A Peculiar Tea
44 University Rd, Belfast
As a child, I loved playing the Cluedo murder mystery board game and trying to work out whether Colonel Mustard or Mrs Peacock was the killer.
So, when I recently dined at what surely has to Belfast’s coolest and quirkiest restaurant, A Peculiar Tea, I was filled with nostalgia as I enjoyed their Cluedo-themed tasting menu.
The attention to detail with the theme and the sense of playfulness was astounding, from the tiny menu you needed to read with a magnifying class, to the clues served with every course.
I won’t ruin the surprise of what they are so that you can play along and try to solve the mystery yourself by the time you finish your dinner.
The restaurant, on University Road, is described as being “an escape from reality and the stresses of adult life”. After my Friday night there, I can say it ticked all those boxes.
From the second you walk in through the door and see the wonky grandfather clock, you know this place is different and full of character.
It is all down to chef and owner Gemma Austin, who recently appeared on the BBC’s Great British Menu. Her sesame tree white chocolate mushroom was one of the most impressive dishes I have ever seen on the show.
Apparently known to her friends as a female Peter Pan, she is a master at using fairy tales and fantasy to inspire her menus, which change every eight weeks.
For a six-course fine dining menu, the cost is reasonable for the experience at £50 per person, with the servers knowing every aspect of the dishes. I would encourage you to pair the exquisitely matched wines for an extra £35.
First course was scallop with bacon jam and crispy parsnip. The moreish jam, which had been cooked in Jack Daniels and coffee for 12 hours, was a taste sensation, and the crispy texture of the parsnip crisps worked brilliantly with the perfectly seared scallop.
While that dish was super, there was even better to follow. Next up was a short rib taco with dashi (Japanese broth), a blue corn tortilla, smoked pico de gallo, crispy onion and pickled shallot. Huge flavours on one plate but each stood out, from the wonderful shallots to the succulent short rib.
For some fine dining fish and chips, the turbot with Charlotte potato, fennel, pernod veloute, smoked herring roe, fennel oil and salt and vinegar ticked that box. The firm and flakey fish was the star of the show, and I used it to mop up the superb sauce.
After a plum ice cream (what else for a game featuring Professor Plum?) that helped cleanse the palate, pork done two ways was simply sensational — confit pork cheek and belly with onion relish and mustard puree.
For dessert, a white chocolate candle (one of the many possible murder weapons in Cluedo) was quickly cracked open with my spoon to reveal dulce de leche (carmelised milk) with raspberry and coffee flavours shining through. The coffee was thankfully quite subtle as I have never been a fan.
Everything was so fun and theatrical. We played along with the game on a pre-provided sheet but didn’t guess correctly — the five glasses of wine may have played a part in that.
After being brought back to my 10-year-old self at A Peculiar Tea, I will definitely be returning to see what Gemma cooks up next.
2 x tasting menu £100
2 x wine pairing £70