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The Malt Room: a welcome retreat from wicked weather

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From the outside, nothing prepares one for the impressive interior and expansive space of the Malt Room on Belfast’s downtown Great Victoria Street.
In fact, room is a misnomer, for this two-floor restaurant hosts a series of interconnecting rooms, all wonderfully designed with stucco ceilings, ornate wall paneling featuring a lion face motif, chandeliers, curved balconies, metal railings and a broad staircase, all reflecting a predominantly ash-gray color scheme with contrasting touches of vivid red.
The ground floor is a combination of open seating on various levels with a line of semi-private cubicles along one inside wall. Upstairs is a mix of soft sofas, chairs and a long sturdy dining table for large groups. Separate bars serve both floors. The kitchen is open-style with staff wearing stylish berets, the cutlery is Villeroy & Boch and each table is candle-lit.
The waitress is a chirpy young lady from Omagh well able to keep clients amused with light-hearted banter throughout the restaurant’s special tasting menu. A touch of comfort food in the guise of warm, brioche-like bread in a delicate mahogany box is welcome, it being wet and windy outside. The first course, cheekily described as, ‘Can’t Believe It’s Not Oysters,’ is a gelée of seaweed and oyster juice served in a shell, with a much milder flavor than the mollusk itself. Two round slices of delectable fois gras follow, their buttery rich texture complemented by a bed of pickled beetroot and celeriac crisps with an aubergine mousse. After a short pause, there’s a return from land back to sea with the healthiest of fish cooked in the healthiest of ways – a roll of poached mackerel stuffed with olive tapenade and topped with red caviar. The flesh of the fish is soft and moist, its bounty of omega-3s almost palpable beneath its speckled skin.
Surprise of the evening comes next – a combo of tender, slow-cooked kid goat and a goat-meat-and-cheese-stuffed pastry, with a sweet cabernet sauvignon-based jus in a miniature jug and a vegetable medley of carrots broccoli stems and purple potatoes. Goat does not often feature on Irish menus so that was a delight in itself as was the news that both meat and cheese were sourced from a local farmer, just outside Belfast.
The cheese platter is hard to resist for, while not overly extensive, it reflects a diversity of northern Irish output including a smooth, creamy blue from Kearney Cheese Company in Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula (from which head chef, David Mageean, hails) and goat’s cheese from Fivemiletown Creamery in the Clogher Valley of Tyrone. Paying tribute to the southern part of the island, there was also a Wexford brie.
Desserts and accompanying wine provided a refreshing ending to the evening with pear, Nougatine, pistachio and honey parfait with a companion bulb of lemon ice-cream. The sweet wine, squeezed from the black muscat grape at the Andrew Quady vineyard in California, provided a perfect complement.
Of course, a visit to any malt room, never mind the ‘Malt Room,’ wouldn’t be complete without a classic whisky, and restaurant partners, veteran entrepreneur Lord Diljit Rana and Chef Raymond McArdle, have created an extensive list, including choices from Thailand, Scotland and India. How does a 17-year-old Hibiki from Japan sound (movie buffs may remember Hugh Jackman sipping one in the Wolverine movie)? It was certainly a most fortifying tincture, strong enough to put hardy travellers in a better frame of mind to face the wicked Ulster weather that prevails in March just outside the front door.

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