22 Wellington Place,
028 9023 4946
What a restaurant offers on its set/pre-theatre/prix fixe menu can tell you a lot about a place. If they put a bit of thought into what often works out as a value option for the diner, then you can be hopeful of being in the right place.
Home in Belfast city centre, already firmly in possession of a stellar reputation, gives its shortened early evening menu this sort of consideration.
Two courses for £19.50 or three for £4 more are an example of the value that has earned it a Michelin Bib Gourmand, which highlights good food at a good price, with some imaginative menu decisions helping to convert that value into a wee bit more by encouraging starters and desserts when they might not be usually ordered. Personally I don't understand this concept, but we'll go with it.
First up, the brandade came on a thin oblong of sourdough, but not so thin as to be without chew, wavy along its crusty edges and presenting the pearl-white fish paste under a scatter of green. The emulsion of cod, oil and potato gave off a waft of the sea, helped by the saltiness of the fish, with dill and cucumber on top pulling the Mediterranean classic towards Scandinavia.
The crispy pork belly got its crispness thanks to being shredded and then formed into little cubes, breaded and fried. It doesn't feel particularly necessary, and they end up a bit dry – something pork belly shouldn't even be on nodding terms with – which left you wondering just how well the pickled ginger and carrot, and punchy sesame and miso sauce would have gone with simple little blocks of crunchy on top, melting underneath belly.
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It's the only 'what if' of a meal that's balanced and sure-footed. To get the most out of a set menu you can't be 'we'll have a look' when it comes to dessert. A sweet is required so we fast forward to the end where we find a stalwart of set menus, good, bad and indifferent: sticky toffee pudding.
Whatever you feel about it being almost impossible to avoid, it's ubiquitous because when it's done well it's unbeatable, and it's done well here, with a nice vanilla ice cream.
Better still is the chocolate torte. A dessert that absolutely, positively does not mess about. It's a dark, bruising ganache on a crisp bottom with seasonal nuttiness from shards of praline and a peanut butter caramel.
Hopping back to the mains, there's a bowl of pasta that couldn't have been crafted better for the crisp autumn early evening outside.
Hulking bits of rigatoni are a reassuringly industrial scaffold for a venison ragu that sneaks into the tubes and burrows into the deep ridges of the pasta. The tomato provides the brightness of an end-of-year sun, the deep green cavolo nero some bitter edge against the richness of the meat-filled sauce. But best of all are the little bursts of juniper berries, such a friend of venison in any context, and a real master stroke in a deceptively simple bowl of pasta.
Under a duvet of parmesan, the red and brown have the appealing look of a leaf-covered path in autumn after a couple of days of rain.
The sea bass across the way is, on the other had, a canvas filled with bursts of spectral colour. The golden edges of the fish skin sit against its brilliant white flesh, on top of ruby red cubes of chorizo that have stained the broth sunburst orange. A verdant salsa verde sits on the bass.
Those blasts of colour follow through in the flavours, the chorizo adding smoky heat and the salsa sharp freshness to the fall-apart fish and just soft enough beans. Even with those sharp edges the whole thing is soothing and comforting, at a time of year when bowls of good things are very good things. And Home is just the place to get them.
Prix Fixe menu x2 £47
Blood Orange Margarita £10
San Pellegrino Grapefruit £3.50