REVIEW: Bennett’s Bistro

A few weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend of mine who lives in the East. We went through the usual catch up and as per usual we end up talking about meals we’ve had and our favourite places to eat.

It was then that he told me I should try Bennett’s Bistro on the Belmont Road. He had been in for lunch the week before and had tasted the best pea risotto he had eaten in some time. He made me promise I would go and review it and to reinforce the vow he messaged my wife about Bennett’s that evening and of course that settled it.

Bennett’s Bistro was not what I expected at all. Bennett’s is to bistros what the Tardis is to space perception. From the outside Bennet’s appears unassuming, standard, quite ordinary really. But once you walk in the most intriguing space unfolds before you.

Right in front of you is a fantastic wee bar area with all your Friday night tipples and a great big coffee machine. The bar wouldn’t look out of place in a chic European Bistro or Roman backstreet night spot. So picture perfect was the bar I didn’t realise I was being spoken to. We were lead to our seats and I drank in the rest of Bennett’s.

Stripped back to the brick with that quaint Parisian look Bennett’s is the perfect environment for couples, I think. Though they can cater for bigger groups, it just had the feel of that kind of cafe you would see in a French speaking movie. Soft lighting, nooks and pillars obscuring the lovers as they meet. It was wonderful. It hushed the conversations only to be broken by the bellowing laughter of other dinning companions. Special.

The food was great. The chef had a menu full of the everyday and the exotic. Take for instance my starter, Torpedo prawns with spicy tomato dip. Lightly battered, these seafood missiles were sweet and crispy and the tomato dipping sauce was tangy almost sweet and sour at first. And the plate was fully loaded. Picking them up in twos I rifled them into me, just the right thing to start the evening.

Miriam went with bread and dips, which at first I thought was a bit boring until I tasted the home-made dips. These were not the usual cheating dips that restaurants buy in from the nearest cash and carry. These dips were fresh, well thought out and made. Aioli, oh my good grief I love aioli. There are a few different ways to go with this but the guys at Bennett’s produced an aioli that I could have swapped the chocolate out of my chocolate fountain for. They also provided a heroic humus and a tremendous tzatziki and there were about four different types of bread.

The mains explain exactly what I meant by everyday and exotic. The chef at Bennett’s just doesn’t cook the classics well. He has thought about them and brought in flare and passion and in doing so elevates them. So you find yourself not just commenting on how well he has executed the classic – for example Miriam had pan roasted duck with spiced red cabbage, classic – but rather than chef just serving a potato gratin on the side, a beetroot gratin instead. And it was mighty. The duck was perfect, lovely and with the red spiced cabbage great but the taste of the earthy beetroot slow cooked in the gratin lifted the dish to memorable.

Venison with chocolate, chocolate with chilli great combinations. So the chef at Bennet’s takes a classic slow braised venison and produces the most imaginative dish I have had in some time. Almost stew-like in appearance, the braised venison in chilli chocolate sauce tempered with red wine delivered a deep rich bitter sauce with a hint of heat and then delight of delights cocoa gnocchi; I was blown away. Bitter sweet Italian dumplings, again taking the dish to a conversation piece I have been talking about ever since. Maybe not to everyones taste then again not everyone has good taste.

Yes, pudding. They have something for everyone. But love it or hate it get the sticky toffee pudding it’s worth it for the toffee sauce alone. Trust me.

My friend was right and if I could message, text or send a pigeon to your significant other to ensure you go here I would. Basically lift the phone, call them and book a table for two, they will love you for introducing them to Bennett’s Bistro.

Paul McMath

Bennett’s Bistro can be found on the Belmount Road in East Belfast. They open daily from 8am. For more information go to and keep up-tp-date @bennettsbistro on Facebook.

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