Coco rein­vents it­self to com­pete with the best

On a freez­ing cold Mon­day lunchtime this Belfast city cen­tre restau­rant puts a warm glow in our re­viewer’s heart and makes his ‘must visit’ list

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FOOD -

It’s been six years since I was in CoCo, the Li­nen­hall Street restau­rant owned by tal­ented fire­ball Ja­son More. He wasn’t too happy with the last re­view and took me to task about it a few months later when we bumped into each other. More re­cently, I bumped into some of his very charm­ing staff at an event in Dublin. They sug­gested a re­turn visit would re­veal much im­prove­ment and new think­ing.

So here I am on a cold and charm­less Mon­day lunchtime. Thank­fully I am in good com­pany af­ter work mate Claire agreed to take on spad du­ties for to­day.

It’s Baltic out­side and CoCo’s warm em­brace is wel­come. No draughts or chilly cor­ners here. Big booths, gold leafed, 18th cen­tury Ital­ian cir­cus-style art work and low light­ing makes the place in­stantly in­ti­mate. There’s a fair sprin­kling of week­end sur­vivors in for some for­ti­fi­ca­tion and all is well.

It’s a very odd time of the week to go out for lunch but there’s some­thing sooth­ing and sta­bil­is­ing about a clean, white, cot­ton ta­ble cloth and a de­cent list of wines by the glass.

Also re­as­sur­ing is the im­me­di­acy of things in CoCo. There is some­one there to greet you, menus are quickly dis­trib­uted, an as­sump­tion has been made that it’s a school day there­fore you’ll be want­ing to eat and go pretty swiftly.

But not so abruptly that you couldn’t en­joy a glass of Ger­man pinot noir, the likes of which I have paid three times the price in posher palaces.

This is what the CoCo team rec­om­mends: a Peth Werth pinot noir which at £7.75 a shot is re­mark­able. It tastes like a 20-year-old Nuit St Ge­orges, darkly sub­tle, meaty, with a tiny hint of salt.

The same team rec­om­mends one or two items and it dawns on me that there is fresh vigour in CoCo, a new mood, a sense of com­pet­i­tive­ness. On closer in­spec­tion it turns out that cel­e­brated chef Paul Water­worth is in the kitchen. The charm­ing staff I met the pre­vi­ous week? That would be Abby Dun­lop. Dun­lop and Water­worth are be­hind the great­est re­nais­sance of any restau­rant I have wit­nessed in Belfast. Frankly, they are the dream team. The com­bi­na­tion of front of house hos­pi­tal­ity and at­ten­tive­ness (she is not alone — stal­wart head of ser­vice Rory is there too) and bul­let-proof qual­ity from the kitchen, is a new and un­ex­pected force. CoCo is back. And they’ve got that lunchtime thing run­ning as smoothly as any Parisian city cen­tre brasserie. No rush, but no hang­ing around ei­ther — they know you’ve got to be back at work, but you’re pay­ing so you set the pace. A baked beet­root starter and an ap­ple and blue cheese salad are am­ple, crunchy and mushy in the right places, the spec­trum of flavours en­tirely ex­plored from sweet and tangy fruit to bit­ter soft peni­cil­lium and added salty crispi­ness from a slice or two of melba toast.

A ma­gret of mal­lard, fon­dant pota­toes, porcini, date and red wine jus and some cavolo nero with a gen­er­ous dol­lop of parsnip cream is flaw­less. Win­ter flavours and tex­tures are all there, boun­ti­ful, com­plete and ex­cit­ing. It’s as good as you will find any­where.

The monk­fish is plen­ti­ful and the pasta has good flavour although per­haps not the squid ink depths we had ex­pected. It’s hon­est to good­ness fine and right for the price.

The warm pave of choco­late with peanut brit­tle and ba­nana ice cream is mem­o­rable and comes to an end far too soon.

The em­pha­sis on tim­ing in CoCo is ev­i­dent through the ex­press menu. There are four dishes to choose from the ex­press mains in­clud­ing IN­TI­MATE SUR­ROUND­INGS: salt and chilli veni­son, seafood risotto, that nice monk­fish and seafood lin­guini.

The menu changes ev­ery day. Give it a rat­tle.

CoCo has rein­vented it­self. Dun­lop and Water­worth have cre­ated a restau­rant which com­petes head on in terms of qual­ity of food and ser­vice with Love Fish, Meat Locker and James Street. Se­ri­ously. Sal­ads x 2 ........................................... £10 Mal­lard .......................................... £12.50 Monk­fish ......................................... £9.50 Glass pinot noir .............................. £7.75 Glass Chenin blanc ........................ £5.50 Cof­fee x 2 ............................................ £5 Sparkling wa­ter ............................. £3.95 To­tal: ............................................. £54.20

CoCo’s wel­com­ing in­te­rior

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