Queen’s Quar­ter gas­tro pub a wel­come ad­di­tion to the club

New south Belfast venue’s kitchen shows prom­ise, but front-of-house staffing lev­els need ur­gent at­ten­tion or clien­tele will look else­where

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FOOD -

There is a lack of pubs which serve good food in Belfast. When Meghan and Harry “nipped” into the Crown Bar for lunch last month, many of us swal­lowed hard in dis­be­lief. Of all the places in the city which serve lunch so good you would rec­om­mend to any vis­i­tor, the Crown would be the last on the list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beau­ti­ful bar, the beers are among the best in the land and the staff are charm­ing (well, Michael Cos­grove is). The food, how­ever, is, in my opin­ion, barely ed­i­ble.

There are few pubs in the city where you can en­joy a pint and/or a meal. We don’t do gas­tro pubs as well as we do restau­rants, bistros and brasseries. Ex­cep­tions in­clude Sweet Afton, Stoker’s Halt and the Al­bany.

How­ever, the new House on Botanic Av­enue should by right be a con­tender for this cat­e­gory. It has a bar at which you can park your­self and or­der a pint, or you can book a ta­ble, as I did for seven of us for lunch this week.

The in­te­rior is strik­ing. The sheer amount of rough tim­ber pan­elling and shelv­ing, along with a big cherry tree at the bar, is al­most over­whelm­ing.

If the bar trade is show­busi­ness, then House is a film set. It’s all very Lemony Snicket, and there is a strong whiff of steam-punk — it has that kooky Ed­war­dian sa­lon-cum-lab­o­ra­tory-cum-li­brary sense. Fat arm­chairs, plenty of vel­vet up­hol­stery and par­quet floor­ing com­plete the ec­cen­tric vibe con­vinc­ingly.

But it was also, to con­tinue the Lemony anal­ogy, home to a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate long waits. I blame not the staff but the staffing. Too few peo­ple on the floor try­ing to do too much cre­ates a pal­pa­ble mood in any restau­rant.

The staff here are very good, but too much has been asked of them and, as a re­sult, they can’t do their jobs prop­erly. This frus­trates them and us, and the ex­pe­ri­ence be­comes stress­ful. What hap­pens in these sit­u­a­tions is you wait an age for things to hap­pen, you be­come ag­i­tated, the server be­comes wearily in­hos­pitable and the whole thing turns sour. This didn’t quite reach that point, but al­most. I was de­ter­mined to have a pleas­ant time with friends and fam­ily, but it was test­ing. The sim­ple lunch menu is stan­dard bar food and apt. There are sand­wiches, soups and slid­ers and a driz­zle of pub food clas­sics in­clud­ing fish and chips, crab claws, chicken wings and sal­ads. And there are chips. Very good skin-on, match­stick fries. There are some very in­ter­est­ing wines on the card in­clud­ing a Viog­nier from Chapoutier Mirabel, a Span­ish Al­barino and a Langue­doc rose. There are recog­nis­ables like pros­ecco at £26, and the amaz­ingly good Am­pelom­eryx, all min­er­ally and daz­zling, a fab­u­lous dry white, is also well-priced at £28 a bot­tle (Picpoul is listed here as an Ital­ian wine, but ig­nore that be­cause apart from any­thing it’s too dear at £26).

There are very good fin­ger foods: the hot wings did the rounds and more had to be or­dered. And the same thing hap­pened with the im­pres­sive chilli crab claws. Slid­ers of beef brisket, pulled pork and chipo­tle chicken were ex­cel­lent with shiny, but­tery brioche buns.

But per­haps the win­ner of the day was the House club sand­wich. This clas­sic com­fort food was one of the best com­bi­na­tions of ba­con, chicken, tomato and let­tuce, and it took a while to un­der­stand what it was about it that made it so good.

We reck­oned the white bread, toasted to be both crispy and soft, but with that ir­re­sistible sweet, starchy flavour, which is so bad for us, was the rea­son.

The House Here­ford beef burger was also ex­cep­tion­ally good, com­ing with Stripey Jack cheese, Bal­ly­maloe relish, a vast onion ring the size of a life-sav­ing buoy­ancy float and those skinny fries. Also in the mix was a chipo­tle corn slaw, which didn’t re­ally work. You can only do so much with coleslaw be­fore it’s ruined.

The only other black mark was for the QUIRKY LOOK: mush­room, pea and parme­san risotto, which was too thick and heavy.

It’s a shame that the ser­vice was so hair-grey­ingly slow. Staff are crit­i­cal now, and find­ing good peo­ple in the restau­rant and bar trade is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult. House is clear ev­i­dence of this emerg­ing cri­sis.

If they can sort out the num­bers for the front-of-house team to match the qual­ity of the food, it will be a win­ner. House club sand­wich ......................... £7 Slid­ers x 3 .......................................... £10 Risotto ................................................ £9 Crab claw pil pil x 3 ............................ £20 Hake and chips .................................. £11 Burger x 2 .......................................... £24 Chicken wings x 2 .............................. £14 Bot­tle pros­ecco ................................. £26 Bot­tle Am­pelom­eryx ........................ £28 Skinny fries x 3 .................................... £9 House salad .......................................... £3 To­tal: ................................................ £161

the un­usual in­te­rior of House and (be­low) the out­side

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