Restaurant Review: Wiping the slate clean at Belfast's Muddler's Club
Muddler's Club, Warehouse Lane, Belfast
A previous poor experience has been consigned to history as this city centre restaurant reaches the heights with its desirable menu
I've loved Muddler's Club since its inception three years ago. The woody, beardy, creakiness much loved by the hipsterati is coupled to a very real Belfast sense of fast-moving, finger-clicking urban knowhow. Somehow, it manages to be laid back and on fire at the same time. Your comfort and joy come first, this is evident, and front of house staff under the keen eye of manager Barry Fletcher will keep the bustle levels high, moving silently and gracefully around, smiling, serving, advising to make sure you are both comfortable and joyful at all times.
Barry has the charm and the knowledge to run any top restaurant. He glides effortlessly everywhere at top speed and unlike most people in a hurry, he doesn't create tension or anxiety in his wake. I get nervy around very busy people. They make me anxious and guilty for sitting there. But not Barry. He's keeping busy for us, the paying punters. Enjoy it.
Head chef Gareth McCaughey is utterly reliable and very good, focusing most of his efforts on finely-honed dishes which have become Muddler's signature classics: blackened Mourne lamb, sea trout and beef tartare among them.
I had stopped going during 2018 because of a less than brilliant experience with the food. Chef McCaughey was not in that day and instead, his carefully composed dishes looked more like a school project in which students had been provided with a photograph and told to copy it on to the plate. It kind of looked right yet it was glaringly not. None of the dishes that day had the confidence and reassurance you normally expect at Muddler's.
It was disappointing and it goes to show how far-reaching a single poor experience can be. "I had a bad meal there once," is more powerful than the 20 great lunches and dinners you had before. It's like your holidays. You'll tell Stephen Nolan how bad it was but if it was great, nobody's interested. That's the cynical world we live in.
And I'm as bad as anybody else when it comes to this. Life's too short to risk having a poor experience. One very wealthy man in Belfast only ever eats in one of three places in the city for this very reason.
But I went back very recently and am very happy to report that all cylinders were firing. Chef McCaughey was in charge of a disciplined brigade and those compositions were flawless.
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Cocktails were judged by my new boss on this paper to be among the best he's had (a man of simple but expensive tastes, he was referring to a dry martini).
A trout starter for him and the tartare for me were exciting openers. The herby, spiced tartare rich with light iron flavours, the taste of raw, ground beef like this is as delicate as fresh crustaceans and as textured as terrine. The trout is equally fine, slipping under the knife into tidy little curved and shiny tiles.
We enjoy a fillet of turbot and a dish of salt aged beef with bone marrow jus, powerful enough to ward off a bracing late winter's day.
The menu in Muddler's is a delight of confusion because everything on it is deeply desirable: scallops with Iberico ham and parmesan, that Mourne lamb, onion, blue cheese and truffle, burrata, tomato, pistachios and basil are all entertaining, balanced and very thoughtfully researched.
There is an exceptional wine list for those of us on moderate budgets with rare appearances of singularly one of the best drinks with cheese, Pineau des Charentes at £7 a glass. There is ice wine, very on-trend German red spatburgunder and an excellent Catalan, Vermells at £9.50 a glass.
I'm glad I went back. The Muddler's slate is not just clean, it's shiny and bright.
Beef tartare: £10
Pineau x 2: £14
Glass ice wine: £8
Muddler's Club, Warehouse Lane, Belfast, Tel: 028 9031 3199