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Deanes Restaurant Review

Casey Gillespie, our new American lass, finds a city centre restaurant that works

Written by . Published on January 18th 2011.

Deanes Restaurant Review

WHY all the hype about Belfast? Lonely Planet has called it ‘a city on the rise’. In 2009, Frommer’s rated Belfast one of the top 12 world holiday destinations. And we all know how the locals boast about the Titanic being built here… But is Belfast really a foodie’s city?

Deanes is a star for several reasons. The food, obviously. The service, absolutely. Consistency, yep. But to thrive in an up-and-coming city centre you must impress the jaded diner with details and not be too stuffy.

I decided to do some serious investigative reporting, pop over to Belfast City for the day and see for myself. After all, this is a city transformed. The Troubles are a time gone past, and let’s be honest, there are few things we love more than a reinvention (See Madonna, Britney Spears, Berlin). And well, since I am fresh off the boat from New York City, it’s a pretty swish thing to tell the kids back home. ‘No biggie, I’m going to Belfast for lunch’.

After an ungodly early start, I arrived in Belfast city centre at about 9am. While I waited for the city to wake up I did a little perusing of the January sales (shopping threshold: sixty minutes flat), I had a cup of tea (kudos to you The Little Cupcake Café—lovely cuppa), did some people watching and then set out to find Deanes, Northern Ireland’s well-known restaurant.

I appeared thirty minutes before my reservation ready to chew my own arm off hoping they could squeeze me in early, but completely prepared to saddle up to the bar and eat cocktail fruit if need be.

I was delighted to find my table set out, patiently awaiting my arrival. The setting was impeccable—minimalist with starched white tablecloths, unscuffed wooden floors and chic red walls. While the room was awash with suits devouring chargrilled ribeye, crisp duck leg and triple cooked chips talking business, the atmosphere was rather relaxed. With Deanes sparkling reputation, I expected more pretention, more attitude and I found none. Impressive.

I succumbed to my carb craving and started with a selection of four warm artisan breads (£4.50), the standouts being a walnut raison and a tomato cumin smeared with the lightly salted butter warmed to room temperature (a small but important measuring stick for any restaurant in my opinion). The olive tapenade was particularly delightful and less salty than most, a welcome diversion from the norm.

I chose the Strangford Scallops (£12.50) for my starter paired with a light South African Chardonnay. I was surprised at the portion size, enough for eight New York fashion people (read: four medium-sized scallops seared to perfection, an art form in and of itself). They were served on a celeriac mash alongside a bite-size bed of wilted spinach. I passed on the crispy bacon and black pudding that it is normally served with, but think that it was delectable without.

Not two minutes after my appetizer plate was whisked away, the seabass arrived, one of the day’s three specials (£24). Served with more wilted spinach and a medley of mushrooms and a couple of tomatoes thrown in for good measure. The wine pairing for this course was a bit trickier as I didn’t really see anything on the menu that caught my fancy.

Strangford Scallops

A quick chat with my extremely knowledgeable and attentive waitress and a glass of white Burgundy, which was not on the list, appeared. She was right in her choosing, it cut the fattiness of the fish and brought out the creaminess of the mushrooms. After eyeing everyone else’s extra fat, triple-cooked chips (clearly the servers were taunting me), I asked for a plate of my own—and they were worth every bite. Crisp on the outside and piping hot on the inside, served without condiments… a testament to the chef’s seasoning expertise.

Dessert consisted of cheese, as I much prefer savoury to sweet. And I was not disappointed.

The plate included six generous portions of the chef’s choice including a mature cheddar from Cork that resembled Swiss, but was much milder than I was expecting. I like a good surprise though and that it was. The rest ranged from stinky and stinkier, precisely what a cheese plate should be. The honey had a cinnamon flavour and the chutney changes with the season depending on how they are feeling in the kitchen.

If I had to find one squabble with the meal… and of course I do, I’m a New Yorker, it would be the rosemary biscuits that accompanied the cheeses. I felt they competed with the cheese and if combined with the honey or chutney the flavours canceled each other out. Do your taste buds a favour and opt for the oaty biscuits instead.

