Food & Drink

mrDeanes another star offering from Michael Deane - Eating Out

Michael Deane’s pivot to more casual dining is a great success

mr Deans in Belfast in Howard Street. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Things are looking up at mrDeanes, Michael Deane's latest venture in his Howard Street premises in Belfast city centre (Mal McCann)
28-40 Howard Street,
028 9033 1134

The building at the corner of Howard Street and Brunswick Street in Belfast city centre, where chef Michael Deane parked what became known as ‘the mothership’ of his culinary universe, has seen plenty of change over the past quarter of a century.

It opened in 1997 as Restaurant Michael Deane, with the man himself at the pass and only as many seats as bookings that night in an upstairs room, while Deanes Brasserie hustled and bustled downstairs.

Later, downstairs became home to simply Deanes Restaurant, with fine dining taking over the whole space.

A decade ago the seafood bar that had sprung up next to the restaurant expanded into Love Fish, cod cheek by pork jowl with Meat Locker, with Eipic established in a newly-acquired space next door.

That was pretty much that for the next 10 years until, at the end of 2023, Deane announced the changes that see Meat Locker currently under renovation, to reopen at the end of June, while what was Eipic and Love Fish is now Mr Deane’s. Or mrDeanes Bistro Bar & Social to give it its full, stylised, and stubbornly still apostrophe-less title, named for Deane’s late father Ted.

The latest transformation is the most fundamental. Apart from time spent recovering from the aftermath of severe flooding in 2010, the Howard Street venue has had a Michelin Star hanging somewhere on the premises since it opened. Eipic has carried it since 2016 but those days are over.

mr Deans in Belfast in Howard Street. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
mrDeanes is Micheal Deane's latest reinvention - and very good it is, too (Mal McCann)

Fine dining that reaches for those stars and brings with it three-figure a head tasting menus is out. Staying open and keeping people employed is in.

Deane has decided the way to do that is pivot to a more casual offering.

So, in the bright space flanked by racing green banquettes, the menu is, as the subtitle tells you, a bistro offering spanning crowd-pleasing choices from asparagus with poached egg and hollandaise to chicken liver parfait and sourdough, as well as fish and chips and red prawn curry. At lunchtime there’s sausage and mash and deli sandwiches.

This Thursday dinnertime there’s also quite a few people, a healthy crowd who seem pretty pleased with what mrDeanes is offering.

Because for all that the space has changed, along with the menu and the focus, there’s a continuity of quality about the place – thanks in large part to the numerous staff who have stayed on to maintain the standards of previous years.

Snacks of fat, stubby croquetas and golden lengths of whitebait are testaments to the art of deep fat frying.

The crisp coating on the croquetas gives way to the ooze of cheese flecked through with salty ham, a little disc of gherkin on each providing a sweet-sour bite.

The whitebait is impeccable, the little fish breaded to PhD-level crunch, and piled high to be picked apart and dredged through a snappy citrus aioli.

mr Deans in Belfast in Howard Street. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
mrDeanes is a more casual offering than some of Michael Deane's previous restaurants on Howard Street (Mal McCann)

There’s more dredging to be done with the starter of salt and chilli squid, heady with Chinese five spice and a fine match to the roasted garlic mayonnaise and a spiky slaw of red cabbage and scallions.

The potato, white onion and cheddar soup is pale but exceedingly interesting. The interest only grows on the discovery of tangles of caramelised onion and lardons of bacon at the bottom of the bowl. A thick slice of sourdough comes with enough butter to ice a birthday cake, as it should.

The generosity carries through to a bowl of aniseed-scented tomato risotto, topped with sweetly pickled fennel and surrounded by sturdy, perfectly grilled scallops.

Chicken Francese, an Italian American classic seldom seen this far east, is tweaked into a brace of chicken breasts, lightly breaded and doused in a white wine and mushroom sauce of brooding intensity. There’s plenty there but a side is recommended. The Best Bowl Of Champ You Will Ever Taste In Your Life appears. This is comfort food of the finest kind. It just makes you feel good.

And we haven’t even reached dessert yet, where a salted popcorn-topped chocolate delice is a thick, rich mousse on a sturdy base of brownie-esque sponge that ends up smeared all over the plate, melding with a raspberry sorbet and coconut cream.

A panna cotta with the merest waft of lemon wobbles agreeably, while syrup oozes out of a block of almond cake in a way that assures you you’re in the right place.

mr Deans in Belfast in Howard Street. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
You know you'll leave mrDeanes happy... (Mal McCann)

Whether or not Michael Deane’s decision to change tack will prove the right one for his business remains to be seen. But for all the changes at the ‘mothership’ over the years, it remains a place you know you’ll leave happy with your decision to eat there.

The bill
Croquetas £6
Whitebait £6
Squid £9.50
Soup £6
Scallops a la plancha £24
Chicken Francese £16
Champ £5.95
Chocolate delice £8
Lemon panna cotta £8
French Martini £11.95
Cosmopolitan £9.95
Lucky Saint alcohol-free IPA x2 £11
Total £122.35