Belfast is a city with a troubled past, a glamorous scene, beautiful people and supercars like the DeLorean. It’s basically Bruce Wayne. Since the violence of the “Troubles” has eased, Belfast has come into it’s own quietly with an amazing restaurant and bar scene.
Even the New York Times has discovered the resurgence of this city with a new 36 Hours in Belfast feature in January featuring some of the local hotspots and landmarks. Armed with this and the amazing taste of our good local friends, we hit the town in celebration of their son’s Christening and my marathon run.
Tedford’s, right across from “Nuala with the Hula”, a large statue on the river, is a cozy upscale restaurant that focuses on steak and seafood. The ambiance is cozy, upscale, and yet makes for a nice place to hang out with friends.
Go for the pork belly which comes as a big chunk of meat, perfectly seared and chewy.
The monkfish was the standout of the night. I was congratulated for my menu prowess with a “best lineup of the night” comment, but I think the monkfish was the MVP. The lobster roll was crispy, buttery but not watery, and substantial without being overly fishy. The curry sauce that accompanied the dish, I could have eaten alone or just with the rice though the thick cut and well seasoned fish made it all the better. All around the mulberry bush, the monkfish was the best I’ve had.
Dessert was this assortment of sweets that put together I think looks like a muppet’s head. The peanut butter ice cream was delicious with a great balance of sweet and slight salty savoryness. The custardy chocolate was also excellent and on the dark side which offset the sweetness of the ice cream. The crispy biscuits provided a texture difference and cut through the sweetness to keep it from getting cloying.
No trip for us is complete without a visit to a brewery. We stopped at Belfast’s oldest independent brewery, Hilden, just outside the city. Unlike Americans like us who think nothing of a 45 minute commute or a 2 hour weekend drive, Belfastians consider this 15 minute drive a day trip.
We arrived a little late and thought we might miss the tour, but knowing everyone in town, our friend of course found that her cousin was working there and he let us in late. The brewery is fairly small still, truly a microbrewery, so they can only ferment a few types of ale at a time. I think I can get there with my brewing soon.
After the tour was finished, we sampled a few ales in the tasting room. I found them to be very drinkable, but a bit lacking in flavor depth compared to American craft ales. Still, the experience was great in the small tasting room with friends.
With the marathon quickly approaching, I couldn’t enjoy as much beer as I would have liked, so as the weather cleared up and the day approached, I shifted focus to fueling up.
Shiro, a new entrant into the Belfast Culinary scene, is most definitely a place to see and be seen. The waitresses and hostess are clearly focused on their next modeling gig, but the food was pretty good. The setup is nice but very open and almost has a stadium seating vibe. Try to get one of the corner tables to have some semblance of privacy.
Though they have beer on tap, it isn’t listed on the menu which features exclusively on cocktails, so I instead opted for some Chai. It was served magnificently and tasted just as good, especially on a day that was quickly becoming dreary.
The menu for lunch was on the limited side, but the duck wrap stood out. It was a superb choice. Well except for the slate plate which weighed more than all the food together. The duck was tender and slightly crisped and the wrap was well stuffed with veggies. The sauce added a nice tangy saltiness as well. The fries were perfectly cooked and seasoned great.
The Crown Liquor Saloon
Ok, this was the only place off the NYT list that we made it to, but can you really find any fault in where we did make it? The Crown is a Victorian decorated pub downtown that is obviously a bit touristy, but very cool. According to locals, it’s all Australians who go there, but on a day with a rugby match, we found mostly locals. The couple who built it originally were a mixed religion couple so they compromised on it. The name pays homage to the Unionist husband while the crown mosaic outside that must be stepped on to enter pleased the republican wife.
They had one of the best beer menus of any pub we found in Belfast with the obligatory Guinness, but several local craft brews including Hilden as well. They do the famous Guinness double pour here which we learned was a marketing thing created back when taps were unreliable and bars would half fill a glass with uncarbonated stale beer and half fresh beer, but it’s true that the Guinness tastes better in Ireland.
