Back in the day, there was never a tradition of fine dining in Northern Ireland. Taking drink at any business meeting – or rather buying drink for a client, was considered somewhat unethical. If people did go out, it was for high tea, and a number of smart locations in the city offered this meal, often served mid-afternoon.
Whilst Dublin had restaurants like Whites on the Green or The Mirabeau, Belfast had its high tea destinations. It was, back then, a quite different culture.
Back in the 1980s, things changed. Michael Deane was foremost amongst a band of smart chefs looking to serve high end dining, a radical and exciting departure for the Northern capital, and one which produced some exceptional restaurants.
Mr Deane has always been at the vanguard of this pioneering movement, and he’s still there today, thirty years on. Nowadays, he oversees the room – indeed all his restaurant rooms – always wearing his traditional whites, even though he is no longer 100% behind the stoves. Alex Green is the head chef of EIPIC now, having joined after the departure of Danni Barry in 2017. This year Green retained the restaurant’s star.
Chef Alex has preserved a number of tropes associated with EIPIC, whether they be hallmarks of Barry’s Cooking, or indeed that of Deane's. The meal in EIPIC always begins with some home-made breads and a quenelle of Abernethy butter. The roasted bone sauce for fish, and the use of kholrabi to make a background purée, all survived the change of chef.
Alex’s cooking has added his own purity of purpose. Highlights of a recent dinner were an ethereal dollop of browned Abernethy butter, sprinkled with browned butter crumbs, served with caramelised Belfast Black Ale soda bread. Just delicious. Or a crystal tomato water with basil oil – a base for some just-cooked lobster, embellished with frisée endive and borage flowers. Perfection.
A dish of duck looked resplendent with a dramatic steamed chard leaf - its white veins looking like some sort of Day Of The Dead skeleton. Halibut came with that classic EIPIC pairing of bone sauce and kohlrabi. We loved the little leaves of kohlrabi that had been stamped out to perfect circles, whilst the bone sauce is intense and luscious. A magic combination of a dish.
There is a lightness and humour in Alex’s cooking, with a lot of flourish, and impressive purity. And Deane’s is remarkable for staying on top of its game, telling the message of resplendent dining for so long, and so well. Only the old school, over-fussy wine service jars a little in an otherwise smooth production, and Belfast dining would be a poorer place without Michael Deane and his starry colleagues.