Regular readers of Swankfood will know the vast majority of what I prepare is created around meat and unapologetically so. Steak in particular is something which I take great pride in cooking as a few simple tricks can make even the cheapest cuts of beef wonderful to eat. Sometimes though it's good to get out and see how the professionals do it as it provides inspiration for future recipes and a benchmark for my own cooking. Belfast is in a gastronomic boom and a constant presence throughout the economic recession and previous boom times has been Michael Deane. The Meat Locker which is part of Deane's highly acclaimed group of restaurants, based on Howard Street, has been open for around 5 years. The dining room used to be home to Michael's original Michelin starred restaurant before the building next door was acquired and three separately styled restaurants were devised. Eipic is the Michelin starred tasting menu showstopper which offers a truely fine dining experience, (headed up by the uber talented Danni Barry) with the Ronsealed named Love Fish and Meat Locker making up the trio.
I have been to the Meat Locker many times, Love Fish a few and Eipic once which was an exceptional experience. However the Meat Locker is by far my favourite of the three. The open viewed kitchen provides an excellent vantage point (sitting at the top table) to see fire and meat (my two favourite things). That meat in question is Hannan's salt aged Beef. Many people have asked me if I have an affiliation with Hannan's but I can assure you I only speak so often and so highly about their produce because of it's taste.
Atmospherically the Meat Locker is the raucous sibling of the more refined and softly spoken Epic. I was in a company of eight and it was fair to say we weren't the quietest table in the room but that was partly due to Graeme (who I will get on to later). It's also fair to say Beer, Gin, Wine and Espresso Martini's don't make for a subdued table on a Saturday night.
As is the norm in many great restaurants the menu was simple and succinct. A choice of six starters four mains and as you would expect given the restaurants name, a range of steaks. I opted for the parfait to start, which as you can see I couldn't wait to start before taking a photo. I put this down to the Gin and Graeme's one liners.
Extremely buttery and surprisingly light with the chutney adding an excellent sweetness that cut through the fattiness. The toasted slices of ciabatta provided an excellent contrasting texture for the super smooth parfait. My only criticism would be that it was perhaps too mellow for my taste with very little gaminess coming through. However I suspect I would be one of very few to share this opinion.
For main course I went for the Prime Rib which was presented on a platter to share. Basically it's a Salt Aged Rib Eye cooked whole then sliced for serving. As you can see from the picture it really is a spectacular way to present a steak with the beef dripping chips and accompanying sauces on each side. It's not actually on the menu but there is always a blackboard with sharing specials, usually Cote De Boeuf, Prime Rib or a similar high end cut. I ordered it rare, and thankfully rare it was, with bernaise and peppercorn sauce, greedy I know. The steak was perfectly cooked, perfectly rested and already seasoned with rock salt. I couldn't fault one single aspect of the steak.
The beef dripping chips I presume due to their crispness were triple cooked and the Bearnaise was thick, buttery with the slightest hint of vinegar, a complete delight. But one thing did let it down! Why do chefs put whole peppercorns in their pepper sauce? You may think I'm nitpicking, i'm not, 'just bloody scrape them off' I hear you say. But if you end up biting into one or God forbid two rogue peppercorns then that mouthful is well and truly ruined.
Anyway I must admit it was full on gluttony, but when in Rome. If I was ever on death row, for killing chefs for putting whole peppercorns in their sauce, this would be my last meal. Haute Cuisine, tasting menus and Michelin stars all have their place. I can really appreciated the extreme skill levels Michelin chefs possess in having the ability to confuse the brain with flavours you didn't know exited. But this is my style of food and essentially what Swankfood aspires to.
This is Graeme. Where do I start with Graeme? Graeme was probably one of the main reasons we had such an excellent night. Remember at the start I said the Meat Locker was the raucous sibling of the more refined and softly spoken Epic? Well this was due to Graeme. He is not refined or softly spoken, more of a Rab C Nesbitt sounding, Tommy Cooper wise cracking waiter. The service levels in Deanes is always excellent, attentive, personable but without being intrusive. If only every restaurant had a Graeme.
To sum up The Meat Locker is definitely up there with one of my favourite places to be in Belfast and I hope that will be the case for years to come.
Check out their website at http://www.michaeldeane.co.uk/meat-locker/