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  • Writer's pictureColumbia Hillen

For the love of taste

Since my first experience, about ten years ago, of an eight-course tasting menu at the Tasting Room restaurant in Franschhoek, South Africa – a much more interesting area to visit by the way, than its rival Stellenbosch - I believe this is the way food should be presented if the intention is to show the skills behind the creations on the plate.

A restaurant is a place where I expect a culinary experience, even a sensatory journey - I have my own kitchen or the market if I am simply looking for food.

No better way to encourage one to pay attention to the multitude of tastes, colors and flavors than knowing that you only have two or three mouthfuls of a serving that took hours in preparation and the work of a whole team of people.

In contrast, with a full plate in front, we tend to move our attention to conversation, checking our phones, or anything else - by the simple fact that there is more, we tend to take it for granted. Whereas when a nibble or two is all we have, we start looking for the different ingredients by waking up the taste buds, we are stretching time by being in that moment, paying attention to what we feel when flavors stir things inside.

We are actually adding years to our lives, not only because we learn to be picky about what we eat, but also because we get to discover that we actually might love foods we never thought we would – when the combinations are right.

I confess, I cannot think of many blends I would not try if set in front of me by a chef, and I have become impatient and unforgiving with the lazy approach of some establishments – grill the fish and call it ‘a classic.’

So over the course of two days in Belfast, I explored the city’s renewed energy of encouraging creativity on the culinary scene and I was more than impressed with the Ox restaurant and the Malt Room. I hope the city gives them enough credit for putting it on the gourmet international map. Here are some highlights.

food photography, ox restaurant belfast

Truffled egg yolk, cauliflower, crispy chicken skin – cauliflower becomes center stage as it the ingredient that lifts up the palate while the egg yolk and the truffles make a strong statement (OX).

food photography, ox restaurant belfast, columbia hillen

If you thought squid is not your thing, think twice as the presentation and the tenderness is remarkable and the presence of chorizo flavor and the romanesco textures gives this dish a more complex dimension - Squid, chorizo, romanesco, squid ink, oyster (OX).

photos of food ox restaurant, columbia hillen

If it’s chocolate, it must be dark chocolate. And I savored the desert with even more pleasure as the flavor of the ice cream brought me back to my childhood when I always loved the remaining crust on the bottom of the pot where milk had been boiled - Valrhona chocolate 70%, banana, burnt milk ice-cream (OX).

malt room restaurant belafast, food photography

A rainbow of colors and Provençale flavors in a dish of Mackerel (undeservingly underestimated fish), stuffed with olives and served with red caviar. Ok, you have to like fish and love olives…but how can one wouldn’t? (Malt Room).

malt room restaurant belfast, columbia hillen photography

Finally an interesting and healthy meat dish in Belfast – kid goat, locally sourced, slow-cooked, tender and moist, with a crusty pie pouring out a volcano of goat cheese and goat meat. Even if you had never read Coehlo’s Alchemist, images of herds of goats still come to mind, or more likely the evenings around the fire. (Malt Room).

desert at malt room restaurant belfast, food photography

Maybe it’s because I could live on pistachio nuts but I can say the desert is memorable at the Malt Room: Roast pear, pistachio, buttermilk and Nougatine parfait. Parfait!

In my humble opinion, a restaurant without a tasting menu is not serious about food as a form of art or as a means to offer a memorable experience – less is more.

As the proof is in the pudding, try it for yourself and prove me wrong….or right.



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