“ 7 Lesley House Shaftesbury Square, Belfast. tel = 028 90 331532 „
Recently I went to Belfast for a few days on a hen weekend. We decided to have one very nice meal out, and eat more cheaply on the other days. After some investigation we decided to choose Cayenne for that meal, partly because of good reviews, partly because of their set menu offer and partly because it was in a good location. Not until we arrived, after a chat with a taxi driver, did we realise that it was owned by Paul Rankin, a TV chef who regularly appears on Saturday Kitchen and other such shows. Personally I couldn't care less about that, but it appeared to have some appeal to other members of the group!
As I've said, part of the reason we chose to eat here was the location. The restaurant is based on Shaftesbury Square, close to the centre of Belfast and part of the 'Golden Mile' of bars, restaurants and clubs where most tourists to the city seem to end up at some point. We got a taxi there but there are buses that serve that road regularly, so it's very accessible in that sense. I couldn't comment on parking except to say there's nothing obvious on site, and you'd probably be looking at paying city centre rates to park nearby.
We were welcomed pleasantly by a door host, who held open the door for all eight of us. We had booked and our table was ready, but we were invited to have a drink in the waiting area first. The waiting area is in the window, perfectly placed to watch the world go by on the busy road outside if you're waiting for someone. It's packed with comfortable sofas, benches and stools, and I can't imagine it ever gets full as there seem to be more seats there than in the actual restaurant. We went up the bar to order a drink but were told to take a seat and someone would come over to take our order. The drinks we ordered were delivered quickly and were all correct, and the group of girls who chose to share a bottle of Prosecco had it poured out for them very professionally. We were given menus to look at while we were waiting and there was also a bowl of popcorn to nibble on! The popcorn was unfortunately quite stale, and it was spiced in some way - I'm guessing with cayenne? It wasn't the most pleasant of snacks but had it been fresh some people might have enjoyed it.
Whilst we were having a drink I got chance to have a good look around the restaurant and appreciate the décor. I have to honestly say it wasn't exactly to my taste, but I can see the style they were going for. A dominant colour was orange, not one of my favourite colours, and this contrasted with a lot of white, black leather and wood. It's very modern, and I can see it becoming dated quite quickly. Still, it's definitely recognisable and unique, if a little too 'trendy' for my taste. I'd say this restaurant was more suited to couples and groups of friends. It's quite a stiff atmosphere and not really family friendly at all. I saw no sign of a children's menu and didn't see any children around anywhere. Most of the young, trendy servers looked like they probably wouldn't have a clue what to do if a family with a couple of kids walked in!
We were seated on a clean table with plenty of space for the eight of us. It was a round table (which I prefer as it makes it easier for people to converse) laid with a crisp white cloth and napkins, which for some reason featured a huge lump of driftwood in the middle. This was swiftly removed as we needed the space for our drinks. We've definitely got our priorities right! The seats were comfortable, which I appreciated as I get back pain without support, which can mar many restaurant experiences for me.
We had a choice between the set menu and the a la carte. Many of us went for the set menu, which was priced at three courses for £23, but I went a la carte as I didn't especially fancy any of the choices. If you're going on a budget, then don't worry as there is plenty of choice on the set menu - I just fancied splashing out on a steak! The a la carte menu features starters such as soup, mussels, duck and squid at around £6 to £8, mains including lamb, chicken and monkfish at around £15 to £20 and desserts like panacotta and chocolate pave at around £7. I didn't notice any specials at all, although the menu does offer a fish choice which changes daily. Drinks are obviously quite pricy, with the cheapest bottle of wine being £21, and my soft drink, the tiniest Coke in the world, packed with tons of ice, costing a disappointing £1.75!
Once we'd ordered, we were waiting around ten minutes for our starters, which I felt was reasonable. I had ordered the Ryefield goat's cheese, with asparagus, filo crisps and beetroot textures. I'm not a beetroot fan, so asked for it without, and was told that beetroot was 'the main part of the dish' and without it there would just be 'a bit of goat's cheese and some asparagus'. I did wonder, why, then, it was listed as goat's cheese on the menu, with the beetroot mentioned as an afterthought, but clearly the beetroot was used to bulk out the dish! The waitress kindly offered to see if the chef could do something else with the dish, and it arrived with celeriac puree and radish instead. I'm not a celeriac fan either, but at least it doesn't have as pungent a taste as beetroot, so it was easily ignored. Overall, the dish was absolutely incredible and was one of those plates you keep imagining to yourself days later! The goat's cheese was intensely flavoursome and really packed a punch even though there wasn't much of it. The asparagus was perfectly cooked, and the filo crisps had a touch of honey that balanced that tang of the goat's cheese delightfully. I would order this dish time and time again with pleasure.
