At James St South in Belfast, head chef David Gillmore is setting his sights high. Katie Pathiaki went to visit
David Gillmore's aim is to run the best restaurant in Northern Ireland. Since James Street South, where he is head chef, holds two AA rosettes, is Michelin Plate accredited, and is TripAdvisor's highest-rated fine-dining restaurant in Belfast, it's safe to say he is well on his way.
Following a recent refurbishment, the restaurant is light and open with vibrant colours and modern wooden furniture. It offers lunch and pre-theatre menus alongside ever-changing à la carte and tasting menus and attracts around 450 covers a week.
Gillmore champions local produce and describes his cooking style as seasonal, as he often has to work with whatever his suppliers have available at the time.
"Although we are close to England, I think we get dictated to a lot more here because we have a smaller community of suppliers to use and therefore less choice. So we are pushed to use small producers. Sometimes we can ask suppliers to grow specific ingredients for us, but they will only do that if they have the opportunity to do so," he explains.
"I have learned that you have to be flexible with what dishes are on the menu. If your produce doesn't come in, then you will have to think on your feet and substitute it for something else. You're always on the ball."
The tasting menu changes every month, while the lunch menu alternates every couple of weeks and the à la carte menu is constantly evolving, depending on what Gillmore has available in the kitchen.
Originally from Chester, Cheshire, Gillmore moved to Belfast with his wife, who is from the city. "My wife and I got married, and I was looking for a new job. I had spoken to Niall [McKenna, owner of James St South] previously and he said if I was ever thinking of moving here to get back in touch. A few months later I called him and he had a head chef opportunity, so it all fell into place."
Previously, Gillmore worked at the Chester Grosvenor; the Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire; the Vineyard in Stockcross, Berkshire; the Samling in Windermere, Cumbria; and Thornton Hall hotel in Thornton Hough, on the Wirral.
"During my training at the Grosvenor I used lots of butter and expensive ingredients for French cuisine. When I left, John Campbell [of Lords of the Manor and the Vineyard] helped me to evolve what I had learned and apply a scientific method to cooking. For me, that was an introduction to molecular gastronomy, which gave me a good idea on how I could develop classical dishes further," he says.
"Now everything I do focuses on maximising flavour. My dishes aren't over-complicated, and although I want things to look nice on the plate, what it tastes like is what really matters."
s I sit down to eat, Gillmore recommends his favourite dishes: a chilled crab lasagne (£10.50) made from cooked pasta discs with crab, crème fraîche, lemon juice and chives, topped with blowtorched Parmesan to give it a deep, smoky flavour. It's served with a crab bisque and chargrilled onions. "This dish is important to me because it was one of the original ones I put on the menu when I first came to Belfast. I really like the simplicity of the dish; it packs a strong flavour and works well in both winter and summer."
The main was wild Irish venison and saltbaked celeriac with pickled blackberries and whole pepper (£27). "We get whole venison, so the cut of meat will change from loin to haunch as we use the whole animal. It's a simple dish and that's where the produce speaks."
For dessert, says Gillmore, anything containing chocolate is a best-seller. "We always have a classical chocolate combination on." The dish changes seasonally and is currently a chocolate ganache rolled in smoked chocolate, with lime sorbet and blow-torched Italian meringue (£7.50). To date, the James Street South brand
operates four sites in Belfast (Bar and Grill, Hadskis, Cast and Crew and James Street South) alongside a cookery school.
"Niall and I have a lot of things planned for the future." Gillmore says, "I want to keep trying new things and trying to be better than we were yesterday."
From the menu
Champ bread, Guinness wheaten with Abernethy butter £4
Grilled scallops & carpaccio, lemon & watercress £12
Guinness-cured salmon, roasted cauliflower & dulse £9
County Antrim beef fillet, violet mustard, broccoli & blue cheese £28
Irish venison, carrot, medjool date & haunch bolognaise £24
Steamed turbot, Lough Neagh eel, lime & Mushroom £25
Clandeboye yogurt parfait, passion fruit & meringue £7.50
Hot chocolate fondant, passion fruit & natural yogurt £7.50
James St South
21 James Street South,
Belfast BT2 7GA