Mouth-watering steaks and '90s sounds at Deanes Meat Locker
Deanes Meat Locker, 28-40 Howard Street, Belfast
028 9033 1134 Michaeldeane.co.uk
ONE of the consequences of being in your late 30s is that for the past three or four years you've had to come to terms with the fact that, one by one, the bits of your CD collection (look it up, kids) that mean the most to you – the ones amassed when you were 15, 16, 17, 18 – are all turning two decades old.
Given we’re talking about the mid-90s, there's a heavy Britpop and not-really-Britpop-but-it-got-bundled-along-with-it slant to things – Oasis, Sleeper, Ash, Elastica, Pulp and the Heads, both Radio and Portis.
It took until we were leaving Deanes Meat Locker in Belfast city centre for 1997 to make an appearance in the background music – All Saints’ Never Ever from their eponymous pop classic debut – with tunes from a decade before dominating the atmospherics of the Howard Street hub of Michael Deane’s empire, which turned 20 this year as well.
Back then it was Deanes Brasserie downstairs and the smaller dining room of Restaurant Michael Deane upstairs, with only as many tables out as they had reservations for, the man himself firing out scallops with black pudding and Brussel sprout ice cream, and a Michelin Star for good measure.
The whole fine dining operation was moved to the bigger space on the ground floor and the star stayed until 2011 after burst frozen pipes had led to a four-month closure the previous year, but Deane – whose name can be found on four more locations across the city – took the opportunity to turn the Howard Street building into something different.
It now houses the self-explanatory Simply Fish and Meat Locker as well as Eipic which, under the guidance of head chef Danni Barry, brought a Michelin Star back into the Deanes family in 2015.
Populated by crisp white tablecloths, an open kitchen at the back and the requisite diagram of a cow telling you just where your dinner’s going to be coming from, The Meat Locker's dining room gives off the high-class steakhouse vibe it’s going for – but what it looks like is hard to concentrate on as soon as you step inside, thanks to the smell wafting from that kitchen.
It’s rare air indeed – maybe medium rare, but no more than that – and it’s fantastic.
Starters of ox tongue, wafer thin and melting with all but raw pickled carrots, and a velvet duck liver parfait with shards of sourdough and a tangle of oniony, fruity chutney hit their marks.
So did the desserts. The sweet and rich raspberry cheesecake with pink pepper meringues that weren’t particularly peppery was balanced by an excellent gin and tonic sorbet, while the chocolate pot, topped with crunchy salted caramel ball, milk ice cream and biscuit combined to give the effect of a king-size Twix and a big glass of milk.
Special mention too should go to the espresso martini, made with bourbon rather than the usual just-there-for-the-alcohol vodka version, which is also available but pales in comparison.
But the stars of the show are the steaks. The least expensive on the a la carte menu is the £17, while the £35 Delmonico ribeye is at the other end of the scale. Both come from meat magician Peter Hannan’s mythical Himalayan salt chamber and are accompanied by beef dripping chips, tomato and mushroom and both are perfect pieces of meat.
The rump packs an absurd amount of flavour, while the ribeye is as soft as a fillet with the added attraction of golden delicious fat.
Neither needs the ice hockey puck of garlic butter that comes with one or the perfectly wobbly béarnaise that comes with the other, but it’s comforting to know they’re there – especially to dip the chips into.
Even if it’s as good a steak and chips as it’s possible to have, £35 is a lot to spend on steak and chips. But that £17 rump is every bit as good and the lunch and pre-theatre menus also offer a minute steak – also from Hannan’s – and fries for a tenner.
Anyway, it’s much better all round to pay what may feel like a lot for a piece of meat than anything else on the menu or wine list. With meat, you should get what you pay for – or rather pay for what you get – and it’s clear that the cost of these steaks reflects the care and attention that has gone into producing them, from field to plate.
That care and attention is all around at Deanes, except maybe in the playlist – though if that’s the worst thing you can say about somewhere you’ve gone for a truly memorable meal, you know you’ve made the right choice.
Ox tongue £10
Rump steak £17
Delmonico ribeye steak £35
Chocolate pot £6
Irish Old Fashioned x2 £19.90
Espresso martini £8.95
Gin and tonic £8.25
Bottle of still water £4.50
10 per cent service charge £12.36