Belfast’s restaurant scene has been busy reinventing itself, and now offers fine dining and exciting mid-level restaurants alongside classic North Ireland frys
Belfast is metamorphosing from a city stuck in the past into an exciting tourist destination. Hotel infrastructure has grown to meet demand in recent years, now the restaurant scene is also on the up.
Niall McKenna’s James Street South ( is one of the restaurants flying the flag for higher-end dining. Expect a heavy focus on Irish produce such as Mourne lamb and Rademon Estate wood pigeon. Deanes , under head chef Simon Toye provides classics like lobster thermidor as well as shining a spotlight on local produce such as Lissara duck that comes with cherries and an elegant confit duck croquette.
Then there’s the new kid on the block, Ox whose opening in March this year was met with the kind of food arousal that would make Alvin Leung blush. The pairing of owners Stephen Toman in the kitchen and Breton Alain Kerloc’h out front brings a superb balance of fine dining on the plate, with a fist-pumpingly rocking atmosphere. The menu changes seasonally and gives an equally starring role to vegetables and proteins. Milk curd with grilled fennel and red pepper caramel, and saddle of rabbit with pork cheek, apricot and olive are both stunning dishes.
Northern Ireland has also made massive leaps when it comes to small artisan producers. Abernethy butter, used by Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck and by Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, stands beside Broighter Gold rapeseed oil as two products that the country can be proud of. Both are available in Belfast’s most exciting deli, Arcadia Delicatessen.
Any trip to Belfast would be incomplete without trying a “fry”, the city’s breakfast of choice. Check out That Wee Café (189 Falls Road, thatweecafe.co.uk, fry from £3.95), in the Gaeltacht Quarter of west Belfast.
The number of independent coffee operators in the city may be low, but Ground Espresso Bar in Waterstones and Black Bear Café are two that stand by the old argument that quality is more important than quantity – a concept essential to making good coffee, but which so many coffee shops fail to grasp.
Belfast mid-level restaurants manage to combine excitement and value. Mourne Seafood (mains from £8.25) is head and shoulders above any other seafood restaurant in the city. For great Italian food there’s Il Pirata (mains from £8.50), which has brought small plates and a touch of Polpo to Belfast.
Nearly every restaurant in the city has a burger on its menu, but you’ll find the best at Alley Cat on Church Lane. OK, so it wouldn’t beat London’s MeatLiquor in a fight, but it’d certainly knock seven shades out of Shake Shack and Five Guys with both hands tied behind its back.
• John Ferris blogs at the Irish food and drink site Forked
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