Michael Deane has a gift for knowing just what to put on the plate, an ability to understand just what a dish needs. Whether it be a Malai curry, a jerk chicken or a dish of fish and chips, the accompaniments and garnishes will be totally appropriate for the dish.
On the night we were in his Love Fish - one of three side-by-side Belfast restaurant rooms, sandwiched between Meat Locker and Eipic – we chose a daily special of hake, which came with tender-stem broccoli, capers, brown butter and mash; and a Jerk chicken, which came with a wedge of corn-on-the-cob and a gently acidic yogurt and coriander sauce.
Preceding this we shared a starter of salt and chilli squid. There was a time when the national dish of the U.K. was pronounced to be chicken tikka masala, as created by Marks and Spencer. In Belfast the national dish has to be salt and chilli squid. Belfast has always had a thriving Chinese community and this dish pops up on so many Belfast menus. I always order it.
True to form, Michael Deane doesn't pimp up the recipe with Western garnishes: he goes straight to the heart of the dish, serving little cylinders of crisscross patterned fish in a crispy, spicy floured coating. Garnished with chilli and spring onion and chilli oil, it is simple and delicious.
Portions in Love Fish are small enough to provoke a complaint from a young Spanish girl at the next table; she insisted her fillet of hake was "not a main course portion". More was proffered, and she expressed herself happy with everything except the slowness of its replacement.
Love Fish is a busy restaurant and, on the whole, runs like clockwork. We had a slight delay on dessert, mis-timed with an accompanying order of camomile tea. But the dessert, a retro champagne trifle, was definitely worth the wait.
It's was a Saturday night when we visited and all three restaurants in the Deane complex were humming. People were both eating and drinking at the bar and the tables were turning.
Recently a fellow food critic described all Deane's restaurants as being "the most consistent" places to eat in Belfast during the brief spell when he lived there, while a lauded chef told us Love Fish is one of the places he chooses to go on his night off.
Shuffling between the three restaurants these days, dressed as a chef but acting as a front of house, is Michael Deane himself, looking more relaxed than we've ever seen him.
Why shouldn't he look content? His restaurants are humming and he can look back at a legacy of providing good food to Belfast citizens longer than any other working chef in the city.
28-40 Howard Street, Belfast 028 9033 1134 www.michaeldeane.ie/lovefish