Restaurant review: Sports club's a winner with its authentic Italian cuisine
Review: Delizia Belfast Boat Club, 12 Lockview Road, Belfast, Tel: 028 9066 5012
The most incongruous setting for an Italian restaurant award must go to Belfast Boat Club. Not previously known for its culinary excellence, the Boat Club occupies an enviable position on the banks of the Lagan upriver from Cutters Wharf. I know people who play tennis there but don't know anyone who does any boaty stuff. There is also Lagan Scullers Club nearby but that's another matter entirely.
Belfast Boat Club is like most social and sports clubs in the evening, a teeny weeny bit on the shabby side, toilets which smell of hospitals, members who look at you sideways (and other members who seem to live there permanently) and an atmosphere which does not exude delight at seeing outsiders coming in. There are sports facilities including gym and tennis courts as well as modern boat houses for the rowers.
This is the environment in which Belfast's favourite Italian chef couple, Nicola Attianese and Philly d'Uva now find themselves following the demise of Gusto E, the short-lived venture up at Lanyon Place where they not only cooked up a storm, but produced dishes very old Italians would have recognised as authentic, accurate and delicious.
It's what Nicola and Philly do: while neither describes themselves as a chef, they are happy with the description of home cooks because they are dedicated to resurrecting ancient dishes from their youths and that of their parents. Such is their talent at this that the Italian government hired them repeatedly for years to cater for international diplomatic gigs at which they wanted to showcase the best of the country's culinary culture.
But here we are in the Boat Club on a miserable Tuesday night. There are few tables free as it's also quiz night and those boat clubbers apparently love a few questions. (Q: What kind of beans are used in baked bean tins? A: see the end of this piece). My security detail is Chris Hughes and both of us struggle to climb up on to the stools by a high-top table near the bar, the only refuge left in the place.
But there is hope as the helpful and attentive Martha swiftly brings menus. Gasping for a drink I ask for the wine list but this is Martha's first day in the job and she calls over the barman. Things are bleak. There is no wine list. What wines have you? "We have red or white."
A bit more questioning reveals little so I go over to peer at the wee fridge with glass doors behind the bar. There is barely any wine in the place and I get a New Zealand sauv blanc just for the comfort that may be in it.
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The next hour sees a short procession of dishes, some of which the chefs have plucked from the menu and others which are "specials". Tell your readers to ask for any specials and we will look after them, they say encouragingly, ignoring their own menu.
Yet the menu includes some classics. I wanted the parmigiana and the carbonara, both of which are masterpieces they both served in Gusto E. Instead we had some ravioli with pumpkin filling and a veal reduction whose wintry depths and flavours are unparalleled. Even the sauv blanc and the droning quiz master failed to dampen the joy of the dish.
Rack of lamb served medium was a showpiece to remember. They added some cranberry sauce in that elegantly puzzled Italian way where they know it's Christmas and that we like our cranberry sauce, but not quite sure what it's supposed to go with. As it happens, it works brilliantly with lamb, even better than mint sauce (how uncouth!) Then Philly's love for sweet and sugary things gets the better of us and three desserts are brought out including a cannolo, a curled biscuit stuffed with a chestnut and mascarpone cream, some truffelli, the little dough pieces coated in hot honey (very southern Italian with influences from Ethiopia, says Philly) and, naturally, super leggera panatone with some ultralight custard.
The Belfast Boat Club is your man if you are seriously looking for a rock solid, beware of imitations, 100% genuine Italian meal. But hurry because I fear they will outgrow the place. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday.
(The beans used in baked bean tins are haricot).
Burrata x 2 ................................................. £16
Ravioli x 2 .................................................. £16
Lamb x 2 ...................................................... £24
Total ............................................................ £56