Deanes at Queens is a restaurant located in what used to be the Queen’s University Common Room, and opened in 2006. It is around the corner from the magnificent Queens University building, perhaps the finest piece of architecture in Belfast. It is a large brasserie style restaurant seating 145 covers at any one time, with two further private dining rooms. There is outside terrace seating in nice weather, which was well utilised on this remarkably warm September evening. There is a long bar with a view into the kitchen behind, and tables were quite well spaced. There is an informal feel, with no tablecloths and bare floor, and although there was music playing it was quiet enough that noise levels were not too high, despite the hard surfaces and quite low ceiling. The head chef here is Malachy McCafferty, and overseeing things tonight was executive chef of the Deanes restaurant group, Chris Fearon, who previously worked at Shu in Belfast. The menu format is a la carte, with a fixed course menu at £24 for three courses. A vegan and also a vegetarian menu were offered too.
The wine list ranged from £22.95 to £75 in price, with most wines under £30. The list featured labels such as Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2018 from Swartland at £29.95 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £13, Kilikanoon Killermans Run Shiraz 2016 at £45 compared to its retail price of £17, and Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block 2017 at £57.50 for a wine that will set you back £23 in a shop.
We began the meal with a special of the day, spicy fried salt and chilli squid with garlic and ginger mayonnaise, which had strips of chilli mixed in with the squid itself. This was very good, the squid tender, the batter light and the mayonnaise genuinely spicy, having a pleasing kick of chilli (14/20). Another special of the day was warm leek and potato soup with spring onion and mature cheddar, served with crusty bread. This was a simple but enjoyable hearty soup, being nicely seasoned (13/20).
Butternut squash tart featured candied walnuts, shavings of Comte and pear. This was a nice combination, the walnuts bringing an extra texture and the pear effectively balancing the flavour of the squash (14/20). I had local chicken with girolle mushrooms, celeriac, parsnip and spinach and a deeply flavoured chicken jus, with a bowl of Parmesan polenta on the side. The chicken had good flavour and was carefully cooked, the vegetables were fine and I was particularly taken by the jus, which was a chicken stock that had been reduced to a rich consistency, and could have easily appeared from a much grander kitchen than this (15/20). Side dishes were capable, with good champ, crisp triple cooked chips and lightly cooked broccoli with well-made Hollandaise (14/20).
Portions here are generous, and we barely made it to a shared dessert, lemon custard tart with meringue and passion fruit with a couple of tuiles. The meringue could have been a touch crisper and I have eaten more delicate tuiles, but the fruit flavours were good (13/20). Service was good, if a bit stretched at times on a very busy Friday evening. The bill per person including cocktails came to £60. If you went for the shorter menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might be around £55. Overall Deanes at Queens delivers well-made and appealing food in a casual atmosphere, and seems to be prospering based on the full dining room this evening.