Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: We take a bite out of Graze

402 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast Tel: 028 9065 8658

By Joris Minne

Graze in east Belfast has carved out a sound reputation for consistency in service and food in the four years of its existence. Despite drivers entering the restaurant unannounced (a nice convertible Jaguar crashed through the front door last year) and the growth nearby of a restaurant culture, Graze has maintained and indeed built on its success.

Owner Neil Johnston is not the kind of man to sit on his laurels and you can tell he still has an eye-swivelling passion for his business.

His wine knowledge is excellent and he shares this generously with clients and perhaps not the way you might expect. For instance, this week I had invited three people to join me. Potentially tricky company, none of the three had met before and I was the only common denominator: one was a politician, one a big investor who loves coming to Belfast and the third man a wild card feeling his way around the nuances of politics and money. The best way to calm the nerves was to ask Neil about his wines. He's brilliant at this. The Dao, he said is a belter but if you're looking for something entirely unexpected at under £20, look no further than the Big Big Red from Spain.

At this point I felt like taking him to one side to explain to him in no uncertain terms that I already knew I was a moron when it comes to wine but really, there was no need to make a macaque out of me in front of my distinguished guests. Big Big Red, indeed. No, no, he quickly reassured me. That's what it's called. And sure enough on the label it said Big Big Big Red Wine, The Duke, Big Red Wine. As if we were all dafties.

But my fretting quickly vanished at the first sip. A massive, big Bordeaux-like warmth and sweetness with dry edged tannin, the Spaniard was a sensation. At £19 it was a bargain (although if you find it in retail anywhere, go for it as it shouldn't cost much over £7).

Graze's menu exceeds the dining room. By this I mean that the dining room is a bit rattly and canteeny. There is a banquette along one white tiled wall and they've done their best to create a kind of European bistro mood. But it's still bright and functional. The bar upstairs actually achieves a more moody atmosphere and it's a comfortable place to enjoy one of Neil's fabulous collection of gins.

Anyway, the food is far from canteen standard. Here is venison, monkfish, wood pigeon, duck, lemon sole and loads of excitement from the vegetable rack.

The quality of the monkfish in tempura with curry sauce and lemon is evident. Chunky, mouthy and generous, the bite size fish pieces are light yet firm and bursting with flavour. (Monkfish are being landed in Kilkeel right now and making their way to Belfast fresh and filleted from Sea-source and are incomparable.)

Venison loin from Finnebrogue comes with a smoked bacon gratin which I could eat all week, celeriac puree, some girolles, burgundy shallots and proper, reduced jus. It is the heavenly gateway drug to the winter.

Organic chicken with dauphinoise potatoes, pumpkin puree, wild mushrooms and red wine shallots goes down very well with the politician. I think politicians have an addiction to chicken after years of doing what Richard Needham used to call the "rubber chicken circuit", referring to what was invariably served to you when you attended official functions as a political representative. Nothing rubbery here, says the party man.

A beef fillet (Hereford) keeps the investor silent for 10 minutes while the wild card gets stuck into the pan roast hake and red lentil dahl. All report back with full marks.

By the way, I was first to arrive and very early and asked for a gin. Seconds later I am presented with a large wine ballon glass with ice and red pepper corns suspended in a pink gin and tonic. The gin is Australian Four Pillars and the tonic is made by Graze themselves. It is a hum dinger, fresh and zingy, peppery, not overwhelmingly aromatic as so many gins are these days and full of depth. Talk about mother's ruin? I could easily get wrecked with this too. There are some very tasty Macsaint lagers from Fermanagh too.

Graze is a surprise. It punches above its weight and while it probably is the smallest restaurant in Ballyhackamore, right now, it is nonetheless, king of the pile.

The bill

Soup.......................................................£5

Monkfish...............................................£7

Scallops.................................................£7

Sizzling prawns.....................................£7

Hake.....................................................£16

Fillet.....................................................£24

Venison................................................£20

Chicken................................................£15

Big Big Red..........................................£19

Total:..................................................£120

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph