Restaurant review: Baker Street
20 Belmont Road. Belfast. Tel: 028 9065 3000
Baker Street is the reincarnation of French Village in east Belfast. The excellent Lisburn Road-based restaurant and deli has become an attractive fixture in the city's posh south. There's another one on Botanic Avenue, which is strictly for students and backpackers, and then there's the French Village catering arm, which is also recommended.
Wisely, the clever Frenches stayed away from saturated Ballyhackamore and, instead, chose to set up their restaurant a couple of years ago in nearby Strandtown (why they didn't use their now well-established French Village brand is baffling).
It occupies a site which has seen many come and go, from Sam Spain's much-missed and lamented Gourmet Burger Bank through various phases, including an Asian noodle kind of place through to today's modern bistro.
Baker Street is more than a conventional bistro, however. There is visible evidence of French Village ownership in the array of cakes and tray bakes behind the brightly lit, chilled glass cabinet, the first thing you see as you walk up the little corridor from the front door to the main dining room.
What makes Baker Street stand out is the menu of small plates, which is why I'm back reviewing it after a relatively short interlude since the last write-up.
Of course, this is not the first, or only, restaurant to serve up small plates; the brilliant Underground Dining in Bangor serves up an entire tasting menu of a dozen or more small dishes on Sundays.
But Baker Street's are more than just small portions of regular dishes. Here you will find duck sausage rolls with apple ketchup, mini brioche with creamed crab and pickled fennel (so San Francisco), popcorn mussels with lemon mayonnaise and many more.
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And they're not so tiny. My adviser today is Radio 3 broadcasting star Sean Rafferty, whose quick stop in Belfast en route from Donegal to Perth, where he is to present the BBC's Biggest Weekend, provides the perfect pretext for fast quality food.
Baker Street is managed by Jonny Stewart, a professional classical musician, who applies the same diligence and forensic attention to detail as well as charm and an easy-going sense of hospitality to the day job as he does to his live concerts as a French horn player.
I ask Jonny to bring us a selection of small plates, as Sean doesn't have much time, stupidly forgetting that, just because they're small, doesn't mean they don't take the same time to prepare as the bigger versions.
Yet, very quickly, out come half-a-dozen different delights, including those I already mentioned and a few more besides, including salt cod fritters with sweet pepper sauce, sweet cure crispy pork belly bites with mustard and maple sriracha, a slow-cooked brisket slider, goat's cheese doughnuts and truffled mushroom on toast.
These are all outstanding. The cod fritters taking us straight to the heart of the Basque country, the brisket baby burger, lush and textured, the truffled mushrooms heavily flavoured.
And that's the only vulnerable spot with the small plates approach. Most of the dishes are compatible; the duck sausage roll followed by the brisket is fine, while the mussel popcorn and fritters don't clash. But you just need to take your time to create a bit of clear blue water between, say, the truffled mushrooms and the mini brioche crab.
The flavours are strong and distinct, as defined as any well-prepared full dish might be. It's the ideal meal for adventurers with no time for conventional starter, main and dessert. The even-better news is that Jonny wants to grow the number of small plates. You can have more traditional soups, sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes, as well as fish and chips and chicken dinners in Baker Street, but, really, the fun lies in those wee plates.
The desserts also feature tiny things, like donuts. You think you can get away with just a small dessert with your coffee, but this is where Ulster hospitality steps in and overrules any such nonsense. They're small, but there's half-a-dozen of them.
Baker Street is a quality restaurant. Look out for the growing list of small dishes and dive in.
Five small dishes...........................£13.50
Glass pinot gris x 2........................£10.00
Desserts x 2....................................£12.00