Food & Drink

Eating Out: Gemma Austin's A Peculiar Tea is well worth the journey

A Peculiar Tea,

44 University Road,


BT7 1NJ.

a-peculiar-tea.comOpens in new window ]

AS you walk into A Peculiar Tea, near Queen's University in Belfast, you step over the fossils of culinary recognition.

Chef Gemma Austin's permanent bricks and mortar evolution of her successful pop-up is in the same building that used to house Beatrice Kennedy's, which until its closure in 2015 was a grand dame of the city's dining scene, stretching way back to a time when options were far more limited, and certainly less diverse than they are now, or were in 2015.

The path to the front door bears the marks of this reputation, with plaques from various 'best of' guides set into the concrete, telling you you're about to enter a building someone from Bridgestone thought put together a good dinner in 2003 and a lot of other years as well.

The most recent tenant was another of high renown - Bull & Ram, the Belfast outpost of the acclaimed Ballynahinch restaurant, both of which closed abruptly in 2018, the one in the city just eight months after opening.

So in that sense A Peculiar Tea has a lot to live up to, but the genuine expectations come from Austin being at the helm. Her new project comes not long after she took over at Alexander's in Holywood, which she turned into somewhere well worth loosening the belt for - literally.

Hugely generous portions of well thought out, well executed bistro-esque plates came out one after another, with a dollop of mind-boggling chicken fat mash on the side.

But with those expectations came a little worry. While A Peculiar Tea offers lunches in the same vein as Alexander's - duck waffles and mustard maple syrup, crab crumpets - as well afternoon tea, in the evening it's a six-course, £45-a-head tasting menu.

When you already know everything's going to be cooked well, the key to menus like this is balance. You need to feel fed, but not until the end.

Austin's tendency towards generosity - how dare she? - could have easily tipped things over the edge. Thankfully, we were able to walk back down that path, rather than be rolled down.

The place hadn't been opened a week when we visited and there were things to be ironed out. No wines by the glass appeared on the list, though the friendly, efficient servers did point out you could order one from some of the bottles, while they hadn't started serving cocktails yet either.

The service was relaxed but never MIA, although a bit hit and miss when it came to telling you what you were getting. The menu already provides the bare bones, a little more than repeating it would have been appreciated.

These are nits, but if you're planting your flag with a £45 tasting menu, they are there to be picked. By the time you read this there's every chance they will have been.

The vibe is a pint of quirk with a kooky chaser. Think Willy Wonka in Wonderland. Our table is under the branches of a tree, with a toadstool nestled in the corner. The website plays up the playfulness. It could all be a bit much if the food wasn't any good, but it is.

A crisp shell of potato skin comes filled with a heady truffle foam and topped with cheese, bacon and scallion. Utterly classic for a reason, and a sign of things to come.

Next there's a guinea fowl breast, with the skin shatteringly crisp and the meat perfectly moist, all under a blanket of bone marrow-powered breadcrumbs. There's also the wing, falling off the bone as you crunch through the deepest, darkest, stickiest exterior.

All this, along with the mahogany sauce they're sitting on is the essence of winter warmth and could have been a bit too much in the context of everything else - the breast is substantial and there's not a hint of any veg - but the following fish lightens the mood.

The champagne butter sauce is tartly balanced and the pert piece of cod flakes apart to mingle with the fresh tomato and crispy capers.

Like the guinea fowl, the blushing pink venison, with a little brick of confit potatoes, pureed celeriac and kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts, is just what you want to be eating on a night like this.

After a mulled wine sorbet comes the looker of the night - as pretty a plate as you could wish for with a chocolate ganache and sponge kept honest by a zingy miso caramel and a pistachio biscuit that disappears as soon as you look at it.

Just open, A Peculiar Tea is clearly already on the right path, and it's a journey well worth going on.


Tasting menu x2 £90

Elderflower tonic £2.50

Sparkling water £3.50

Total £96