Review: Fine dining is back at Eipic restaurant in Belfast

Restaurant is showcasing a talented female Northern Irish chef who’s returned to Belfast to cook

Sat, Dec 6, 2014, 12:00

   

Eipic

This being Belfast, the three silver moons on the walls of Eipic have already been put in their box. “Michael you must get all the channels here with those wee satellite dishes on that there wall”, is how I imagine the comment went.

I like the moons. They have lights that shine on loose leaves of silver gilt which flutter lightly in the breeze. But once you hear the words satellite and dish the description sticks. Eipic is Michael Deane’s attempt at a second moon landing. After losing his Michelin star four years ago, he became the restaurateur who put the cash in casual dining. Now he’s taking one small step back onto planet fine dining.

Eipic is pronounced epic, the maitre d’ says. Maybe the extra “i” is to prevent Belfast wags tacking on the obvious word. When did we last hear of an epic success?

The restaurant is in a former gift shop that you walk into through Love Fish, Deane’s large casual restaurant on Howard Street. Both restaurants seem to have the same footprint, giving a ying-and-yang impression with Love Fish all white walls and pale floors and Eipic all charcoal and slate. There’s a glass wine pillar in the middle of this new space and a Champagne bar at the end. There are well-spaced linen draped tables and acres of white leather upholstery, sparkly chandeliers and silver accessories that include inexplicable outsized silver apples and pears on each table. I don’t think I’m the first or last person to pull the stalk out of my silver apple trying to open it to see what’s inside. It doesn’t open. There’s nothing inside.

I’m the only diner here. It is early o’clock but the attention feels a little overwhelming. Almost every mouthful is followed by a question about how good it is. And mostly the answer is pretty good.

Michael Deane comes out in chef’s whites to chat at the end of the meal. I interviewed him a few years back and I stick out like a sore thumb, although the dining room has started to fill by now. He’s not manning the stoves. That job is being done by Danni Barry, who began her career in his kitchen over a decade ago, then travelled through European and Australian kitchens before working with Simon Rogan in L’Enclume and heading up his Cumbrian village restaurant Rogan and Company. Deane is proud of his protege, who he says is “on the yellow brick road” to the TV show, Great British Menu.

Her Belfast menu is a set of four, five or six tasting courses with a simple pricing system. Four is £40, five is £50 and six is ... yes £60. One of the lovely things in it is a simple bowl with a duck egg yolk in the middle. Cooking the yolk for an hour at 65 degrees has turned it from a spill into a delicious ooze and there is a well-judged sprinkling of crunch with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, finished with a salt-roasted celeriac.

The yolk is the first of four courses and a couple of snacks come before it. There’s a bowl of seaweed scratchings which taste like a prawn cracker with a sprinkling of dried briny green on it. Better is the mouthful-sized brioche filled with onion cream and crispy onion on top, although it’s oddly warmer in the middle than on the outside.

After the yolk there’s a beautiful plate of lobster with fluffy sweetcorn puree dotted with nutty shards of crispy chicken skin. The lobster meat is quiveringly fresh but saltier than an x-rated sea shanty. If the thinking was to counter all the sweetness of the corn and the lobster, I think salt was probably the wrong answer.

We get back on track with the next course, pieces of tongue-pink Loire valley pigeon breast sliced into chip-sized wedges and balanced on molasses caramelised carrots.

There’s a lovely pre-dessert, which I enjoy more than the dessert. It’s a fluffy yoghurt mousse with crumbs of brown butter biscuit and beads of celery granita giving a great texture combination of cold, creamy and crunch. Dessert is a fudgy brownie with spiced milk ice cream which is cinnamon-laced and a pumpkin ice cream which is challengingly savoury, like the pumpkin tuille that reminds me of those virtuous rubbery veggie crisps I’ve tried, and failed, to get my children to like.

Small confession to finish. Belfast gave me the heebie geebies for ages, a legacy of being sent up as a news reporter during the last century on short bewildering tours of duty. I got over myself and got to like the city, not least because of the chutzpah and ambition of its food scene.

There are a few wrinkles that need ironing but Eipic feels like a promising addition to that scene. Danni Barry is a talented cook and Michael Deane is a shrewd businessman who’s given her a big blingy room in which to shine.

Dinner for one, with a glass of champagne and a coffee, came to £64.84/€81.94.

The verdict: 7.5/10 Clever cooking in an old-style posh room

Facilities: Shared with Love Fish

Music: Elevator euro jazz

Food provenance: Not on the menu but waitstaff are knowledgeable

Wheelchair access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Limited