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Hot to Trot
Member Name: isobelj
Advantages: Good starter and main, great service
Disadvantages: Disappointing dessert, plastic in my food
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
Summary: A must visit for foodies in Belfast