Tension, and release. That's how Danni Barry masters her cooking in Eipic, the upmarket, glam room of Michael Deanes con-joined trio of restaurants in the centre of Belfast.
A little starter of Wye Valley asparagus in a tiny pastry filo with a bacon cream is so poised, so tense with delicate flavours, that it's high-wire cooking, right from the off. Then comes a linseed cracker with fresh cheese, a dice of new vegetables, and a micro-dice of fines herbs, and Ms Barry once again has us on the edge of our seats, so tense and nuanced is the balance of the ingredients.
Then she ramps it up: a third taster of heritage tomato with lovage emulsion and bone marrow crumb is so definingly good that I actually said: “Ok, I can just stop now. I can go home happy right now.’
But if I had stopped, I would have missed a superb white roll, a terrific slice of brown seed bread, and a quenelle of Abernethy butter so artfully spooned that we asked each other: how did they do that?
And I would have regretted, for the rest of my life, if I hadn't had Ms Barry’s gently cooked duck yolk with broad beans, tiny lettuce leaves, puffed grains and Belfast chorizo, a masterly display of delicacy, poise and culinary intelligence.
Tension, tension, of the most delightful kind and then: release.
With main courses of Mourne mountain lamb with black garlic, wild garlic, lamb jus, baked pink fir apple potatoes and white asparagus, Ms Barry suddenly opens the plot wide, as we head to the climax. The dish is beautifully delivered, but two garlics and a jus is just too much. Turbot, with roasted bone sauce and coastal greens isn't as in-your-face, but it's still a wallop of a dish, albeit leavened a little by some beautifully cooked kohlrabi, and a kohlrabi purée (kohlrabi is this years celeriac.)
After two such big dishes, a pudding of strawberries, with strawberry and elderflower mousse and elderflower curd, is like an elfin thing bulldozed by the big climax that came before. And whilst it's a neat little idea, a tiny strawberry doughnut just doesn't work, proving Ms Barry is human, after all.
Afterwards, as you try to tease out the elements of her cooking in your mind, you realise that Danni Barry cooks a lot like her boss. Michael Deane’s brilliance has always lain with his ability to give a dish whatever it needs, and no more. Ms Barry cooks with the same economy, and precision, and the same clear picture of what end result she wants on the plate.
And the success of Eipic, and his twin destinations of Love Fish and The Meat Locker, suggests that Mr Deane himself, in his confident middle-age, has become a restaurateur as accomplished as he is a cook. He is certainly helped in this regard by the work of Bronagh Smith, one of the best managers in the game.
The Eipic room is glam, and do try to go as the guest of a hedge fund manager, as the list of Billecart Salmon champagnes calls out for someone with deep pockets who wants to show you a good time. If you can't manage that, no problem: Ms Barry's cooking will ensure you have the best time, whatever.
deaneseipic.com. 28-40 Howard Street, Belfast