Food & drink

Eating Out: A Lottie to like

Lottie on Belfast's Upper Newtownards Road. Picture by Mal McCann.
Seamus Maloney

Lottie,

306 Upper Newtownards Road,

Belfast,

BT4 3EJ.

028 9065 5539

lottiebelfast.com

YOU shouldn't like Lottie. Actually, let me rephrase: I shouldn't like Lottie. And it's entirely my problem. It starts with the website, which, when it's not directing you to its 'Gram', is giving an example of what you'll find over there in Insta world.

Tattooed arms – nothing wrong with that – disembodied by photo cropping, pour a bottle of red from a great height, dangle a lump of bulbous chorizo, dress a plate of raw beef.

A glistening red steak perches on the end of a knife wielded by another arm that disappears out of shot, this one casting an ominous shadow across the table below. A single length of rhubarb balances across of bowl. It's all feels crushingly edgy – especially the plate of salmon sitting right on the corner of a table. My nerves are gone.

Then the restaurant itself is everything you might expect from the pictures.

Lottie on Belfast's Upper Newtownards Road. Picture by Mal McCann.

The space is large and industrial, its huge windows looking out onto the Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast and the vents and ducts hanging from the ceiling amid raw concrete and utilitarian tile.

It's a bingo card of a particular type of restaurant. A vast blank wall has something projected onto it. It's a montage of Federico Fellini films. Because of course it is.

Like that plate of fish, it's teetering on the edge, this time of trying too hard.

But that's the irony. And why I'm an idiot.

Because Lottie manages to make the entire experience of dinner feel completely effortless.

The decor may be stripped back, and head chef Nathan Bird's kitchen may be on show for all to see, but you barely notice the moving parts.

Lottie on Belfast's Upper Newtownards Road. Picture by Mal McCann.

Service, even as the huge space rapidly fills on early Sunday evening, never misses a beat. The food follows suit.

It arrives as it's ready, setting up the familiar small plate dance of rearranging glasses and crockery as those plates are emptied and consolidated.

Being already cold, the scallop ceviche can wait. And if the acid marinade is as good as it looks, they won't mind sitting in it a bit longer.

The same could have gone for the vitello tonnato, but it's first out and despite some impracticality from being covered in rocket and a snow drift of parmesan that dusts the table every time it's disturbed, the slices of raw beef, standing in for the classic veal, and tuna mayonnaise fly off the plate in no time, barely surviving until the arrival of the schnitzel.

That has come glistening out of the fryer, so is not a candidate for hanging around - and the sweet pork under a crunch of coating with sour, twangy brown sauce and a kohlrabi and apple slaw doesn't.

More pork – it's hard to look past 'Iberico' anywhere on a menu – approaches less forcefully, but no less impressively, with softer lines compared to the sharper angles of the schnitzel. Oyster mushroom slip among the slices of meat with the fatty richness this time cut through with a vinaigrette.

Lottie on Belfast's Upper Newtownards Road. Picture by Mal McCann.

A side of puttanesca potatoes are a fantastic idea. Why has no-one else thought of combining the flavour of possibly the greatest pasta sauce in the world with crispy spuds swimming in butter?

The internet: They have.

This gaping hole in my experience aside, the caper, olive, anchovy and tomato topped spuds are fabulous. A generous portion of gnocchi arrives and it's a picture. You can't see the little dumplings under a layer of opaque courgettes, like a minimalist sheet of stained glass.

Underneath, slicked in a sauce of purest Kermit, that wafts of basil and lemon, the gnocchi pillows melt away. Blobs of melting, punchy Hegarty's cheddar make a fine change from a gentler Italian option.

The scallops remain and, like the gnocchi, topped in edible flowers and more thins of courgette, almost qualify for the category of too pretty to eat – if that was ever a real thing.

Ceviche is always a balancing act, and the sharp dressing has set the scallops nicely, with bitter lovage and tiny cubes of crisp, sweet apple doing their bit to keep everything in its right place.

Desserts do the same where a light sweet, white chocolate mousse sits under fragrant chunks of mango and a fresh sorbet, then a perfect Irish summer sweet that acknowledges what the season should be like while accepting it could get cold and damp at any second, in the form of a lemon-scented rice pudding topped with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

No-one in their right mind would think they shouldn't like that.

THE BILL

Schnitzel £6

Iberico Pork £14

Vitello tonnato £9

Scallops ceviche £11

Herb gnocchi £14

Fried potatoes £6

Alphonso mango £8.50

Rice pudding £7.50

Moulin Rouge cocktail £10

Bloody Mary £9

Ginger and lemongrass fizz £4.50

Total £99.50

Lottie on Belfast's Upper Newtownards Road. Picture by Mal McCann.

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