Having prejudices is not a good thing. Prejudging anything is daft. But it’s human and I am as prejudiced as any doorman on a Friday night in Belfast.
I’m the same about restaurants with laminated menus, deep bowls for your main course even if it’s sirloin and hot stones. Which kind of makes this review as much of a therapy session as an accurate record.
I went to Stix & Stones last week because the owners had just announced they were opening a butcher’s shop.
Not just any butcher’s but one in which you can enjoy a skinny latte or a glass of wine with a board of charcuteries while your rack of lamb, cote de boeuf and fillet steaks are being prepared.
The Stix & Stones restaurant is now so popular, and its meat so good, they decided to devise their own field to fork supply chain and now, with the help of the people at Lakeview Farm Meats in Crumlin, you can buy the meat over the counter.
But it’s the restaurant I was more interested in because, to be honest, I never bought into the cook-it-yourself concept. Until now.
Accompanied by Ireland’s curry king-maker, Ali Askir, founder of the Irish Curry Awards and beef connoisseur, a cote de boeuf was ordered.
But, I couldn’t stop wondering: how on earth can you cook a 1kg tomahawk on a hot stone at your table and not set everything on fire and burn the place down? I’ve cooked these at home and they take ages, even if you like it rare.
The secret was soon revealed.
But not until we had run through a perfectly roasted fillet of mackerel, fresh, sweet and sharp, its skin just kissed with crispiness, and a tasty but slightly mean little crab on toast.
I’ve seen more crab on the back of a teaspoon but it was very good, the chopped tomatoes on top, giving the white, shreddy crab meat a perfect lift.
When the piece de resistance arrived, Ali and I sensed the significance of the moment. This beautifully presented cote had been cooked rare with a slight char and had been sliced for our convenience. The idea was to slap these slices onto the hot stone sprinkled with seasalt flakes for a few seconds so that they became rare to medium, or medium. Or indeed well done if you wanted.
I could almost hear my prejudices storming out the door into the street, gone for ever.
Because, very frankly, this was super close to Hannan quality and the little bit of interaction with the hot stone was enjoyable and entertaining. And then the dial went up to 11 as the chunky chips, dipped into the smooth, velvety and balanced bearnaise, revealed themselves to be the best in the country.
Brittle, crunchy, crispy, uneven, deep golden, they were so good Ali and I started counting them and how many each other had.
Until now you had to go to Meat Locker for chips this good.
This was a busy Friday night and I briefly saw head chef Kerry Roper doing the rounds calmly, as if she was a garden party host making sure everyone was happy.
The same can be said of the front of house team who unusually exude a spirit of serene happiness in the hustle and bustle of packed tables. I loved the mood of this place so much I felt ashamed of myself for being such a prejudiced snob.
Incidentally, there is a very decent little wine list on which you will find a Bellevue Morgon Beaujolais (21 is not as good as 20 so check what year it is first) for £45 and an always reliable Primitivo for £30.
Prejudices banished, I’ll be back.
Cured mackerel £9.50
Crab on toast £9.50
Cote de boeuf (990g) £75
Bottle Primitivo £30