The Malt Room on Belfast’s downtown Great Victoria Street may look inconspicuous from the outside, but once you walk in you are overtaken by the series of interconnecting rooms. The two-floor restaurant features stucco ceilings, ornate wall paneling with 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 candle-lit open seating (on various levels) and a line of semi-private cubicles along one inside wall, while upstairs features a mix of soft sofas, chairs, and a long sturdy dining table for large groups. Our waitress was a chirpy young lady from Omagh who kept us amused with light-hearted banter throughout the tasting menu. Much to our delight, since it was wet and windy outside, she immediately brought us a touch of comfort food in the guise of warm, brioche-like bread in a delicate mahogany box.
The first course, cheekily described as "Can’t Believe It’s Not Oysters," was a gelée of seaweed and oyster juice served in a shell, with a much milder flavor than the mollusk itself. Our second course consisted of two round slices of delectable foie gras, its buttery rich texture complemented by a bed of pickled beetroot and celeriac crisps with an aubergine mousse. Next up was fish cooked in the healthiest of ways — a roll of poached mackerel stuffed with olive tapenade and topped with red caviar.
The real surprise of the evening came from a combination of slow-cooked kid goat and a goat meat-and-cheese-stuffed pastry, with a vegetable medley of carrots, broccoli stems and purple potatoes. The dish was paired with a sweet cabernet sauvignon-based jus served in a miniature jug. Goat does not often feature on Irish menus, so it was a delight in itself, as was the news that both meat and cheese were sourced from a local farmer just outside Belfast.
Their cheese platter was next and while not overly extensive, it reflected a diversity of northern Irish morsels. The platter included a smooth, creamy blue from Kearney Cheese Company in Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula (from which head chef David Mageean hails) and goat 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 Winery 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 whiskey. 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)?
The Malt Room's formidable whiskey combined with their gourmet dishes creates an experience strong enough to put any hardy traveler in a better frame of mind to face the wicked Ulster weather that just may be awaiting outside.