Food & drink

Eating Out: Muddlers Club - rock 'n roll dining hits all the right notes

The Muddlers Club, Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Seamus Maloney

The Muddlers Club,

1 Warehouse Lane,

Belfast,

BT1 2DX.

028 9031 3199

themuddlersclubbelfast.com

IT says quite a bit for the Muddlers Club in Belfast City centre that it manages to both feel like it's just appeared and that it's been there all the time.

In reality, it'll be seven years in October since chef Gareth McCaughey opened what took no time to establish itself as one of the premier spots in the city.

Tucked away off a tangle of lanes and alleys off the tangle of slightly bigger lanes and alleys that make up the Cathedral Quarter, four years after opening it joined fellow Belfast restaurants Ox and Deane's Eipic in the north's Michelin Star club, making it three nods for the city for the first time.

It's held it ever since and has done it it's own way.

McCaughey's fellow Michelin man and former boss at Ox Stephen Toman has described the Muddlers Club as "pure rock and roll", and it's easy to see why.

The Rolling Stones are bouncing round the sharp industrial space as we sit down.

It's early in the evening on a Wednesday but it's the first night open after a week-and-a-half spring break and the place is buzzing.

There's street art on the way in and the occasional bit of body art on the team of young, eager servers who, when they're not flitting around the room, line up in front of the open kitchen, McCaughey and his team a blur of activity behind them.

If the Muddlers Club was in the business of actual rock and roll rather than the fine dining version, that's your album cover right there.

Whether you visit for lunch or dinner, a 'surprise' tasting menu is what's on offer.

If you stay off the website, the surprise will carry through until the plates are being set down in front of you, but even a little surfing will only reveal so much with three or four of the ingredients of each dish listed and the rest left to the imagination.

For £70 per head, with vegetarian/vegan versions a tenner less, it's nothing but good surprises from somewhere completely assured of what it's doing ,but with the enthusiasm and excitement of the latest shiniest new thing.

Tubes of crisp celeriac come full of sweet crab, with blobs of rich avocado. Given they're adorned with fronds of dill and pretty flowers, calling them "blobs" feels inelegant, but everything bursts with summery freshness. Even down this alley the early evening sun is finding a way to stream though the windows. This captures it.

Underneath a foam resembling candy floss sits a perfectly sweet, pert scallop, which slugs it out with a bisque deep enough to dive into from any height. It's been put together by some sauce wizard over there in the kitchen, nodding along to Rebel Rebel.

The scallop may have been about mystery and simplicity – the lamb grabs you by the collar and pulls your attention in a hundred different places. Like a forest floor in a Disney cartoon, there are perfect parsnip crisps, blush-edged radishes, little leaves and tiny flower petals, drops of lovage purée and the sweetest, softest, slices of raw lamb rump. All dusted with dulse powder, all a muscle-flexing reminder of why there's a star nailed to the door.

A piece of cod is (obviously) perfectly cooked, next to a scatter of mussels, broad beans, courgettes and romanesco. On top there are salty sea vegetables and pearls of coral roe that end up bobbing around in the light, pin-sharp dashi broth.

Utter confidence – in the produce, in the idea, in the people putting it together and the people bringing it out – oozes out of Muddlers Club, and it's delivered in the breezy, engaging way only possible when everyone knows and loves exactly what they're doing.

A gorgeous piece of beef sits simply with a length of charred asparagus, more asparagus purée, a leaf of wild garlic and a single baby potato. Oh, and a flurry of truffle.

A rubble of sweet white chocolate and sour rhubarb is the shoutier of the two desserts, leading to the finale which, surprise, surprise, is a showstopper. Slices of sharp plum and strands of candied lemon peel come on a dense sponge, under a delicately nutty gorse flower ice cream.

It's fruit, sponge and ice cream, but it's rock and roll fruit, sponge and ice cream.

And not a bum note to be heard anywhere.

THE BILL

Tasting menu x2 £140

Lime tart cocktail £11

Coconut Margarita £12

Berry Bramble £5

Pear and Almond Fizz £5

WB Yates still water £5

Total £178

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