We were all busy chatting away so it took us a while to finish our starters. There wasn't much of a gap between the starters and the mains in the end, even though one person at the table had ordered a well done steak, but it didn't feel rushed. My main, the Angus sirloin with chophouse butter, red wine, hand cut chips and a rocket salad, arrived looking divine. The steak came first, with the butter and wine over the top, and on a separate plate was a bowl of chunky chips and a bowl of salad.
The steak itself was huge. There was no weight listed on the menu but I'd say this was probably at least 12oz before cooking. I had asked for it medium (not my favourite way to eat it but good for my wavering iron levels) and it came cooked perfectly, with a hot pink centre. It practically melted in my mouth and there was no stringy fat running through it. The chips were delicious, crisp and hot with soft middles. If there was anything wrong with these it's that there were too many of them - the whole main dish was incredibly filling! Although £21 did seem high for a main course, this was a very high quality steak cooked beautifully and I was thrilled with it. I didn't know there was going to be a rocket salad and I didn't touch it as I don't like the peppery flavour. However I gave it to the girl next to me who was surprised when she unearthed a hard, sharp piece of plastic in it! In fairness, the staff were extremely apologetic, and I gladly accepted a free glass of champagne to try to make up for it. On the other hand, though, it was a pretty fancy place and their explanation that their plastic containers 'sometimes crack in the heat' kind of ruined the illusion of a posh, fancy kitchen with fresh ingredients from the market every day.
Obviously after that huge main, I had absolutely no desire for a dessert, but how could I possibly write you guys a review without a sample of the most important course? It's okay, you're welcome. I went for the rhubarb and raspberry crumble with raspberry ripple icecream, which was...well, okay. I thought sweet raspberries might soften the tart rhubarb, but the overall impression was still quite sour. The crumble to filling ration wasn't great - I prefer a generous crumble topping to avoid mouthfuls of soft fruit. The icecream was nice and creamy but nothing special.
The service overall was very good. We didn't feel rushed, and neither were we sat around waiting for anything at any point. All the servers were really friendly and the main girl looking after our table was very efficient and knowledgeable about the menu. As I've said the staff were very apologetic about the plastic incident and the manager came to give an explanation and say sorry personally. Our server was happy to recommend bars and restaurants in the area, which we were pleased with. It was great to get a bit of local knowledge before hitting the town on our first night! As we were a large party there was a 'recommended' 10% service charge which we were happy to pay. Whilst the service wasn't anything mind-blowing, they did go out of their way to make me a fantastic starter and made some brilliant recommendations.
The toilets were in keeping with the upscale décor, and were clean, functional and nicely decorated. The toiletries provided were nice and smelt really lovely.
Overall we had a great evening and a wonderful experience. The starter and main course were delicious and marred only by the small plastic incident. The dessert was a bit of a disappointment but I did still enjoy it. We were pleased with everything else and thought the service was really efficient. Although it's definitely a pricy experience if you don't stick with the set menu, I'd still recommend it to anyone. Four stars.
If you're interested in a visit you can look at menus and see other details on their website at www.cayenne-restaurant.co.uk. Although it's not the most user-friendly site I've ever seen, it does have helpful info including opening hours and menus. The opening hours are all a bit odd and irregular so I would definitely check those and most probably make a booking before heading down.
7 Ascot House
As soon as we knew that we were going to spend a few days in Belfast, we started using the internet to seek out some likely places to dine. My first thought was "Cayenne", owned by celebrity chef Paul Rankin and his wife, Jeanne. However, I thought that the cost woud be prohibitive and that he place would be booked solid months in advance. Having dined there, I can now confirm that I was wrong on both counts.
