“If you don’t like Houston, you won’t like Underbelly”, is the caveat introducing Chris Shepherd’s vision for his restaurant, and first impressions of the barn-style establishment concur. However, I think they’re selling themselves short with this introduction because the menu is so much more varied than such a statement would lead you to believe.
For dinner, there is a selection of small plates, along with a number of “Family Style Servings” for sharing. The focus is on fresh local produce (meats are even butchered in-house) and local artisan products. From the small plates, we made a point of choosing items that were a little out of the ordinary and were rewarded with some clever Asian-influenced creations, as well as a taste of the first fruits from Underbelly’s curing room.
Sweet and lightly spiced Korean braised goat with crispy fried rice dumplings.
Negima of antelope with teriyaki and spring onion. As a huge fan of game meats, this was by far my favourite.
Korean ‘buffalo-style’ oysters with nuoc mam red cabbage slaw.
Tete de cochon (cured pork cheek) with poached egg and mustard.
Braised lamb with swiss chard, red curry and coconut rice.
Unable to choose between two of the larger dishes, we just ordered both. Pork and poultry, both beautifully seasoned and tender; simple food at it’s best, proving that great produce doesn’t need much more than skillful cooking.
Seared, double-cut pork collar roast with root vegetable mostarda. The description said it all – “Big, Ass, Pork, Collar. Enough said.”
Peking style cornish hen and andouille stuffed quail with cornbread sauce and sprouts.
We laughed when presented with the ‘non-fancy’ dessert menus because the ‘plate of cookies’ was the only item that really qualified. Don’t let the ingredient list put you off because, with the exception of the green curry pancakes (which tasted way too much like curry), everything went down a treat.
Mississippi Mud / Vinegar pie with salt brittle.
Chocolate peanut butter brownie with caramel popcorn / Strawberry fried pie.
Green curry pancakes with candied peanuts and honey.
For drinks, there’s a good list of local and imported beers recommended to go with food, including offerings from Houston’s oldest craft brewery, St Arnold. Wine-drinkers can enjoy wines sourced from family-owned wineries.
Beers; St Arnold Lawnmower (Houston, TX), Laughing Dog Sneaky Pete IPA (Ponderay, ID) and Jester King Le Petite Prince, Farmhouse Table Beer (Austin, TX).
I think it’s quite safe to say that, whether or not you like Houston, you’ll probably like Underbelly.