36-40 Howard Street, Belfast, County Antrim, BT1 6PF, United Kingdom

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Michael Deane first opened a restaurant in this two storey building in central Belfast in 1997, with the eponymous Restaurant Michael Deane gaining a Michelin star that same year. In 2007 the restaurant was renamed Deanes, and these days the operation has expanded to three separate restaurants on the ground floor, with the upper floor used for private dining. Eipic, one of the three current restaurants, opened in March 2014 and was awarded a Michelin star eighteen months later in September 2015 (in the 2016 UK guide), which it has retained ever since. It is part of what is now a mini empire of restaurateur Michael Deane, who currently owns seven restaurants in the city. The head chef at Eipic is Alex Greene, who began his cooking career in Deanes in 2007 and later worked at Petrus by Gordon Ramsay, Claridge’s by Gordon Ramsay and The Cliff House in Ardmore. He joined Deanes Eipic in 2017. The tasting menu was £70 in the evening, with a shorter tasting menu at £45, and a three-course lunch available for £30.

The wine list ranged from £25.95 to £875 in price, with labels such as Domaine Octavie Touraine Savignon Blanc 2017 at £29.95 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £10, Domaine du Grappilon d’Or Gigondas 2013 at £49.95 compared to its retail price of £23, and Chardonnay Estate Rochioli 2013 at £79.50 for a wine that will set you back £54 in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as Chateau de Beaucastel 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape at £165 compared to its retail price of £90, and Chateau d’Yquem 1988 at a chunky £875 for a wine whose current market value is £414. The list is to be commended for having plenty of offerings under £40, a rarity these days; we drank the excellent Chateau Musar 2011.

The meal began with a sequence of canapés. A thin chicken crisp was very delicate and tasted deeply of chicken, and even better was a linseed crisp topped with courgette chutney and verbena flowers, the chutney having terrific flavour. There was also a lovely polenta, olive oil and Parmesan fritter with French summer truffle, which had really deep cheese flavour. Finally lobster fish cake came with lobster emulsion and salmon roe, the lobster tender and its flavour working nicely with the roe (17/20 nibbles).  Bread was made in the kitchen, a choice of Belfast black soda bread with treacle, and a white bread served with local butter.

The first formal course was a pretty dish of rainbow trout that had been cured with whiskey and treacle, with trout tartare and roe, red sorrel, mustard, salt baked beetroot, ponzu dressing and dashi. This was a very successful dish, the acidity of the ponzu cutting through the natural oiliness of the fish, the beetroot adding an earthy note (17/20). Baked carrots came with carrot purée, hazelnuts, puffed wild rice, pickled mustard seeds, curly endive, tarragon and cumin-spiced yoghurt. This was all very pleasant, the carrots high quality and the cumin a nice touch (16/20).

Barbecued quail breast also came with ravioli of quail confit, with salt baked and puréed carrot with puffed wild rice, curly endive and a jus flavoured with pickled mustard seeds. This was another good dish, the confit quail ravioli in particular having excellent depth of flavour (16/20). 

Pan-roasted halibut came with beurre blanc flavoured with herring roe, cured cucumber, pickled apple and potato, roast girolles and pickled shimeji mushrooms with a garnish of sea herbs. The sauce had a nice touch of citrus and the pickled apple was very good, but the fish itself was a little overcooked, which was a shame (13/20). Glenarm shorthorn beef sirloin had foie gras and spring onion mousse with beef fat sauce, brown butter emulsion and was accompanied by a tartlet of summer vegetables. This contained runner beans, courgette, broccoli, peas and nasturtium leaves, the pastry very delicate and the vegetables having excellent flavour (17/20). A pescatarian alternative had the same vegetable tartlet garnish but instead of the meat had monkfish pan roasted with tarragon oil.

Pre dessert was fig leaf ice cream along with fresh fig and granola, which had a little salt added, which was an interesting idea (14/20). The main dessert was tarte tatin of Granny Smith apples with vanilla ice cream. The apple was cooked separately from the pastry, and was not caramelised enough, at least to my taste. However the puff pastry itself was quite good and the ice cream had plenty of vanilla flavour (15/20). Coffee was a Nespresso capsule and was accompanied by some petit fours. There was cherry nougatine, which was rather bland, white chocolate and apple marigold ganache, which was better, and best of all was a lovely passion fruit pate de fruit. 

Service was excellent, the staff attentive, patient and friendly. The bill per person came to £127. If you went for the shorter menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might be around £75. Overall, apart from the solitary blemish of the overcooked halibut, the standard of cooking was high, with an attractive menu and some very good dishes indeed. This was a strong showing, the restaurant thoroughly deserving its Michelin star.



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