The best nights out are always the impromptu ones – and a delicious dinner is always a fabulous way to kick off a memorable evening on the town. Recently, presented with a number of reasons to celebrate including one friend who had just submitted her PhD and another who was heading off to the Big Smoke to live and work in London, a last minute celebratory and belly-lining dinner was organised for Hill Street’s Le Coop in advance of our cosy evening tucked upstairs in the Harp Bar across the street.
All too happy to be invited along to celebrate, I met our party of six at Le Coop on a Saturday night, greeted by my friends from a perfectly-located raised table nestled by the pass-through from the kitchen. Both the perfect spot for watching the hustle and bustle of diners and waiters in the quirkily-decorated dining room as well as a prime spot for admiring the restaurant’s signature rotisserie-roasted whole chickens dancing in circles in the kitchen, I climbed up to the nearly 5ft tall table and settled in for what was about to be an epic feed.
As with Emma Bricknell’s other Belfast restaurant, Made in Belfast, the cocktails at Le Coop are both inventive and delicious, served in whimsical vessels including a pomegranate caipirinha which was served with ice from a replica vintage oil can. The perfect combination of tart and sweet, the caipirinha went down a little too quickly and could have been a dangerous dinner companion had we stayed longer. Other table favourites included a gorgeously presented margarita served with a chilli salted rim and pints of locally-brewed McGrath’s Ales.
The menu presented a number of classic favourites served up with a bit of a twist including a platter of prawn popcorn and deep fried mac & cheese. A fan of fried cheese in any form whatsoever, I opted for a plate of crispy deep fried brie nuggets served with a gorgeous bacon jam which added a perfectly balanced touch of sweetness and acid to the otherwise rich, gooey molten brie. There are few things more exciting than cutting open a bread crumbed and fried ball of goodness and cutting it open to discover oozy, hot cheese – but the bacon jam took the starter to another level that had me longing for more even days after my visit.
An American native with Southern roots on my mother’s side, fried chicken and biscuits at my granny’s house was a Sunday staple that I still miss years after moving to Belfast. Never able to replicate grandma’s fried chicken well enough, I’ve given up trying and a chicken takeaway has always seemed downright insulting to poor Gladys. Le Coop has provided me with a Sunday chicken alternative that I think even my grandmother would approve of, and I found the perfect portion in the basket of buttermilk fried chicken, which the restaurant serves up in a single portion or sharing sized bucket. Complete with a mixed bag of chickeny on-the-bone goodness featuring drumsticks and thighs in a lightly spiced and crispy coating and served with house-made barbecue sauce, the chicken was gorgeously soft and moist inside and just the right amount of food paired with a side salad of arugula, onion and tomato topped with honey mustard dressing (Baskets can also come with chips to accompany chicken, but I opted to try to keep things light following my cheese feast and went for the side salad).
Too full for dessert and now becoming far too warm from sitting next to the blazing hot kitchen, we wrapped up a delicious and quick dinner on a high note with full bellies, ready to face our night ahead.
Not only did the ambience of Le Coop provide the perfect laid back atmosphere for a pre-partying bite to eat, but the portion size and value of our food also made it worth making Le Coop a regular spot for casual dinners. With a starter, main and cocktail my bill came in at around £20 and provided just the right amount of food to leave me satisfied but not too full. I encourage everyone looking for a delicious alternative to the fried chicken that comes in that nasty red bucket to fly to Le Coop ASAP – you will NOT be disappointed!
Follow Brittany on her journey as a food reviewer for Belfast Times in her BBEats column.
For more information on Le Coop and its sister restaurant Made in Belfast visit www.madeinbelfastni.com.