On arriving in Belfast we decided to go for a stroll and explore the area around our hotel and we stumbled, by chance, on Cayenne. I was quite surprised by the exterior. It is situated at the end of a block of buildings which include a large, stylishly timber-clad Italian restaurant, a betting shop and a cheap Chinese cafe. The area is basically a big road junction but some of the trendier parts of the city lead off from the junction, such as the University/Botanic Gardens area and the antique shops area of Donegall Pass.
There are windows at the front but they are frosted and also have white drapes decorated with the restaurant logo which all means that you can dine without nosy parkers watching from outside.
As you walk in there is a lounge area by the bar where you can sit if you are not immediately shown to your table and just beyond it a long line of tables. To the right is the main dining area, non-smoking tables at the front and then a smaller smoking section towards the rear. The food is brought through this area to the tables and we were seated in this section but we could hear nothing at all from the kitchen. A fantastic glass partition blocked off the kitchen entrance and it consisted of a display of a dozen of so shelves filled with hundreds of the same miniature Bushmills whisky bottles (it's made not far away) and lit up - it looked stunning.
The floors and walls are clad with modern dark wood panelling and all of the paintwork is grey - sounds dull and dour but it is actually very stylish and contemporary. The light fittings are simple yet bold - either orange or off white and a simple shade design.
Our table was a large round table and seemed like it might be one usually used for larger groups but since it was close to the path taken by the waiting staff with the food there might not be much room on that side of the table. We sat on the other side and the table fitted nicely into a curved recess that held a curve of leather seating along the wall - very luxurious and rather comfortable!
Now, I will be primarily reviewing the lunch-time special set menu here because that is what we ordered from. Fifteen pounds for three courses and coffee - an absolute bargain!! Even for a set lunch I thought that this was a terrific deal.
There were three starters, three mains and three desserts to choose from. It was possible to choose starter and a main or main and dessert for 12.50 Pounds if you wanted only two course but we are too greedy to settle for anything less than the full three courses.
Vegetarians will find that there are a good number of interesting veggie choices in both starters and mains on the main menu. On the lunch-time menu there was one meat, one fish and one vegetarian option for both starters and mains.
We were asked quite soon if we wanted to order drinks but the staff were happy to wait until we'd looked at the menu and chosen a wine to complement our food. We ordered a lovely Argentinian Malbec for just under 15 Pounds which I think is reasonable for this type of establishment. When it came, it was with a two large glasses of cool fresh water - we were not charged for the water. We were brought a basket of lovely assorted breads and butter while we waited for our starters to arrive.
I plumped for the spiced parsnip soup to start. It was perfect - delicately spiced but very tasty and it came with what was described as a "sesame cracker" - a long penant shaped piece of filo pastry scattered with sesame seeds and baked until crisp. It was fantastic with the soup. "He who must be Fed" picked the fish option - a delicious rice-paper parcel of various kinds of white fish and shell fish, mixed with fresh coriander on a bed of tangy salsa.
My main course choice was confit of duck on a bed of creamy puy lentils and greens.The outer skin of the duck was a wonderful cripsy spicy surprise and underneath the beautifully tender duck fell easily from the bone. Not normally a fan of lentils I could not find anything negative to say about these - infact it inspired me to cook lentils at home!
My partner again went for the fish - a chunky piece of salmon with a wasabi crust (wasabi is a japanese delicacy derived from a root similar to horseradish, it is the pistachio coloured sauce you find served with sushi and can be mind-blowingly hot!) atop a bed of wilted bok choi. He reported that it was very good - so I had a taste and can confirm he was correct in his appraisal!
A brief interlude followed before we could contemplate dessert and the staff were in no hurry to make us choose. I went for the Tahitian vanilla bean cremne brulee and, not normally one to have a pudding, my partner plumped for the upside pineapple cake. Both were bigger portions than we had expected and, in particular, mine exceeded expectations.
The lovely white custard was speckled with vanilla and the crisp sugar crust was to die for. The dessert came in the usual creme brulee ramekin but on a long white ceramic tray alongside which was a small dish of plums pickled in crisp, sharp ginger, the perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the creme brulee.
The upside down pineapple cake came with a generous dollop of marscapone and was declared to be very good indeed - again, my instincts to verify got the better of me and I can, once again, confirm that this appraisal was in order.
