Life

Eating Out: Neills Hill a perfect pick me up and I'm all for its Le Carré Covid caution

Neills Hill Brasserie on the Newtownards Road, Ballyhackamore, east Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell 
Seamus Maloney

Neills Hill Brasserie

229 Upper Newtownards Road

Belfast

BT4 3JF

028 9065 0079

neillshill.com

FOOD you never would have dreamed of being able to eat at home has become commonplace over the past year but one of the things which that has brought is that, when ordering from non-traditional takeaways, dinner comes with instructions.

Some of these have been more involved than others. Having generally tried to stay away from anything that requires more than a preheated oven – or preferably a preheated appetite – that has mostly meant a little card or maybe an A4 sheet of paper. The only info you need to retain is the temperature and whether it's 10 or 15 minutes.

But certain things – even things that a trained professional has mercifully taken out of your hands – still need instructions. This has been the case when collecting food amid all the precautions and protocols we’ve grown used to. Pick a time, ring ahead, wait outside, maybe inside, not too close, here you go, enjoy your dinner.

The location of Neill’s Hill Brasserie on the Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast means it has to go a little further in this regard, but I’m all for it. So, you order your food, pick a time to collect it, and then the fun starts.

The interior of Neills Hill in pre-Covid times – its outdoor seating is due to reopen on Friday. Picture Declan Roughan

Park outside. Stop. Put your hazard lights on. Stop. Call the restaurant. Stop. Unlock the car. Your food will be placed inside. Stop. Go! Go! Go! Stop.

It’s one red carnation away from a John Le Carré novel. Except instead of microfilm it’s a mini-wheaten. Still, it’s a mini thrill on a sunny Saturday evening. A different route back to the safe house. Dinner time.

And a fine dinner it is, the sort of reassuring steadiness you expect of anywhere that calls itself a brasserie. It’s one thing to offer it, but another to deliver, especially when it has to survive a journey much further than restaurant kitchen to restaurant table.

There aren’t any more instructions until we get to dessert, so it’s simply a case of transferring a picture-perfect roast spring dinner and a rack of ribs and fries to the plates, though spare satellite dishes may have been better suited to the job.

Portions are on the ‘what are you after?’ side of generous, but the quantity isn’t a ruse to mask lack of quality. The lamb is blushing pink, the trip from restaurant back home just enough resting time to leave you with a butter-soft piece of meat. Roast potatoes suffer a little on the way – impossible to avoid – but like the lamb and the mountain of spring veg – peas, broad beans, cabbage, asparagus – they’re full of flavour.

The ribs are given the honour of being named after the restaurant – an ever so subtle hint they think they’ve got something right. And they have. The sauce isn’t too sweet and the meat hovers in the ethereal realm of sliding clean off the bone while retaining some bite to remind you what you’re eating.

The fries are thin, still crisp and hot, and in enormous quantity. This is always a good thing, but especially when there’s the vaguely minted tub of lamb jus across the table to give you the best gravy chip you could imagine from the inevitable leftovers.

The starters are perfectly formed retro classics – a prawn cocktail with that mini-wheaten and a chicken liver paté with onion marmalade and crisp pieces of ciabatta. The paté is especially good: perfectly smooth, rich and loads of it.

The apple tart, slices of fruit on flaky pastry with a sweet caramel edge, and a light but heavily flavoured chocolate sponge, survive the oven and microwave with ease. I credit the instructions.

They’re just the way to finish a meal like this – precisely calibrated comfort food, which could only be more comforting eaten in the safe surroundings of the restaurant itself, which will open its outdoor seating this Friday.

Just the right thing to eat when you can spy light at the end of the tunnel.

THE BILL

Prawn cocktail £5.95

Chicken liver pate £5.95

Roast lamb £15.95

Neill’s Hill rack of ribs £13.95

Apple tart £4.25

Steamed chocolate pudding £3.95

San Pellegrino lemon x2 £2

Total £52

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