Located behind Belfast’s Victorian-style City Hall, ‘Deanes Love Fish’ is one of several restaurants managed by chef, Michael Deane, winner of a Michelin star last year for his ‘Eipic’ venue located in the same building on downtown Howard Street.
First impressions upon entering off-street are bright ones, mainly due to the flood of natural light that the high ceiling and its conservatory-style roof permits. Ambience in this 100-seater restaurant is Nordic-bistro style with a stylish, all-white interior featuring a broad-beam floor, simple wooden chairs and round mirrors resembling portholes along the walls. A glass-fronted wall at the back is decorated with a vivid color photograph of foaming sea-spray which, together with black and white fish drawn on another wall, helps ease guests into an appropriate ‘marine mood.’ A plaque on another wall states amusingly, ‘Fish, to taste right, must swim three times – in water, in olive oil and in champagne.’
Graham a father-of two from Glasgow, proved to be an easy-going, good-humored server who kept us entertained with chitchat over a leisurely lunch that drifted over the two hour mark with the assistance of perfect wine pairings including a zesty Picpoul de Pinet ABV Beauvignac 2014 from Languedoc-Roussillon and a slightly buttery, velvety Solo Fiano Michele Biancardi 2014 from Puglia Italy.
We started with a clutch of fried onion rings. Lightly cooked, the batter thin but adequate, not stodgy in any way, they appeared as an attractive crispy golden mound. Marinated sardines followed, presented on a wooden platter. Juicy, not dry or overly flaky, they stretched along thin slices of sourdough bread, their skins bursting with pent-up flavor. A generous main course of fleshy prawns, soft and fresh, were simmered in a light buttery sauce with garlic.
To make for easy selection, the menu is organized in simple categories, with the ‘On Toast’ section featuring devilled crab and sweetcorn, citrus and Jawbox gin cured trout and smoked mackerel pâté; the ‘Small Plate’ ranging from Thai crab salad with mango, chilli, coriander and lime to shellfish risotto with saffron and mussels cooked in local dry cider with sourdough; and the ‘Plate’ category including dishes such as pan-roasted hake with Provençale sauce and olive oil, Chingri malai curry and salmon steak with asparagus, brown shrimp and capers.
Deane’s Michelin star last year after a four-year hiatus indicates his restaurant portfolio which, aside from Deanes Love Fish, includes Deanes Meat Locker, Deanes Deli Bistro & Vin Café, Deanes at Queens and Deane & Decano, will likely meet with strong success. As location matters, with his fish restaurant close to major hotels such as the Europa, Fitzwilliam and Jurys and to the city’s main downtown shopping district, success is all but guaranteed.