Even though Belfast's international foodie destination reputation basks in the glory of its two Michelin-starred assets, Ox and Eipic, there has always been a debate over which one is better. Their prices are similar, the food in both is of international standard and the service is as polished in Eipic as it is Ox.
Yet the moods are very different. Eipic is at the heart of the city centre, with far more footfall outside its door than Ox. When you sit down in Eipic you feel close to the action, yet safely and comfortably removed from the city's hustle and bustle.
Ox is on a major thoroughfare and, while the volume of traffic outside is heavy, the actual number of pedestrians walking by is far lower. The impression is coloured by huge windows which invite you to look outside to open space (and that eye-gouging horror, the Nuala with the hula). It's brighter and noisier.
Ox is very cool in a hipster way, with Nordic bare wood and brick with spindly lights and bad acoustics. Eipic is all hushed white linen, whispering good manners and formal serenity.
I like a bit of white linen and formality from time to time, but I have to admit I was never as entirely comfortable in Eipic as I was in Ox. Until now.
A visit last week to try the £30 Friday lunch with adviser Ali Askir completely transformed my view of Eipic and I came away happy and delighted and wanting more. There was a joyfulness to the entire two-and-a-half-hour visit. From arrival, when we were met at the door by Michael Deane himself (he is a bit like God: everywhere at all times), to our exit, we enjoyed everything about the place.
We were guided to a corner seat in the little Champagne bar to catch our breath and look at menus. The bar is classy with its buttoned cream leather upholstery, crystal chandelier and steely blue and silver colour palette.
It has just enough loucheness to give it a whiff of illicit affairs and big business, a sense of being in some kind of VIP enclosure, yet also very comfortable and darkly cosy. They also happen to make one of the best sidecars in Belfast in there. This cocktail moment provides a perfect moment of anticipation.
Menus are in hand and, this being Friday, we have the £30 option laid out before us with the wine pairing suggestions - they've thought of everything.
Having revived our drooping spirits, we take our seats in the dining room, another temple of modern opulence with a touch of Sixties glamour not unlike a scene from The Prisoner. There are silver rococo mirror frames, silver-sprayed satellite dish-like lights on the walls and one or two paintings of women who could be Kate Smith, but we're not sure. It's a beautiful dining room, elegant and spacious with plenty of distance between tables to allow utter privacy and yet still be within nodding distance of acquaintances and maintain access to the openness.
The dishes start arriving. There is a firm and fresh langoustine embedded in a dark squid ink ravioli with a sprinkling of shiitake, leek and bacon. This is an outstanding and memorable starter which sets the bar and we wonder can this be maintained in the following courses.
And of course, they just get even more exciting. If this is the £30 menu we vow to come back for the £70 one. There is brill, plain and virginal but supported by little tiny flutes of rolled salsify, made firm with white bread. A little nod of respect to Danni Barry is in the form of that famous roast bone sauce (which she has transported successfully to Clenaghans). The dish spans all the flavours and textures in a few bites. It is extraordinary and satisfying and we complete it smiling.
Desserts of chocolate with the citrus notes of yuzu fruit, coconut and coffee gel are a reminder that not all sweets have to be sugary.
Eipic is a wonder. It stands shoulder to shoulder with Ox and yet it provides a massively different experience. Some might say it's a bit more grown-up, a bit more mature and I say that this is exactly what we need. A bit of decorum, take your elbows off the table, please and thank you and you know what? I will have a drop of that Valdivieso Eclat Semillon 2013 with my chocolate.
Friday 3-course lunch x 2.................. £60
Glass of wine x 3................................ £27
Shot of wine x 2................................. £12