Filini at Radisson Blu, Belfast

After having our anniversary, both our birthdays, our respective workplaces’ Christmas dinners and the family Christmas dinner fall within the span of 8 weeks in Dec and Jan, Valentine’s Day – a commercialised date on the calendar anyway – becomes a mere blip on our radar.

We initially planned to spend it at home, as we weren’t keen on being squashed between other couples in a crowded restaurant, but all the Valentine’s hype made me increasingly tempted by the excuse to dine out. Eventually, we secured a table at Filini at Radisson Blu, just 4 days before Valentine’s Day. Immediately, I had some reservations about our choice: surely it’s a bad sign that a restaurant still has availability this close to one of the most popular days of the year? But looking at the menu, we assured ourselves that it couldn’t possibly be that bad.

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So off we went – and at 7.30pm were seated at one of two occupied tables in Filini. I was still cautiously optimistic, having decided not to pass any judgement before trying the food. We were soon presented with the amuse bouche – salmon fishcake with a side of rocket. The fishcake was average, and I was far more impressed by the bowl of mixed breads we were served. The soft, tomato focaccia was a treat with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, but the real winner was the crisp, flat bread. Flavoured with a sprinkling of coarse salt and thyme, it was like an Italian poppadum and we could not keep our hands off it.

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The starters that soon arrived were much more promising. My seared scallops with green pea puree were plump, soft and larger than any I’ve had since I was last in Japan. The slices of green apple were also a fresh touch, lending a smack of zing and crunch to the dish. E’s duck confit looked a treat on its bed of beetroot, orange and pine nuts salad, and tasted great as well.

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Buoyed by that the starters, we looked forward to our mains – dry aged ribeye. The steak came in a large portion, but taste-wise was fairly run of the mill – not bad, but nothing great either. Perhaps we’ve just been spoilt for steak by Hadski’s unbeatable version only two weeks ago. The chanterelle mushrooms and roast potatoes, however, were absolutely delicious and the stars of this dish.

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I was noticing a trend when our desserts appeared. Personally, I think no restaurant worth its salt should ever attempt to pass fruit jelly off as a dessert – but there it was, sitting on my plate, and tasting no better than what anyone could have made at home. There was plenty of chocolate mousse – I liked the slight bitterness though E would’ve preferred it sweeter – but it was quite stiff and not creamy enough. The strawberries and cream shortbread was the best of the petit trio – though like the steak, it was nice but had nothing special to it.

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The reviews of Filini on TripAdvisor are very mixed – mostly either 4* or 2* – and I completely understand why. While our starters and parts of the main course demonstrate that Filini can prepare some things extremely well, it doesn’t do so consistently enough to win reviews that will draw diners to its tables. Given that Filini is meant to be an Italian restaurant, I can only hope that its Italian dishes are of a higher standard across the board.

Nonetheless, dinner at Filini was generally alright with some high points, so all is not lost, but more importantly, we had a lovely night out in a quiet restaurant – exactly how we wanted to spend our Valentine’s evening.

Happy Valentine’s weekend everyone!

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