Restaurant review: We take a big bite from Alfredo's
11 Lisburn Square, Lisburn BT28 1TS, tel: 028 9267 2554
Lisburn is not the culinary capital of the north. But that doesn't mean there aren't any good places to eat there. Two of the better restaurants in the city are in Lisburn Square, the retail development built 15 years ago in the style of a wishfully imagined Ulster vernacular. One is the Square Bistro which has been consistently good for ten years. The other is the recently-arrived Alfredo's.
Some of you may remember Angelo's just off Market Square. This is its reincarnation with a new name. It has that small Italian town centre feel to it, what with the naff but not unenjoyable mandolin covers of O Sole Mio, That's Amore etc, and the mildly modern cream and brown interiors.
What takes away from the illusion is the lunch menu featuring beer battered whiting and chips, crispy bread-crumbed chicken strips and steak burger with crispy onions. These un-Italian dishes are present because owner Richard Graham says Lisburn is fond of convention and not of surprises; but he hands over the fuller a la carte menu, as if it were something kept under the counter for the cognoscenti and to be slipped into one's hand with a raised eyebrow and sly tap on the side of the nose.
That's better. Here are bruschetta and tortellini, spicy Italian meatballs, lasagne, spaghetti and, er, chicken and chorizo curry. But more on that in a minute.
Tortellini with chestnut mushroom and cream is a wholesome and robust starter. (It says tortellini on the menu, but what comes is ravioli, a small but significant difference for those of you who like me are mildly OCD about menu descriptors.) It is rich, warm, unctuous, generous and very well put together. A little garnish of watercress adds a surprisingly bright kick to the velvety smooth creamy sauce and woody mushroom flavours.
A glass of chilled Verdicchio with its slightly dry but floral notes cuts through the pasta and cream, providing a very satisfying contrast of flavours and tones.
That chicken and chorizo curry is, of course, as Italian as our dog Benny, who is Havanese. But I remember this dish fondly from Angelo's when I thought it was a fabulous thing. It's still very good, but this time it's a bit on the sweet side with not enough hit from the curry. This may be down to the restaurant's sensitivity to what Lisburn wants and is willing to pay for, but my advice is to be more assertive and bolder; people will come.
Having said that, this is a Monday lunch time and Alfredo's is busy. Tables of young mums with babies and older people, office workers and shoppers are clearly happy with the offer, so who am I to offer any advice?
But here's the thing. Making a living or making a mark may be two different aims, yet it's those which make their mark which eventually become the standard. Did Paul Rankin stop to study what the Belfast market might be willing to pay for when, in 1989, all they could have was Chinese or Indian? Nouvelle cuisine was all very well for the metrosexuals in London, but this was Belfast and did we demand our meat and four veg with pints of warm Blue Nun? No we did not. Paul and Jeannie not only shocked and stunned Belfast, but they quickly captured the city's heart and then went on to engender the next generation of restaurants which would make Belfast an internationally recognised foodie destination.
Lisburn is doomed to stay in the shadow of Belfast if that attitude doesn't change. The Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council just completed its week of food in an attempt to up the city's culinary game, but they need people like Richard Graham and his team to be less brow-beaten by the market and what he thinks the city wants. He needs to take his foot off the brake and let rip.
Certainly the food from his kitchen is proof that the ability to do great things is there. The pizzas alone are excellent (I took one home as a takeaway for a teenage pizza addict who judged it highly). The raw materials are great quality, with meats and chicken from Vincent Doran, so all that remains is for Richard to unleash the greatness that lies not far beneath the surface and turn Alfredo's into a destination Italian.
Ravioli starter ................................£5.25
Chicken curry ..................................£7.95
Glass Verdicchio .............................£4.50
Sparkling water .............................£1.80