50

Total.............................................£400.00

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