The North Star - Irish Times Gloss Magazine December 2011

Posted: 1/12/2011

The North Star

Belfast may have been stripped of its only Michelin star, but

KATY MC GUINNESS finds plenty to rave about at Circle at Deanes

Circle at Deanes.jpg 

Bernard Loiseau was the French chef who committed suicide after a full day in the kitchen rather than face the loss of his restaurant’s third Michelin star. As it happened, La Côte d’Or in Burgundy retained its star and does so to this day. When Deanes lost the star that it had held since 1997 last January, Michael Deane took a more philosophical approach. His flagship restaurant had had a tough year, having been badly damaged in a flood that saw it shut for four months during inspection season. He had seen the fall from grace coming, yet graciously showed up to the announcement in London and vowed to up his game in the hope of better news in 2012. On the evidence of a recent Saturday night , he has cause for optimism.

Downstairs in the main dining room, smartly refurbished and with a warm, brasserie feel and menu to match, there’s the happy buzz that fills a room when a restaurant operates as a well-oiled machine. In the adjacent Seafood Bar, all white in contrast, diners are horsing into majestic seafood platters – the marinated sardines are exceptional, the lobster sweet and succulent. Upstairs, though, is Michael Deane’s latest venture – Circle at Deanes. Décor-wise, there’s more than a touch of bordello about the place – lots of red and big mirrors and low lighting. (So low, in fact, that at times it was hard to see what we were eating.) In the open kitchen here is Ian Atkinson, a young man in a hurry who has pitched up in Belfast after a two -year stint with the Michelin- starred David Thompson at Nahm. Thompson is the Australian chef regarded as the finest exponent of Thai cuisine in the world and his influence is right across the menu at Circle, making for some exciting flavours and plenty of vitality.

Circle at Deanes describes itself as a gastro club, which is another way of saying that it offers a selection of small plates (very trendy these days) that can be ordered individually (prices range from £4-£12) or as a seven-course tasting menu priced at £50 (£90 including matching wines). The ambience at Circle encourages punters to stay late and dance after dinner if the mood takes them. It is, by all accounts, where le tout Belfast goes to do just that.

A crab wonton in clear shellfish soup spiced with chilli, ginger and lemongrass gets things off to a zingy start. Caramelised pork belly is unctuous and rich, the fattiness of the meat – initial efforts to trim the fat are soon abandoned by all – is offset by a mustard miso salsa and a very good, fruity Marlborough Riesling, Forrest Estate The Doctors’ 2010. For me, the standout dish is the panfried Strangford scallops with tea-smoked duck, coriander, mint and – surprisingly – lychee. It’s a devastatingly good combination of ingredients. Next up is fillet of beef topped with a sliver of foie gras (it looks like porcini mushroom in the dim light) and accompanied by triple - cooked chips that are rather special – always a good sign. I hate it when a restaurant is too posh to do good chips. The cheese course comes as a parmesan pastry of Cashel Blue and caramelised pear that is pretty delicious, accompanied by a glass of Maury, Fagayra Rouge 2009. By the time we get to pudding I am slowing down and can manage but a mouthful of chocolate fondant with honeycomb and vanilla ice cream – enough to know that it’s up to the same high standard as everything that has preceded it. All told, this was a very fine meal.

Circle at Deanes 36-40 Howard Street, Belfast 028 9033 1134

Back to News