Our food critic takes the train to Belfast to sample chef Danny Millar’s Michelin-approved menu
I’ve lost count of the number of times there’s been a flurry of excitement around the possibility something might finally be about to happen to save the beautiful Iveagh Markets in the Liberties from dereliction, or turn the Fruit and Vegetable Market in Smithfield into the proper city food market every resident wants.
Who among us with an interest in food has not returned home from a trip to Barcelona or Lyons or Lisbon or London or even — goddammit — Cork and wondered what we, in Dublin, have ever done to be denied a permanent covered market of our own?
Overlooking St George’s Market in Belfast is Stock Kitchen from veteran Northern Irish chef Danny Millar, which last year was a new entry into the Michelin Guide. Stock is open from Thursday to Sunday, and because it’s located within a five-minute walk of Lanyon Place station it’s an easy excursion by train for lunch or an early dinner.
I imagine, during the day, when the market is in full flow, the place you want to sit is on the balcony overlooking the action below, but early on a Friday evening, we’re happy to be in the main dining room. By the time we’re finished and heading for the last train home, the place is full and buzzing nicely.
First things first, the menu reads brilliantly. We want to order everything.
Killough oysters come with a shallot and Armagh apple dressing that catches us right at the back of the throat, but I wish we’d ordered more than one each of Luc Bonnargent’s briny little beauties.
Stock serves its ‘traditional’ Irish crubeens with ‘green sauce’. I ask our waiter what’s in it, but the recipe is so highly prized, it appears to be on a par with the third secret of Fatima — one of those, ‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you’ revelations. This seems a little excessive, given that it’s a herby mayonnaise-like emulsion with a kick from capers and garlic, but it’s delicious nonetheless.
There’s no getting away from the modest origins of the crubeens themselves, but with the tender foot meat combined with herbs, breaded and deep-fried, they are meltingly, piggily delicious.
Strangford prawns with wild garlic butter, lemon and char-grilled sourdough arrive with a quarter of braised Little Gem and a soupçon of the top-secret green sauce for good measure. The prawns are a tad overcooked but still tasty.
Our other starter is a dish of smoked Lough Neagh eel and potato tart with fennel, new-season asparagus and salad cream. It’s slightly disappointing because, while the custard-like consistency of the tart is wobbly-pleasant, the flavour verges on bland. The eel dotted around (rather than forming part of the tart filling) is the most interesting thing, but there isn’t enough of it; I count three tiny fragments.
It seems almost sacrilegious not to order Peter Hannan’s côte de boeuf for two, but as I know — because I’ve cooked it myself at home — it’s impossible to mess up meat of this quality, I persuade my companion to go instead for the whole turbot.
This comes with roasted fish-bone sauce, clams, mussels, market vegetables and ‘proper’ chips, which are exactly like the wedges we make at home. (I would dispute the terminology here but they are flavoursome, even if not strictly ‘chips’.) The fish does not have the same blistering excitement that it does at Brat in London, the very peak of turbot excellence and where the oven is wood-fired, but it is beautifully cooked and our waiter helpfully whisks it away once we have eaten the top layer and returns it with the bone removed. It’s annoying that the table is too small to accommodate the turbot and our two plates, which hang several inches over the edge.
There is a single pea in our selection of market vegetables — fennel, courgette, old-school broccoli — but the table next door gets loads. There is nothing nicer than the first peas of the season and I am still a little sore about this, three weeks later. To finish, a fine baked chocolate tart with blood-orange marmalade and mascarpone, and Young Buck blue cheese with fruit soda bread and Armagh apple chutney. The cheese is ruined by being fridge-cold.
Millar is not present on the night of our visit, but a young female chef runs the kitchen with quiet authority. We have a bottle of Ameztoi Getariako Txakoli 2020 (11pc ABV, £36/€42.24) — slightly effervescent and all zesty minerality. With a glass of red and a soft drink, our bill comes to £172.15/€201.97, including 10pc service.
A breakfast of pork belly and black pudding croquettes with fried eggs is £11/€12.90.
Order snacks, starters, côte de boeuf and dessert for two and you’re looking at a bill of £130/€152.45.
Stock Kitchen, Oxford Street, First Floor, St George’s Market, Belfast BT13LA, stockbelfast.com