Tattooed staff, a location down a graffitied alleyway in the backstreets of the cathedral quarter and a name inspired by a 200-year-old drinking club might strike an unimpeachably urban pose but The Muddler’s Club also has impeccable culinary credentials: this is one of only three Belfast restaurants to hold a Michelin star.
Head chef and owner Gareth McCaughey has earned his place in the famous red restaurant guide by turning the best in-season Irish ingredients into a six-course tasting menu produced from a theatrical open kitchen.
Bread and snacks are delivered before a procession of meticulously crafted small plates in which the terse descriptions of the menu are belied by the multi-faceted flavours of what arrives at the table.
Things might kick off with an opening salvo of scallops, bisque and cauliflower ahead of the likes of venison with beetroot and artichoke, halibut with mushroom and broccoli and duck with foie gras and heritage carrot.
A sommelier is on hand to step up to the task of matching what’s on the plate to the perfect bottle from the wine list, although by-the-glass suggestions make pairing easier for everyone: a Devils Corner Pinot Noir from Tasmania for the venison, perhaps, or a Ned Noble Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with the final course of chocolate espresso.
Vegetarians aren’t neglected either with the likes of a cheese, onion and dill tart or assemblies of cauliflower, curry and golden raisin, or squash, broccoli and mushroom proving every bit as creative as their meat and fish counterparts.
If you don’t want to commit to a tasting menu, a conventional two/three course menu is served at lunchtime, when mackerel with buttermilk, dill and potato might be followed by flat iron steak with onion and horseradish – though the tasting menu is served at lunch too, and is really what the place is all about.