We were visiting friends in Belfast a few weeks ago and decided to take advantage of our trip to try a restaurant I’d read about in The Irish Times a few months ago. The place is run by two Dutch guys, Joery Castel who’s head chef and his brother Jasper who is front of house. The building itself, as the name implies, is a lovely converted boathouse that seats about forty and was full when we arrived.
Aside from the standard a la carte there’s also five and seven course tasting menus and we choose the five course option; the dishes on this menu aren’t listed so you find out what you’re having when it’s brought to the table, an element of surprise I quite like. We also availed of the chance to have a selection of wines paired with your food and we go for that too.
There’s lots of clever cooking going on here, a starter of cured venison with foie gras, candied walnuts and orange is a fantastic combination of ingredients, the orange in particular being an inspired pairing I wouldn’t have expected. There’s also the cheese course which is a riot of textures: crunchy savoury macaroons, crisp pickled carrots, a silky blue cheese crème, toasted hazelnuts and hemp oil powder, it’s a brilliantly assembled plate of food.
But it isn’t all contemporary trickery, they can do simple too: the fish course is a beautiful piece of halibut in a classic cream sauce spiked with dill and lardons and was followed by pheasant on a bed of ultra-buttery potato purée with the sweet and sour combination of raisins and sauerkraut all tied together by an intense thyme sauce. There’s a reason why these flavours often appear together.
Dessert is a riff on a cake called Speculaas traditionally baked in The Netherlands around the start of December and is redolent of all the spices you associate with Christmas: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves. There’s also a cranberry coulis and fantastic pumpkin jam that finishes everything off wonderfully.
Service was fantastic, Jasper is an excellent host who really made us feel welcome and all the wine matches he chose were very good; interestingly they were all from France bar one and we started with a light red before moving to white (a fabulous German Riesling) and then back to red. I think it’s a great approach as it can be boring when you’ve too many white wines during a tasting menu.
This was one of the best meals I’ve had in 2012 and is all the more impressive when you consider there’s only three chefs working in a tiny kitchen upstairs; it’s so confined in there that the heat and humidity means they are prevented from cooking certain dishes. Apparently, those problems should be solved by an upcoming renovation so I’m looking forward to seeing how the food develops when that happens.