Connie McKenna revels in the sheer wonder of Gareth McCaughey’s Muddler’s Club.
There could be a thousand statements written about the atmosphere of the Muddlers Club, Gareth McCaughey’s Belfast restaurant.
State of the art; feisty; hip; bold; slick; contemporary. Or simply beautiful. At one point, in the middle of lunch, I forgot that I was in Belfast. How does the Muddlers Club manage to take you away from your current geographical location? Because the cooking and interiors of this modernist environment transports the mind to – let’s say – New York or San Francisco, or Sydney. But Muddlers Club doesn’t fall under the style of post-modern and clichéd capital city cuisine, which is why it is so effortlessly chic. Muddlers is its own space and its own place.
On a Friday lunchtime, walking past the open kitchen, the sight of two fat red peppers being grilled within seemed only so wonderful. My dish of summer vegetables, aubergine, black olive and chili, resembled a garden of earthly delights. The puréed aubergine was the angel on the Christmas tree of this dish, but each ingredient was sympathetically supporting. I owe the Muddlers team big gratitude, as they introduced me to the delightful combination of black olives and chili. It greeted us warmly in a side dish of broccoli and moments like these are when our plant friends are to be truly loved.
As for the meat and fish tastings, flat iron steak proudly peeks a statement about smart sourcing and sharp cooking. Even the label ‘flat iron’ has an Ulster ring to it, and a strong willed one. Beautifully cooked hake with a crispy skin and sweet flesh was perfect.
More art on the plate danced all the way to our table when it was time to experience the sweeter side of things. Chocolate, malt and praline bears a resemblance to something space age and constructivist. Lemon, creme fraiche and strawberry, something we might normally associate with country cottage tea parties, all of a sudden becomes a miniature sculpture, as if the artist has polished every millimetre of detail and applied a light and subliminal colour scheme.
The team at the Muddlers Club understand hospitality on an almost phenomenal scale. If you appreciate wine, they will write down details of the bottle which you sampled, even telling you where you can get it. Once a dish arrives right in front of you, they explain everything about it in a meticulous manner, as well as being hands-on in telling you how and why things were made.
The ability to explain to the eater everything about their dish demonstrates a quiet professionalism, and is a subtle reminder of the skill and wonders of a dish being born. And there is a true sense of wonder about this brilliant Belfast destination that marks it out as special.
Warehouse Lane, Belfast BT1 028 9031 3199 themuddlersclubbelfast.com