Stylish room, affordable breakfast – an absolute delight – The Irish Times

boatman

Address: 5-23 Hill Street, Belfast, BT1 2NG

Telephone: +44-28-90434310

Kitchen: Mediterranean

Cost: €€€

My visits to Belfast have been all too fleeting. Last summer, it was a short one-night stopover for the Grand Gelinez! Shuffle in Ox, a kind of gastronomic musical chairs, where you don’t really know who will be in the kitchen and what you’re going to eat, but the promise is that it will be very good.

This time it’s a lunch break on the way back from Derry on a day when the weather is just glorious and an up and down drive along the deserted Antrim coastline seems to be the secret the best kept in the country.

Waterman, in Belfast’s bustling Cathedral Quarter, is the new restaurant of Niall McKenna, the chef behind James Street South and the recently closed Hadskis. The 50 seats are in a Grade B listed building, a former bonded warehouse in Bushmills, and the large windows overlook the loveliest of bright rooms, which is surprisingly full for a sunny day. Hard surfaces and high ceilings mean the acoustics are a bit rambunctious, but somehow that doesn’t matter as our window seat is comfy and the room is stylish and fresh.

It is with a certain pleasure that I discover that in addition to the menu, there is a lunch menu with a single choice of starters and main courses, grilled broccoli followed by a steak and cheese to finish. It’s €21.95 (£18.50) for two courses and €26.69 (£22.50) for three, which seems like excellent value for money. We immediately choose to have the first two options and intersperse it with three small plates and a dessert from the a la carte menu. I explain to our server that we will be sharing each dish and ask that each be brought separately, not all together. He is Italian and can see the logic in my somewhat clumsy request.

The entrecôte from the menu turns out to be the perfect big dish to share to finish our savory dishes.

Service is very polite – a carafe of water is brought to the table and a range of cutlery is laid out by our crisp linen napkins for each of the courses to follow. The wine list cleverly offers options by three glass sizes for a good number of bottles, the price is fairly proportionate and there are plenty that are affordable.

It would be nice to see some bolder low intervention producers added to the rows of bottles on the open shelves of the very stylish bar, as the style of the menu is very close to the natural lines of the wine bar and that’s something I like to expect to see. The bartender chills our wine glasses with ice before pouring a Horner Pinot Gris, €10.67 (£9) a 175ml glass, and a Cecilia Beretta Brognoligo Soave, €9.49 (£8) a glass of 175 ml. Obviously, this is a very experienced staff room.

The grilled broccoli on the lunch menu is a hearty starter, charred and drizzled with seaweed pesto with a hint of mint and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. On the small plates menu, grilled shallots are sweet and warm, accompanied by a fresh quenelle of goat cheese and romesco sauce (€8.89).

We follow with two small pasta dishes (these are also available in larger plates). A tangle of linguine in a broth with mussels and small langoustines (€11.27) is enhanced with additional layers of flavor with sea samphire and purple dulse seaweed. It is judiciously seasoned, rounded off with a nice touch of butter. The ravioli, perhaps a little firm, are stuffed with ricotta and nduja (€8.90/£7.50), topped with nduja breadcrumbs and peas, all sitting in a puddle of butter sprinkled with ‘dill.

The chatter around the relaxed room would indicate I’m not the only one enjoying the vibe

The entrecôte from the fixed menu turns out to be the perfect big dish to share to end our savory dishes. Sliced, to highlight its rare paste, it is accompanied by beetroot and white radish in an intensely fleshy juice.

For dessert, the Baked Alaska (€8.90/£7.50) is pleasantly refreshing. It’s a dessert experiencing a bit of a renaissance, and here there’s a bit of rhubarb puree layered under the cake to add tartness, swirled with a light, not-too-sweet meringue, to wrap the ice cream cold.

Lunch at the Waterman is an absolute delight. The small plate format with carefully chosen, seasonal dishes makes for a very convivial dining experience, and the chatter around the relaxed room would indicate that I’m not the only one enjoying the vibe. Lunch feels like a vacation getaway during the day, and I’m sure it’s just as lively at night.

Lunch for two with two glasses of wine plus 10% service charge was £74.20 (€87.50).

THE VERDICT: Attentive service and delicious food in a large room

Facilities: Summary

Music: Gilberto Gil and cool lounge music

Source of food: Peter Hannan, Lisdergan, Dryane’s Farm, Ewing’s, La Rousse

Vegetarian options: Very good, grilled green onions, arancini with peas, cavolo nero pasta and herb gnocchi. All homemade pasta is vegan.

Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible washrooms

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