Ginger Bistro: Great expectations (December 2017)

“Voted best restaurant in Northern Ireland” runs the caption on Ginger Bistro’s website. Similarly, when we mentioned in passing to the receptionist at our hotel that we would be dining there, we were greeted with a response along the lines of ‘wow, how did you get a table?!’ Inevitably, therefore, expectations ran high for our visit. Sadly, they were disappointed, or if this sounds a little harsh, then they were certainly not exceeded. We liked the informality of the restaurant and the place had a decent atmosphere and friendly enough staff, but the food and drink were where we felt most let-down. At no stage was the food actively bad; it just simply didn’t wow. As the name of the venue might suggest, ginger features heavily as an ingredient. I like the spice and it is absolutely fair for a restaurant to have an ‘angle’, but doing so doesn’t automatically equal excellence. Indeed at times, and in several of the dishes sampled by our party of six, the flavour was sufficiently overwhelming to cancel out what else was going on, or more cynically, to hide the deficiencies. My starter of twice-cooked oriental duck springs to mind. The meat was somewhat chewy (not tender, how I had imagined) and rather fatty. The ‘piquant’ sauce didn’t occlude this shortcoming and the accompanying rocket and wilted carrot was… rather too wilted for my liking. My main comprising hake fillet with stir-fried greens and garlic tiger prawns, served with noodles and ginger dressing on the side was much more satisfactory (probably an 8 out of 10), but several of my dining comrades were not so impressed. In particular, there were thumbs-down for both the green vegetable curry and the red lentil dhal. Maybe it’s human nature to remember the bad in a restaurant over the good and while my cheese selection at the meal’s end was very tasty, it was singularly disappointing not to be informed – I sense through ignorance on the part of our server – what precisely the cheeses were. Finally, on the wines, our Albarino and Malbec were both very satisfactory but we couldn’t help observing the somewhat egregious mark-ups in pricing (particularly on the Porta 6 – a best-seller at Majestic, but curiously on the list here). If this is the best Northern Ireland can offer, then I would certainly hate to see the worst.