We were duly offered coffee which was very good and were several times offered top-ups. This was typical of the level of service throughout the meal. I especially liked that instead of just being asked if we wanted coffee, the question was phrased "Do you think you might like some coffee?" which I thought was a lovely way to ask and seemed more relaxed and friendly. The wine was topped up regularly but these interjections were unobtrusive.
We were quite smartly dressed (more so probably than during the rest of our weekend in Belfast!) but not on a par with some of the other diners though I never felt intimidated, out of place or not good enough to be there. When we left we were asked if we needed a taxi and we were helped on with our coats (maybe they were pleased to see the back of us?!). This is the most impressive restaurant service I have ever experienced.
Although we did not have more than a glance at the main menu, I can report that the prices are very affordable and by no means on a par with those charged by other celebrity chefs (Gordon Ramsey, for example...). I would say that it would be possible to enjoy an evening meal for two, three courses with wine for about sixty pounds. (There are also set evening menus at similar prices to the lunch-time menu for early evening pre-theatre diners).
I always like to try new places but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that if I ever go back to Belfast I will be back at Cayenne - my work there is not done!
7 Ascot House
Belfast, BT2 7DB
Tel. 028 9033 1532
e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
I must admit that last night l had what must be the most exquisite culinary experience of my life. Janice and Stephen (friends) my partner David and myself treated ourselves to a meal in CAYENNE (formerly Roscoff's). Cayenne is situated at 7 Lesley House Shaftesbury Square, Belfast. Telephone number 028 90 331532. It has a cracker central location on Belfast’s Golden Mile. It was formerly the Roscoff's restaurant. The restaurant has not changed hands simply the owners Paul and Jeanne Rankin decided on a change of direction. Instead of the frumpy clinical dining for the great and the good, with their gold and platinum cards, they opened up their doors to the wider public to let them enjoy their amazing culinary skills. Some of you may recognise the name Paul Rankin - he's Northern Irelands very own celebrity chef and regular on programmes such as Ready Steady Cook. Head Chef at present is a guy called Andy Rea - and boy can he cook! On entering Cayenne my first impressions were - very contemporary. Sitting at the bar come waiting area snacks such as mini popadoms, and spicy popcorn were available. In the restaurant area the lighting really struck me - gradually and subtly moving from red to orange and back. Frosted glass windows give diners privacy. The entire restaurant has an air of exclusiveness - yet it’s not pretentious. We were seated a large round table with loads of room of animated conversation and for getting stuck into the glorious food! The menu will not break the bank; it’s reasonable - not cheap. Approximately appetisers are £6, main courses are £13, and desserts are £4.50. Variety is the word of the day - you have your choice of appetisers, soups, salads, rice and noodle dishes, main dishes, side orders and of course desserts. The staff are amazing (lm using that word a lot !!) - Courteous, yet friendly, willing to advise on dishes yet share a joke with the customers.
They really seem genuinely interested in their customers. Id like to thank Kathy our waitress for making a great evening marvellous. Well onto the food.... Appetisers - at our table we had duck comfit with seared veg, vegetable sushi, crabsticks and chilli squid. Other dishes included goats cheese puff pizza. The flavours were intense yet not overpowering, colours and the aesthetics of the food was great and well as for the taste.... Amazing! Mains - a melee of poultry, game, fish and meat were on offer. We had chicken parfait with chargrilled veg and chilli butter, veal liver on a pea mash, Moroccan lamb with chickpea salsa, and breast of duck with korma lentils. Side orders of house veg and mash also accompanied the dishes. Oh my god! Food was cooked to perfection - succulent, oozing with flavour, really manna from heaven! The vegetables had a lovely crunch texture and the mash was dreamy! Desserts - we choose bramble and apple crumble with a cinnamon ice cream, white chocolate cheese cake, caramelised rice pudding with cinnamon peaches and summer fruit sorbet. How much praise can l give in one opinion l wonder! This was decadence on a plate, melt in your mouth, delicious - simply orgasmic!! A comprehensive wine list accompanied the food menu, with something for all palates. The average price of a glass being £3 and of a bottle between £12 - 15. A meal for 4 was with drinks - £120 for 3 course and coffee. For the standard and quality of the food it really was well worth every penny. I honestly really and true recommend this restaurant as being one of the best if not thee best restaurant in Belfast. One word of advice though - book well in advance especially for weekend dining its extremely popular with all age groups.