When it comes to a city break there has never been a more exciting time to visit Belfast, favourable exchange rates, great bars, good shopping and a vibrant restaurant scene make this city one of our favourite foodie hotspots at the moment.
There are very few restaurants we haven’t sampled in these parts as we regularly take the short two hour drive from Dublin on weekends, however one that has proved elusive on past trips was the highly acclaimed Muddlers Club.
Tucked away on Warehouse Lane, close to the now iconic Duke of York bar in the Cathedral Quarter, The Muddlers Club proved a little harder to find than expected. Given its lack of passing trade it says a lot about the calibre of food here that it’s one of the hardest spots to secure a booking in on any given weekend.
After a few gentle directions we eventually stumbled upon the hidden side street that houses the slick premises with only a mysterious graffiti inking on a nearby wall giving any indication we are heading in the right direction. The air of secrecy only heightens the surprise when you eventually do reach The Muddlers Club.
Many comparisons have been made to OX, one of the city’s stand out Michelin destinations, given the fact that Muddlers Head Chef and owner Gareth McCaughey was formerly a chef there, however this feels like a very different experience from OX.
McGaughey has hired a strong team out front and we were warmly welcomed with genuine Belfast charm from restaurant manager Barry who talked us through the menu.
One thing Muddlers does have in common with Ox is an impressive and eclectic wine list, with a secret fine wine menu by the glass delivered in a little leather satchel for you to uncover.
The layout of the room is pared back, minimal design with an almost industrial feel to it, yet somehow it still manages to feel warm and inviting. A very open kitchen provided much entertainment on the evening as we watched the team barely take a breath the whole night.
Our evening began with a stunning starter of Scallops with subtle hints of curry, a sprinkling of hazelnut and picture perfect presentation. This was an education in how to be original and one of the most impressive scallop dishes we’ve stumbled upon in some time.
Across the table arrived a substantial portion of Wicklow Venison Carpaccio, thinly sliced discs formed a uniform circle of deliciousness, cooked clearly by an experienced and competent hand, with shards of celeriac, edible flowers and beetroot creating an explosion of flavour.
Given how impressive the starters were, we had high hopes for our mains and rightly so. Our Skeaghnore Duck can only be described as a “theatre of food” on a plate.
McGaughey has a strong emphasis on good quality seasonal ingredients, he has kept his menu simple yet every plate had so many striking elements – charred heritage carrots, foie gras, radish, almond, all seasoned to perfection and drizzled in a miso sauce which had a beautiful depth of flavour.
With such a diverse wine list we decide to go a little left field with our choice and opt for a Stellenbosch favourite – DeMorgenzon, Maestro 2015, this rich spicy white was more than capable of handling the flavour explosion of our second main of succulent Salt Dried Beef, girolles, egg, shallot and a sea green dill purée. With cooking of this calibre it can only be a matter of time before Michelin come knocking with some serious accolades.
Desserts were equally as impressive, we decided to share a nostalgic sounding Rice Pudding, unlike any we can remember from our childhood, no stodgy pud here, instead arrived an elegantly plated bullion of creamy pudding served with poached peaches, white chocolate and a show-stopping lavender ice-cream.
The Muddlers Club may be hard to find but it is beyond worth seeking out. Service was second to none, relaxed, informal yet attentive where needed. McGaughey’s food is exciting, innovative and most importantly damn tasty! We look forward to many return visits.
Dinner for two including wine came to €156.26
The Muddlers Club,
(Just off Waring St or Exchange Place)
REVIEW BY JULES MAHON