Eating Out: Cyprus Avenue in Belfast's Ballyhackamore
228-230 Upper Newtownards Road
Tel: 028 9065 6755
SO here's a story all the mothers out there will relate to. A doorman once pulled a nappy out of my handbag while searching for the quarter bottle of Kulov he assumed I'd have in there. It was a clean nappy; there was a dummy in there as well – he just didn't find that.
When my children were small there was always, a nappy, a rusk, a rattle or a small plastic car in my bag. Being a parent is not a glamorous pastime: it sucks the sophistication clean out of you.
I tell you this because, along with a friend – the mother of a one-year-old daughter – I recently planned a night out in one of Belfast's newest and already most talked about restaurants.
Cyprus Avenue in Ballyhackamore has only been open for a few months but it's already making a name for itself. Named after the east Belfast street, made famous by Van Morrison, from the outside it's very unassuming. You'd quite easily drive past given the understated signage but inside it's a beautifully fitted out and intimate wee spot.
The chef-proprietor is Richard McCracken, who started his career in the lovely Balloo House. Despite still only being in his late 20s, he has already worked with the like of Tom Kitchin, and at the Andrew Fairlie Michelin Star restaurant at Gleneagles.
He's also had some training in a three star in Paris, so basically he's worked in loads of really posh places and amassed quite a skill set in the process.
And yet Cyprus Avenue is not a bit posh – well, not in the stuffy, must sell a kidney before you can afford to pay for it type way. In fact it is actually very laid back and relaxed.
It's staffed by a young team who are friendly and knowledgeable. Our server was welcoming and funny. The clientele was a mixed bunch: a few trendies, a few couples, me and my mate.
We ordered gins (Hendrick's) and Fever Tree tonic – liquid comfort – so I was already happy when the small but interesting menu was handed over.
Starters were wasabi squid and a crab risotto, but not as you'd know it. It was made with spelt, a type of grain sort of like barley, and so had a great texture; a tidy little portion and each mouthful a treat. The squid was crispy and fiery. We shared, which means, basically, I ate two starters.
We ordered a bottle of Stoneybank sauvignon blanc, along with mains of monkfish and a bavette steak. Some roast winter veg on the side proved to be unnecessary, but eyes bigger than belly an' all that.
The monkfish was on the bone and looked slightly phallic, or maybe that's just how my mind works. It was surrounded by a broth with clams and mussels and had a lovely crust on the outside, perfectly moist by virtue of its excellent cooking.
My steak was rare as it should be, nicely seasoned, but I've decided I don't rate bavette – it just doesn't have the fat content to make it flavoursome enough.
It came with roasted onion, puree onion and lovely little crispy shallots for texture. The deep dark sauce that accompanied it was so good I'd have drunk it straight from the jug.
We were happy, slightly tipsy diners and decided to forgo desert, despite the great selection on display behind glass, but they brought us a chef special of 'cheese and toast' to try anyway.
It was a bowl of a million cheesy calories with little fingers of Parmesan toast to dip in, the idea being that it's sort of like a warm cheese board. It would make a great starter if you were trying to gain half a stone in record time, or if it could be taxied up to my house the next time I'm hungover that would also be great.
We paid our bill thanked the staff. When they handed us our coats to leave a tiny little shoe fell out of my friend's pocket on to the table. Just the one shoe, mind you. She was scundered – as you would be – although it didn't rate up there with my nappy story and so I lacked empathy.
That said, it was a great night and no-one had to sell a vital organ to pay for it – always a result.
Hendricks £5 x 2
Tonic £2.50 x 2
Still water £3.50
Sauv Blanc £22
Winter veg £3.50