Perfect location. Tick. Great views. Tick. A name that’s well known. Tick. But then, I’ve never knowingly enjoyed a dinner just because the location was fabulous, so what about the rest? You know, the important stuff… the food.
But before we get to all that, let’s get to the restaurant, which opened in late July, is based in Cleaver House and bears the same name as the old department store, Robinson & Cleaver.
Both the restaurant’s floors boast large fronted windows, the deli downstairs, however, doesn’t stand much muster. Whilst the clean look of tiles with black boards provides an interesting look, the sandwiches and other items on the menu are no worse or better than places in the surrounding area, including pre-packed Marks & Spencer offerings.
Upstairs it’s all wooden tables and chairs with minimalistic walls and pictures of Messrs. Robinson and Cleaver and a congregating section for waiting staff (or to give it the name it was probably originally designed for, a bar). There’s tables outside as well, providing a perfect view of City Hall, an elegant building to look down on when the sun is out.
So on first glance, Robinson & Cleaver looks the business, everything should be right with the world. Both spaces are well thought out and whilst nothing outstanding, they look clean and modern. There is staff, oh is there a large amount of staff. Maybe they’re equipped with special powers making them more visible than your average FoH staff and there isn’t really far too many of them.
We sat upstairs and were quickly offered menus and drinks by the waiter who dealt with us for most of our time. He was efficient and obviously well experienced, some of his compatriots not so much.
The menu, which is a little like the restaurant, is nominal. My starter of salt ‘n’ chilli squid was a disaster zone.
A batter that barely clung to the squid accompanied the overcooked cephalopod and gave a quick nod towards poor cooking technique. The batter had little flavour either, instead it appears the chef decided a minuscule sliver of sauce on the side of the plate alongside coleslaw would make the heat.
Included in what was otherwise not a bad coleslaw, were large slices of raw chilli that hit the palete with the cooking equivalent of a kick in the balls with a pair of pointy cowboy boots. Overpowering, unusual and just plain wrong. It’s the perfect example of why the dish shouldn’t be on menus in Belfast. Few chefs produce a version even close to Paul Rankin in his heyday, so why bother trying to make an ‘updated classic’?
On to mains, and from the trite children’s menu were a Ciabatta pizza and a decent tomato pasta.
Pizza still came with ham even though we’d specifically asked for a cheese pizza. There had been such a long wait between the squid and the mains coming out (nearly 40 minutes) that they could have cut raw slices from Bambi’s still live body in front of us and we still wouldn’t have asked for a new one. The accompanying ‘skinny fries’ were limp and lifeless.
The crispy cured pork belly that was sat in front of me appeared to have been a different dish than the menu suggested. The cider jus wasn’t bad, but then again it didn’t taste anything like cider, nor did it look like it had met cider in its life.
Crushed root vegetables were equally as disappointing given they didn’t exist, unless the tiny puddle of green sludge that slurped out from underneath the belly was in fact crushed veg.
The dish was only saved from complete disaster by the fact the pork belly was magnificent – soft, meaty and with the perfect balance of fat and pork.
It was let down hugely, however, by the fact that there were just three small roasted potatoes on the plate that wouldn’t have satisfied my three-year-old daughter. Add in the handful of mange tout and three slices of carrot, there was nowhere near enough accompaniments to sit alongside such a large piece of meat.
Proportionally I was all out of everything else when I’d half the pork eaten. Had the belly come with a proper bit of mash or potato of some description, I’d have been left singing from the outside balcony.
There were also salmon and crab fishcakes. Nothing wrong with them that removing the crab couldn’t fix. Not surprisingly, the salmon totally overpowered the crab, leaving it meaningless in the dish. And then there was a duck dish with noodles that was all very meh – it was a dish that was the epitome of blandness.
After a look at the dessert menu, there were several portions of chocolate brownie ordered. It could have just been a bad day in the kitchen, but again we were disappointed by another dish that wasn’t properly executed. Firstly the brownie was at best room temperature and with a grainy texture. The taste wasn’t that bad had the texture and temperature been better. The only thing on the dish that passed muster was the ice cream.
Robinson & Cleaver definitely has the location, views and the name. But it’s a little like Joey Essex, whilst on first glance he looks decent, you don’t need to listen to him long to begin to wonder if there’s genuinely something underneath the exterior of any substance or whether it’s all just a big joke. Maybe time will tell for Robinson & Cleaver, given its location, I hope the kitchen issues get sorted.Robinson & Cleaver
Donegal Square North, Belfast, BT15GA
Tel: Deli (028) 9031 2538; Terrace (028) 9031 2666.