Eating Out: Roam at the top
6a Callender Street,
079 1795 7162
BE warned: The plates in Roam will give you away. They're handsome earthenware with uneven edges.
But it's not just the edges. The surfaces are rugged too. Which means when you drag your cutlery across them, straining to make sure every last morsel of butternut squash puree or chicken broth is accounted for, the noise will bounce around the similarly stylish rough-chic interior like an explosion in a roadworks factory.
But it's a happy sound. It's a sure sign that what chef Ryan Jenkins and his team are putting out is going down well.
Roam began as a pop-up in 2018, morphed into fancy boxes that were everywhere during lockdowns, and has now found a permanent stop down a Belfast city centre side street.
The menu is tightly and efficiently put together. This is usually reassuring. The kitchen knows what it wants to do and wants to do it well. A place trying way harder than it needs to would say it's been curated. At Roam it just is.
Crackle-crusted sourdough comes with smoked butter flecked with thyme that gets the plate-scraping going right off the bat.
Slices of rare beef are dotted with egg yolk, burnt onion in the form of puree, dust and little cylinders of the char-edged veg itself, and chive breadcrumbs.
It's like the aftermath of a dust-up between carpaccio and steak tartare, where you don't know who's emerged the winner. Apart from you, for getting to eat it.
The deep, brooding bowl of chicken broth is even better. Actually, it's *******ing spectacular. No swearing in the Irish News, of course, and I've no idea if those stars correspond to a recognisable curse word anyway. You may need to invent a new one for this.
The pieces of thigh are buried under a tangle of greens and samphire. Blistered sweet leeks are there too and everything sits amid a roast chicken broth that roars with deep umami comfort. It's the least murky shade of brown you can imagine with flavours so clean you could, well, eat your dinner off them, a stock so substantial you wonder if a knife and fork would do better than a spoon. It's a £9 bowl of all that's right in the world.
There's nothing showy in the main courses. One, a piece of fish, some green veg and a sauce; the other, a piece of meat, some green veg and a sauce, but they show off the well-placed confidence Roam is trading in.
The fish is hake, cooked to pearly white in the gentle spice of Cafe de Paris butter and more warmth from a butternut squash puree that serves as the sauce. Bitter leaves of cavolo nero nudge against the sweetness of the squash, with the only heavy-handed bit of the whole meal, a thick disc sitting of squash under the fish that, tasty as it was, added merely ballast against finer flavours around it.
The meat is Iberico pork loin, the slightest blush of pink rendered possible by both the quality of the product and the deftness of the cooking. More charred veg, this time a baby leek and pak choi are the foils to both the pork and a glistening five-spice sauce that would give that chicken stock a run for it's dark money.
Desserts bring bad news – there aren't any left. Good job there's a cracking vodka, yellaman and apple cocktail to numb the pain. Unfortunately whatever they do with strawberry, vanilla, rose and basil, or chocolate, coffee and caramelised milk ice cream won't be revealed today.
Instead there's a generous and excellent cheese plate, with the three in-house produced elements – grape chutney, wholemeal crackers and pickled fennel – all, unsurprisingly by this stage, excellent.
The quality and variety of cheese available on this island should make putting together a great, not good, selection, easy and Young Buck from Newtownards and Durrus Og and St Gall from Cork show why.
We're in at the extreme tail end of lunch on a Wednesday. There's just one other table. When it's packed and buzzing on a weekend evening, as it seems and deserves to be, the noise must be gloriously deafening. And that's just from the plates.
Rare beef £10
Chicken thighs £9
Pork loin £14
Baby potatoes £4.50
Honey trap cocktail £10
Elderflower tonic £3