Shu, Belfast

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Brain McCann is the archetypal Belfast masterchef. Sally McKenna orders the salt and chilli squid yet again.

Brian McCann is a masterchef. As a cook, he shows that he really understands crispy, but he also understands silky, and crunchy and smooth and chunky as well. His food is so fine that you can’t see the process. You just get the best tastes, the best textures.

Shu has glided through the Belfast dining scene like a luxury cruise liner. Smooth and smart, calm and sophisticated. Other restaurants have come into vogue, but it’s a room that has kept itself at the top, and is one of the first places anyone will mention when asked about the best food in the Northern capital.

Mr McCann has made his reputation with several defining dishes. His salt and chilli squid goes back to the days when restaurant dining in the city was just coming of age, and the great chefs of that time had a kind of informal after service dining club in the rundown but influential Chinese restaurant, the Sun Kee. Suddenly everybody was making salt and chilli squid, and Mr McCann has had it on the menu for as long as we remember. I order it every time I go there.

The squid is both salty and crispy, with a dry coating, cut fine, with some stir fried Asian vegetables and three Asian-style dressings. It’s punchy and scrumptious, and I wish I could be stronger and order the risotto, or the bresaola. But it has to be the squid, and I would honestly admit that I’d be disgruntled if it wasn’t on the menu.

Belly of pork should be renamed as Ulster’s national dish. Brian’s spin on it is to roll it and crisp it up, and serve it with potato gratin: delicious. Artichoke heart is again crisped up with a breadcrumb mix, and a salad of raw courgette and lovely broad beans.

The staff are very confident, and that allows people to let go somewhat. The table beside us were laying into some beautiful looking cocktails, whilst our waiter gave us a long friendly chat on malolactic fermentation at the end of the evening.

Alan Reid and Brian McCann run a class act in Shu, a luxury liner for fine food in Belfast. And a promised refurb for the interior will see it emerge, brightly, into the future.