Posted: 08 September '10 by Kelly
It was Niall’s birthday (not that we ever need an excuse) so I decided to treat him to a meal at James Street South in Belfast. We had previously been invited by Chef Niall McKenna to taste his ‘Great British Menu’ dishes and were blown away with just how good his food was, especially his winning dessert.
The restaurant is beautifully decorated, quite simple and elegant. When we arrived we were greeted by the maitre d’ and shown to our seat by the window.
As we tried to decide what we would have from the appetising menu the waiter brought us a basket of fresh breads – a mixture of olive bread, tomato bread and a lovely sourdough bread. As we happily munched through the contents of the basket and perused the menu I saw that there were about four starters I wanted to taste. While I was pondering what to do Niall ordered a bottle of one of our favourite red wines – the Chapoutier Belleruche, Cotes Du Rhone.
After much deliberation I ordered the Scallops with chorizo, while Niall went for the Bresaola with celeriac remoulade and quails egg (Bresaola is an Italian air-dried salted beef antipasto from Lombardy).
If you’ve read our previous reviews you’ll know that Niall and I always have a competition to see who has ordered the nicest starter, main and dessert (childish I know!!). I was very smug when Niall admitted that I had won on this occasion: my starter was perfection on a plate. There were about four big juicy scallops, seared on the top and bottom, delicate and moist inside. The finely sliced chorizo was deliciously crisp, the smoked paprika going superbly well with the seafood-sweet flavour of the scallops.
This is not to say Niall’s starter was any the less delicious, it really was a beautiful starter. The slightly sweet, tender meat was complimented by the creamy remoulade, with a good astringent after-taste on the palate. The breadcrumbed quails egg was also a nice touch, runny with the rich egg yolk, the crunchy breadcrumbs a delicious contrasting texture.
For our main course Niall ordered the Saddle of rabbit with summer vegetables and I ordered the Fillet of beef with smoked aubergine, girolle mushrooms with a red wine reduction.
Now, I have a terrible aversion to mushrooms. Why did you order them I can hear you ask? Well, to be honest, it has always bugged me that I don’t like them. I love all other foods so why not mushrooms? Now I’m a woman on a mission.. I’ve decided to try different varieties of mushrooms to find some I like (but not the ordinary white button mushrooms, the name of which I can’t even type without retching)!! I already knew that I actually love chestnut mushrooms and Niall assured me I’d love the subtle, nutty flavour of the girolles.
I was very much looking forward to my main course and when the waiter brought it down to our table it looked gorgeous – my mouth automatically started to water. As we both admired the artwork on the plate I had a feeling that something was wrong.. But what was it.. Ah yes, there were no girolles on my plate. I called the waiter over and asked him if the girolles were in the red wine jus, perhaps, to which he replied ‘no’. So, I told him that it wasn’t a big deal but that I was missing some on my plate. He apologised profusely and said he would ask the chef to cook me some more. I told him not to worry as my main would be cold by the time they got here. To be honest, although disappointed I was certainly not annoyed..
..until the waiter came back to tell me that he had informed the chef of this mistake and the chef was adamant that he put girolles on my plate and that I must have eaten them!!
And he didn’t stop there, oh no.. he proceeded to talk me through what a girolle mushroom LOOKED like! Now, maybe I look like I don’t know my aspic from my elbow pasta, but give me some credit – I WOULD REMEMBER CLEARING MY PLATE OF MUSHROOMS! There was a comic moment when I looked at Niall, who looked back at me, and both of us looked at the waiter.. You could have heard a pin drop.. As it was a celebration we didn’t labour the point, and I was left without one of the key ingredients in my dish.
Apart from that minor annoyance the meal was good, although I do think the girolles were needed as the smoked aubergine was a bit of a random (and, in all honesty, quite horrible) ingredient on the plate that I didn’t think added anything to the overall dish. I think it could of been delicious with the girolles, but in the end I basically had a really good steak with chips with red wine jus.
Niall’s meal on the other hand was superb. My last experience with rabbit wasn’t a pleasant one so I was a bit sceptical when Niall asked me to try his dish. I needn’t have worried though – the meat was succulent, tender and mildly game-y. The sticky, roasting juice gravy was perfectly counterbalanced by the fresh, al dente vegetables. It was served in a copper pot and all the flavours were perfectly thought out to create a mouth-watering main course. I was definitely jealous that Niall had made a better decision than I had.
I had been waiting on ordering dessert since I booked the table and already knew what I was going to order – Niall McKenna’s signature ‘Great British Menu’ dessert of Poached Rhubarb and Strawberry Jelly with Yellowman and Lavender Ice-cream. The last time I tried this I had raved on and on about it for weeks afterwards, often day-dreaming about just how good it was.
Expectations were high.
When it arrived it looked just like it had before, then I tasted it… and I’m afraid to say I was disappointed!! The jelly wasn’t as tasty: it wasn’t as zingy, intensely fruity and fresh – the rhubarb and strawberry flavours didn’t sing like they did before. The ice cream was also way too hard (it took a good 5-10 minutes for it to even soften enough to easily eat). In all it was a nice dessert, but when you know just how good (and it was good) it can taste I suppose you cannot help be disappointed when it’s not as you remembered.
Niall ordered the Selection Of Irish And French Cheese with chutney. While the serving was very well presented, arranged on a rough slate with a healthy dollop of chutney and biscuits, the waiter didn’t tell us what the cheeses were so we were left to guess – we have been to much cheaper restaurants that have explained to us what the cheeses were when they brought them to the table. They were all delicious though, served just below room temperature, with a good contrast in flavour.
|King Scallops with Chorizo and foam|
|Bresaola with celeriac remoulade and quails egg|
|Fillet of beef with girolles, triple-cooked chips and smoked aubergine|
|Saddle of rabbit with summer vegetables|
|Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone||£24 x2|
|Rhubarb and strawberry jelly with lavender ice-cream and yellowman|
|Selection of Irish and French cheeses|
All in all we had a lovely meal at James Street South.
Although I did leave the restaurant feeling slightly annoyed that I basically got steak and chips (albeit some of the best steak and chips I’ve ever had) in a ‘fine dining’ restaurant, and the dessert just wasn’t as nice as I knew it could be, the sense of injustice faded with another bottle of wine..
Thinking about it, my starter was absolutely delicious, and Niall’s main course was a real winner, a perfect combination of flavours, perfectly cooked.
We will be back to James Street South for dinner – it really is a good restaurant, the best we’ve tried in Northern Ireland. While we have talked about how good others were in the past, James Street South was a noticeable step up in cooking, ingredient selection, and presentation.
Hopefully next time I’ll get my girolles..
You can also see James Street South on Google Maps.
Categories: Restaurant Reviews