Life

Eating Out: Swish and smooth, Deanes at Queen's still excels a decade after opening

Deanes at Queen's – huge windows open the view across to Methodist College via a terrace made for summer days when the students are away. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seamus Maloney

Deanes at Queen's,

1 College Gardens,

Belfast,

BT9 6BQ.

028 9038 2111

michaeldeane.co.uk

NOW that they don't make Parks & Recreation anymore, and excepting Match Of The Day when West Ham have won, the best show on television completed its latest series last night.

Great British Menu is on its 13th go around and it's still brilliant, gripping, preposterous TV. Tears, tantrums, hearts being broken over a split custard or murky consommé, it's fantastic viewing.

This review was written and laid out ready to print before we found out who would be cooking for the final banquet to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS, so Wales-based Tommy Heaney may or may not have become the latest Northern Ireland representative to become a winner.

In the first two series Meath man Richard Corrigan took advantage of some iffy eligibility rules that would make Fifa blush to romp to victory, while two years ago Mark Abott, who plies his trade in Cambridge, won through.

So, since it began in 2006 just two chefs actually working here have flown the Norn Iron fleg at the banquet. One of them, Niall McKenna from the page opposite, won the dessert course in 2009, while Chris Fearon cooked the starter in 2011.

Fearon was then and still is running the kitchen at Deanes at Queen's in Belfast, across from the eponymous university and Methodist College in the student heart of the city.

Huge windows open the view across to the school via a terrace made for summer days when the students are away, while inside the vibe splits between fine dining temple and swish city bar. But it also manages to feel relaxed and unpretentious, whether thanks to the service or the food or the general atmosphere Fearon and his staff have infused the place with, even on a quiet Wednesday afternoon.

The chicken liver pate was impossibly smooth, rich, and deeply flavoured, without a hint of bitterness. Crunchy pickled onion, cauliflower and cucumber, as well as a warmly spiced chutney with bursts of golden raisins, provided the balance. Rosemary and lemon focaccia and a pumpkin seed wafer were there to have everything smeared on them.

A smoked cod potato cake came with sweet and earthy beetroot ketchup, as well as pieces of beetroot both pickled and roasted. The cake itself was light with the fish moist and as strongly flavoured as you would want. Chasing that ketchup around the plate with it was time well spent.

The minute steak was crusty and pink and swimming in Café de Paris butter sauce, mildly spicy, hefty with herbs and helped along with a perfectly soft fried egg. The copious remnants of the sauce and yolk and steak juices needed excellent chips to mop them up. As luck would have it, that's just what they got.

More, but very different, beef and sauce, provided a comforting autumnal hug. Fall-apart blade of beef was doused in a gravy of 10,000 leagues worth of depth of flavour. The mash was perfect but the real stars were the wedge of charred hispi cabbage, and the parsley and walnut pesto. The bitter edges of the burnt cabbage leaves and the pesto both made sure the sweetness of the gravy wasn't too much.

Starters go for £7.50 or £8, with mains between and £8 and £12.50 and desserts £5.50 or £6 but, with three courses for £23, stopping there just wouldn't have made any sense. So, along came doughnuts, honeycomb ice cream and chocolate sauce, all of which were executed perfectly, so how do you think that combination tasted?

Chocolate truffle, put through the same Cary Grant-branded smoothification machine as the pate and the mash, sat on top of a raspberry ruffle that added an acidic note to those legendary sweets. The whole thing reeked of fresh raspberries thanks to the ruffle, a sorbet and a great, sharp, fragrant sauce.

And then, for £7.95, they manage to mix up a flawless Old Fashioned, with every part of the service (there's a 10 per cent charge for this on the bill, but they more than earn it) running as smoothly as the chocolate and the pate and the mash and the, and the, and the...

Over a decade since it opened, Deanes at Queen's remains one of the best shows in town.

THE BILL

Three-course menu x2 £46

Old Fashioned £7.95

Americano x2 £4.50

Diet Coke £2.25

Service charge £6.07

Total £66.77

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