Sally McKenna enjoys another rock-steady, uber-professional kitchen delivering smart modern food in Northern Ireland.
The opening of Noble, a brand new restaurant in Holywood, Co. Down, was anticipated with much excitement in the pretty coastal town just outside Belfast. When Saul McConnell announced with chef Pearson Morris (both from Michael Deane’s stable of restaurants) that the collaboration was due to open upstairs in the former long-established Iona Bistro, there was a lot of chat locally along the lines of: “Is it open yet?”
It did open, a few weeks ago, and the restaurant has certainly hit the ground running. Most weekend sittings are already booked out way in advance.
The restaurant design is fairly minimal, with a large blackboard occupying the whole of one wall, and a series of characterful lights tracked overhead with their exposed wires tied up informally. Table settings simply have a white linen napkin, with a knife and fork and glass setting placed around. There are blue banquettes lining the walls, and uniform blue-covered wooden chairs opposite. The one negative comment I could find about the design is that the table surfaces are a little slippy and noisy. The simplicity of the design is echoed in the way food is presented - no trays, no saucers – and a bowl of pudding can scoot and clatter its way over the table rather easily.
Staff wear the now ever-present – and ever-gorgeous – Enrich & Endure aprons, which, along with the vintage lightbulbs, signal this is a Generation Z establishment. Jazzy, funky music is played quite loud, there are no flowers and no fuss.
Then comes the food, and it’s paired down as well. And it’s gorgeous. This is absolutely classic cooking, with a lot of finesse. A whole plaice is neatly presented and respectfully garnished with a spinach pesto and hazelnuts and lovely micro heads of asparagus kale (suggesting they partner with a good grower). The fish is both expertly prepared and expertly cooked.
Rump of lamb is also a consummate example of how this cut should be cooked, with a fine accompaniment of carrots and cavolo nero. Sides of crisp balls of roast potato and charred cabbage are well judged and showcase local and regional veggies to great effect.
Both an apple crumble, and a honey parfait with an agrodolce pickled plum to set it off, demonstrate further cheffy accomplishment.
Pearson and Saul are two experts, with a serious track record in the industry, now branching out in their own endeavour. The result is delicious eating for the locals of Holywood - if you can get a table!