Ok, this is going to be a mixed review. I'm putting that out there now because I'm trying to express my opinion in these things without using a star or number system but don't go away thinking that I'm entirely negative on 44 Hill Street.
The staff were really friendly and created a nice atmosphere, background music was pretty cool, and there were a nice range of wines on display. The decor of a trendy Mediterranean bistro struck a nice balance between homely and cool, it's a nice place.
Ok, so you've probably gathered that my foibles are with the food.
We ordered 3 tapas dishes to start. The lamb belly tapas was genuinely lovely, very tasty little dish of crispy lamb and olives, but seeing a flavoured mayo drizzled over it gave me pause. The prawn slider tapas again was quite heavy in marie rose sauce or other flavoured mayo, and the squid (which was perfectly cooked) also came with a spicy mayo.
Maybe it's just me but reliance on mayos is just lazy, and not particularly 'Mediterranean'. The squid for example could have easily been served with a nice chilli and ginger glaze, something with a nice kick. The lamb belly would have been fine by itself, or with just a dash of olive oil. The prawn slider was literally just prawn cocktail in a roll, I would suggest maybe something like prawn pil pil or a zesty slaw. The mayo usage just seems like the lazy approach you'd get in a chain restaurant rather than in a restaurant trying to forge a reputation to equal their previous venture 'La Bastille'.
For main course we both ordered the smoked chicken tagliatelle. Too much oil and too much pesto (at time of writing it's seven hours later and it's still all I can taste), there was a nice flavour with the chicken, tomato and parmesan, I would have thought that a light pesto cream would have created a better overall balance.
Obviously I can only critique what I sampled and I wouldn't presume to call out the entire menu, but I do feel that from what I sampled they do need to re-examine what it is that they're trying to do.
I'll say again that the lamb was lovely and crisp, the squid was cooked perfectly (and squid is very easy to bugger up and leave tasting like rubber boots), the chargrilled chicken had a nice flavour (it was just buried in oily pesto). If you miss Prezzo or fancy something different to the Cuban chain restaurant that used to be Vaudeville you'll find the menu to be of the same standard. I just think that they're trying to achieve more.
I'll finish with saying that I do think 44 Hill Street has got everything else right, they just need to tweak (not change, just tweak) the dishes and it would stand alongside any of the top restaurants in Belfast.
44 Hill Street, Belfast BT1 2LG
7 days a week
Some on street on Talbot Street, St Anne's Square car park two minutes walk.