Deanes is a success for several reasons. The food, obviously. The service, absolutely. Consistency, yep. But to thrive in an up-and-coming city centre you must impress the jaded diner with details and not be too stuffy. Offer the glass of wine not on the list, don’t put up a fuss about people who dine on their own (and stay for two hours) and give me a shout on twitter when you see I’ve gushed to the world about my lunch. So yes, thanks @EatAtDeanes, I’ll be back.

The cheeses...

Breakdown:9.5/10 food
5/5 service
4/5 ambience
36-40 Howard Street
Northern Ireland
028 9033 1134

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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22 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

bigearsJanuary 18th 2011.

is it just me or does anyone in the food industry have mixed reviews about food?! Hasn't this place just lost its Michelin star today??? Could we not have a review that was a little closer to home? Somewhere we could get to without getting on a plane would be nice

Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 18th 2011.

Dear Bigears, We do countless reviews throughout the year for Manchester and region. We have a big food and drink readership here who also look beyond their own boundaries occasionally. When we get opportunity to review the best elsewhere then we take it. I'm going to review a place in Sheffield on Thursday and there'll be a review of a Printworks venue as well that day. Next week we'll have four Manchester based reviews. All part of the rich tapestry of nosh that is Manchester Confidential. I make no apologies over covering this restaurant in Belfast.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJanuary 18th 2011.

Point two Bigears is a bit more annoying. Casey did this review to see how a Michelin starred restaurant in another provincial city centre was working. It would help us work out what Manchester's city centre places were doing wrong. So we put the review up and as luck would have it Deanes became one of the few places this morning to lose its star. Doh. How ironic. Red faces all round. Still the review stands on its own on its assessment of a restaurant that remains very good.

bigearsJanuary 18th 2011.

I understand you do countless reviews in Manchester but none are a batch on places like this even though we have numerous quality restaurants within an hours drive. How about going over towards the Ribble Valley? can think if 2/3 places on par with this? I have been to Deanes also and am a little gutted its lost the star, was immense when we went! Oh and whilst i'm on the case of Ribble Valley have you heard Bryn Evans has joined forces with the mighty Ribble Valley Inns?

Colin FirthJanuary 18th 2011.

Well, Gordo's new Editor has arrived I see. A bit unfortunate that the restaurant reviewed lost a star the day after she had her review published. I d-d-d-d-do see why Garner has talked her across the Atlantic, what a wonderful writer she is.

Eddy SewellJanuary 18th 2011.

Dear Ed - not fond of the use of the word 'provincial'. I know it has multiple meanings but more often than not it is used in its derogatory sense. I know my opinions are highly thought of at Confidential Towers so i hope you treat this one with the respect it deserves. In other news - i agree wholeheartedly that ManCon should review other cities. After all what are the main priorities for people when they are visiting one of our countries many fine cities ? Somewhere to sleep and somewhere to eat? Bigears opinions would suggest Mancunians have no interest in visiting other British cities and enjoying the hospitality in those cities and that makes us a sound awfully provincial dont you think? ps - you can get the ferry to Belfast also.

bigearsJanuary 18th 2011.

@ Eddy - I am not suggesting in the slightest that Macunians have no interest in other cities - i am mearly suggesting that whilst we have quality restaurants in our grasp why not take advantage of them. We all know what can happen to good Restaurants (take a look at Juniper). PS i know you can get the ferry also - if you can see where my opinion is coming from you cant exactly wake up and just go there can you?! That takes planning whereas you can go for lunch in most places without having to fork out for a plane OR a ferry

Eddy Sewell - Art CriticJanuary 18th 2011.

Fair do's - i wasnt suggesting you were suggesting anything to be honest Bigears and apologies for singling you out. My point is is that i think ManCon offers a useful resource for anyone considering visiting Belfast or Sheffield or where ever and who wants an idea of where to eat. In Belfast's case i would hope things like this article may even prompt people to visit the city - it really is a fantastic place and if you can endure the tedium of budget airlines its a surprisingly easy and cheap place to get to from Manchester

bigearsJanuary 18th 2011.

