Eating Out: I'm hungry and I would kill for a... brunch at Belfast's 227 Restaurant
93 Cregagh Road
0798 445 6190
THERE'S a time and a place for a Parmesan espuma. The same goes for a nettle gel, chocolate soil or an egg cooked at something-point-something degrees for half an afternoon.
Actually, no, there's never a time for egg cooked like that. They always end up tasting weird. You're fancy enough to be thinking about slow cooking an egg for the running time of Gone With The Wind? Poach it, mate, I'm sure you're up to it. There's not much better than a simply, perfectly poached egg – and it won't taste like Antrim-shirt-coloured wallpaper paste.
But all the other stuff, and whatever over fancypants things chefs can dream up, they can all surprise and delight and make eating out not just a pleasure but a genuine adventure.
Yet, as fantastic as all this can be, when's the last time you were hungry and thought: You know what I would love? Some dehydrated fish skin. And a bit of tartare sauce foam to dip it in.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. It could very well be the type of food you taste as part of the best meal you've ever had. But it's not the type of food you can really want.
You want a plate of buffalo wings and blue cheese. You want a bowl of crab linguine. You want a proper eggs Benedict and a good steak and chips.
At 227 Restaurant, on the Cregagh Road in Belfast, you can get all of that. The menu reads like a list of things that could all be answers to a Blankety Blank question starting, “I'm hungry and I would kill for a...”
Like the menu, it's small, bright and unprepossessing. This is all A Good Thing.
Kathy Bennett is the one-woman show keeping things running. Having opened at the end of 2016 with a chef in the kitchen, a few months later she found herself manning the burners as well as front of house.
It means you get, along with your welcome, a warning that things may take a little more time when it's busier. This isn't an express lunch place. Another Good Thing. 227 is somewhere to take your time and, when it arrives, enjoy something you really want to eat.
It's thanks to a thoughtful, unfussy approach to the menu, things Bennett says herself she wants to eat, and the skill to carry them off.
There are occasional wine dinners but the rest of the time it's bring your own. Today it's early Saturday afternoon, so the brunch menu provides the choices. By the time we get there (not early) there are no pancakes or smoked salmon left, but the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of brunch menus – eggs Benedict – is thankfully still available. And a steak sandwich please.
The two tables already seated before us are served and the look of what they're getting suggests this will be worth the wait. It is, and the wait wasn't all that much anyway.
Calling the steak sandwich a steak sandwich doesn't really do it justice. Yes there's bread, but the cobblestone of meat is sitting on a toasted slipper of ciabatta rather than sliced and stuffed into it. You're really getting a thumping good steak and chips for £13.50.
The piece of rump is flawlessly cooked medium rare. It cuts like it's a fillet to its blush pink middle and has a salty, savoury crust. Alongside it are skin-on chips, a little too hot at first, as they should be, and crisp to the last.
You also get spinach, not quite wilted, but just warmed through with slightly melted cheese to take the raw edge off it.
Each element – the steak, the chips, the bread, the spinach – is perfect, and it's brought together by a flawless pepper sauce which manages to be rich with butter and cream, spiky and fragrant with pepper and supported by solid, beefy backnote. You could dip chips into this stuff forever.
The Benedict comes with bacon rather than the usual ham – although depending on which origin story you want to believe, bacon may have been the mother meat.
Anyway, everything on the plate is just right, and when a Benedict is just right it's unbeatable. Good bacon on toasted muffin, slathered in a slightly sharp, completely buttery hollandaise, with each one bearing a simply, perfectly poached egg. There's not much better than that.
Admit it – you want one, don't you?
Steak sandwich £13.50
Eggs Bendict £6.50
Orange juice £3
Apple huice £3
Americano x2 £4