The little semi-private stalls here are great for groups and make for great carousing with friends. There are even bells you can ring for table service.
After the marathon, I needed some recovery fuel. We decided on Coppi, a fairly new Italian place in St. Anne’s square that features sharable tapas like dishes. We loved the Potted Hen, a bistro with amazing steak across the courtyard when we visited three years ago, but apparently new management has seen it decline.
The Sicilian braised Goat pizza comes served on this little platter either a tiny old man made in Italy or what might be the tires from our last rental car. The goat is crispy and tangy and after a few bites, packs a tingly punch. Don’t skip it unless you hate delicious little tin can eating mammals.
The Cabrese pasta was recommended by our friendly locals so all four of us ended up ordering it. Worth it! The peppers and chili oil combined for a fiery spice that continued to grow throughout the meal, sort of like a good ramen. The cheese was sliced paper thin, so it melted consistently into the pasta and made it creamier. do like our friends and order this once, and you’ll love it so much you never try anything else.
Last up was the hazelnut pudding. The ice cream melted into the “pudding” which we were surprised to find wasn’t jello instant pudding, but more like a bread pudding. It paired very well with the house espresso which true to their Italian roots, was excellent and served with a biscotti.
Saving the best, or at least our friends’ favorite for last, we went to Shu on Lisburn road, the coolest, trendiest neighborhood in Belfast, right before heading out for our flight. Again our friends knew everyone there, so we had the best seat in the house, though we may have ended up with the same anyway as it was fairly empty on a Tuesday for lunch.
Shu has won a huge number of awards and focuses on simple, fresh, seafood and steak. The previous chefs left some time ago, and the new chefs set out to redefine the menu and put their own touch on it. They removed everything, but due to so many customer requests, had to add back this salted chili squid starter to the menu. Again all four of us got it.
The squid itself was something akin to the best fried calamari ever, but very chewy and crispy without being rubbery. The sauces added nice spice to it and the creamy one helped put out the fire. This is the must try dish of the restaurant, if not all of Belfast.
The steak and frites, which looks much smaller in the picture than real life, perhaps due to the immensity of the fries, was good enough to restore our friend’s faith in steak after a few rough meals. It was the first piece of perfectly cooked pink, or medium rare steak we found in the city. The secret according to the waitress was that they, unlike most other restaurants around, slow cook the meat so that the fat melts, rather than burning off or searing. Regardless, it was equal to the steak we had on our visit three years ago which I fondly remember as one of the best steaks I’ve had.
The salad was even delicious with flakes of parmesan cheese. The chips were good but a bit boring and a bit too thick for my taste, but the green monster foam went well with them. It must have been intended for the fries because the steak had no need for it.
The extremely photogenic dessert, if I do say so myself, was a banana and dark chocolate brownie with yogurt cream. We had to get this as it was made with Valrhona chocolate which we always get ourselves for Christmas each year. The quality has declined in my opinion in the last two years, but it didn’t seem to effect the brownie. The yogurt was so good it got us thinking about how we could get an ice cream machine to make something similar.
Apparently whoever supplies honeycomb for Belfast has worked out a great deal with every restaurant in town because each menu featured an ice cream with honeycomb item. Still, the texture and flavor differences make for a great pairing.
For coffee in Belfast, you can’t go wrong many places. Between the great food, ready access to nature and trails, coffee scene, and unfortunately weather, I found myself comparing Belfast to Seattle. One of the highlights for coffee was Lock keeper’s, housed next to the old Lock Keeper’s residence along the canal locks on the River Lagan.
The area is perfect for recreation and is packed with runners, dog walkers, and stroller strollers. You can even tour the tiny two room lock keeper’s house which until the early 1990s housed the lock keeper’s family without electricity or water. The volunteers on staff are super friendly and spin a great yarn.
The coffee here was excellent and goes perfectly with a sit outside along the water by the locks.