@ Eddy - apologies on my behalf also, completely understand where you are coming from. Friends?! :)

Eddy BingJanuary 18th 2011.

You can be Chandler and ill be Joey (no one would want to be Ross)

AnonymousJanuary 18th 2011.

I agree with Bigears actually. There are plenty of brilliant places within an hour or so's drive/train journey of Manchester of which reviews here would be most appreciated. Sheffield I can understand, but not Belfast. I doubt many people's first port of call when researching a trip to Belfast would be MANCHESTER Confidential...having said that, the food does look bloody good.

bigearsJanuary 18th 2011.

I think you should ask the readers of Man Con once a month for a recommendation of places to review - that way you can see exactly what the readers want? only a suggestion so dont go shouting again :)

Mark MottramJanuary 18th 2011.

Belfast is a great place to go. There is a cocktail bar in the Merchant Hotel which has won the 'Best Bar in the World' award. Is amazing, hand sawn 'invisible' ice cubes, great service and amazing drinks. Next time I am over I am going to try this restaurant, then go to Merchant for great drinks.

May be wrong but ...January 18th 2011.

I'm sure that in the past I've read reviews for restaurants in Leeds, Liverpool, The Lakes (or at least on the way up there), and Chester on the ManCon site, plus the ability to read more on the Leeds and Liverpool Confidential sites.
Would have thought that a myriad of reviews could only serve to benefit those of us who appreciate good food wherever it may be served - to get us to try out places we may not have thought (or even heard) of, and to compare Manchester's offerings with other places.

bigearsJanuary 19th 2011.

@ May be wrong - i dont disagree with reviews from other places bar Manchester @ all. My point is we have easy access to restaurants like this but decide to review more casual Restaurants or brands i.e. the shambles that is Cafe Rouge. Just would like to see more fine dine places on here that are local (ish) like Church Green or his new place the Collingwood. How about Northcote seen as thats had a star for god knows how long??? also 2 new additions to the Michelin guide this year that are within an hours drive, why not try them?

NortherngeezerJanuary 19th 2011.

You can see it now cant yer..........someone decides to go to Belfast for a weekend and thinks " now, where can i go to get a decent meal?, i know........i'll look on Mancon".....FFS!!!!

Leah BrothertonJanuary 20th 2011.

Who cares where the food porn comes from?! The more the better :o)

Simon BinnsJanuary 20th 2011.

Hmm. Here's a straw poll then. I'm off to Belfast on business tomorrow, and I'll probably be going to The Merchant Hotel for lunch.

Would you consider that a review of interest or not? It's a 45 minute flight to a popular tourist and business city, where a fair few Mancunians will no doubt find themselves at some point.

Paul ClarkeJanuary 20th 2011.

Hmmm..let's see.

Vibrant city...great bars...top class dining...fabulous people...big Irish community in Manchester...cheap and regular flights...I'd say it was a no brainer.

RayJanuary 20th 2011.

Agree with Segdey & others. Belfast rocks. I'm happy for the odd non Manchester review - as long as ManCon doesn't do London (well covered already). I do think places like Deanes act as a great benchmark for top Manchester restaurants to be compared against.

M30January 21st 2011.

Belfast is a fantastic city. It has that special atmosphere only found in cities with a soul. Much MUCH better, not to say affordable than Dublin.

Smyth HarperJanuary 21st 2011.

Haven't been to the Merchant for years, shortly after it opened (I remember it when it was a bank!), but it is a fantastic place. You feel terribly posh in it having a snazzy cocktail. Simon, I believe they sell the most expensive cocktail in the world - some kind of rum that there's only two bottles left of in the world or something - so have that and stick it on exes. Not eaten there, but by all accounts the nosh is pretty good.

If you get the chance, nip into the John Hewitt pub, which is just around the corner. If you're lucky, there'll be some fine music, but even if you're not, you'll get one of the finest pints of Guinness in the city.

Also great to see that Deane's is still as fabulous as ever - not eaten there since 2000 - and for what it's worth, I like Mancon occasionally looking beyond the M60.

M30 is spot on - there's something really special about Belfast. I guess I'm biased because it's my city of birth, but it's just got something you don't get elsewhere.

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