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I have just returned from my annual Easter pilgrimage to Northern Ireland to visit my in-laws. I like my in-laws but I'm sorry to say, I don't like Northern Ireland. I have tried very hard over the years but Belfast (and adjoining areas) just doesn't do it for me.

Neverthless, each year I put on a brave face and think about how 'this time I'm going to find good food in Belfast'. That will make it all better because I'm sure that somewhere in Northern Ireland there are really good places to eat. Sadly, I have failed again this time.

We had lunch at Equinox, a cafe that sits in the back of a trendy houseware shop. Interesting sounding menu - but I'm glad I had a chance to view the dishes on offer before committing to them. Chicken and roasted red pepper on toasted wheaten sounded good until I noticed that it was all chopped into tiny bits and bound with mayo - then blobbed on top of a piece of toasted wheaten bread. Even the salad nicoise (called on the menu: salad with tuna, green beans, baby potatoes, and egg) featured an eggy ball of tuna mayonaise plonked on some lettuce. They offered three types of pasta - two were 'with a cream sauce' (my husband ordered one - his was drenched in cream and lacking in flavour). I ordered the most harmless sounding - roasted courgette pasta with lemon and hazel nut pesto - not bad but it was as if the top had come off the olive oil bottle when that little extra drizzle was added.

For dinner we tried to get into Deane's - which apparently has two stars. We were told that we had to book 3 - 4 weeks in advance unless we wanted to eat in the brasserie which featured dishes such as spag bol and fish and chips. We were told that Deane's and Deane's Brasserie didn't even share the same kitchen so we declined.

We went instead to Porcelaine, the self-conscious fusion restaurant in the self-conscious wannabe uber-trendy boutique hotel, 10 Square. We thought that things might improve...they didn't. Not only were we serenaded all evening by a pianist belting out U2 and Sting which is enough to put you offer your meal in itself, but the food, once again seemed to lack something. I had a fairly standard salad as a starter, hubby had white bean and truffle soup which was totally tasteless. Where the truffles were in that concoction, we shall never know. My main course was sauteed scallops with asian vegetables which would have been good had the chef not been so heavy handed with the cracked pepper and over enthusiastic with the lemon juice. Hubby had duck which he found chewy and under-seasoned. It seemed that someone in the kitchen had some very malajusted tastebuds, as dishes appeared over-seasoned to an extreme or under-seasoned to the point of blandness. Without a doubt the biggest disappointment was the dessert; marinated apricots on brioche with white chocolate sorbet . A dish appeared with three blobs across is: a pile of stewed apricots, something you'd expect to see on a breakfast sideboard at a B & B, two pieces of grilled STALE brioche, and a tiny mound of white chocolate sorbet that disintegrated as soon as it was touched - a nonsequitor on a plate. Nothing seemed to be in harmony, the brioche in particular seemed wholly out of place in its texture and blandness.

On a positive note (and one always has to try to be positive) one of the Corr sisters was there that night. I wonder what she thought of the singing pianist?

So, this now leaves the quest to be continued next year. Hopefully Deane's will wow me into submission and I will be forced to reevaluate my malformed notions about Belfast cuisine...but somehow...hummmm...I'm not banking on it.

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Hallie, deeply disappointed to hear that you don't enjoy Belfast as a city to eat in. I used to get there quite a bit for work and loved every moment of it. Here's an updated version of a post I made about a year ago :

In the recent past I have been a regular visitor to Belfast and so know the city's restaurant scene quite well. I have reviewed two restaurants, Shu (website here) and Tatu. As a relatively small city, Belfast has many more excellent places to eat out that you might imagine. Leading culinary light is Paul Rankin, who worked for the Roux brothers in London before returning to his native city to open Belfasts first Michelin starred restaurant, Roscoff about 10 years ago. His kitchen has and continues to train most of the great chefs of the area, including Robbie Millar of Shanks in Bangor, about 10 miles down the road (designed by the Conran partnership but not a Conran restaurant) who also has a Michelin star.

Roscoff has now been transformed into Cayenne and has a more informal "funky" feel to it that is being copied by a number of other restaurants, and focuses more firmly on the spicey fusion side of Rankin's style, which also has a solid French basis from his Roux days. You can see a menu here. The Rankins have now opened Rain City" on Botanic Ave and is loosely based on an American diner/cafe. It apparently has had

mixed reviews although a source tells me that he has had excellent meals there. Here's a good review.

Fontana is just down the road in Holywood and also headed up by an ex-Roscoff chef. Their website is here

Another big noise is Michael Deane of Restaurant Michael Deane and Deane's brasserie, both of which are housed in the same building near to the Opera House and the Europa Hotel. Deane trained under Mosimann at the Dorchester alongside Ian McAndrew (a formerly Michelin starred chef who has now retired from the kitchen which is an enourmous shame has he was utterly brilliant). Deane worked for McAndrew in his Canterbury restaurant before opening his first place in St Helens. His style is similar to Rankin's in that it has fusion elements but also some classic French stuff. He is big on things like curry oils and lemongrass jus.

The restaurant is straining for a second star (doesn't have it yet as far as I am aware) and is very proper and quite solemn in a way. I like it though.

Website here

Ginger restaurant was getting people excited last time I was there, but I havent been myself. Heres a review.

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  • 2 months later...

Hallie, how was it this year? As someone who has just moved back to NI last year after 13 years away (in London & Glasgow) I would agree the overall standard of food is chronically dire. I and my partner had one of the most dredaful meals ever in Michael Deane's Brasserie. And I wouldn't pay for the upstairs Michelin-starred restauraunt becasue I simply can't afford it.

There are a few oasis of good food though, some of them quite surprising.

One is the new pizza section of Cafe Renoir on Botanic Avenue - Pizza Renior. The pizzas are baked fresh in the big ovens, and then all sorts of weird and strangely wonderful toppings are added depending on your choice, like pesto, roast potatoes, and a wide seafood selection. I think the place is run by Australians. I've tried three types of pizza so far and thumbs up to all. Their beer selection is also uncommonly good even by 'cool bar' standards in Belfast. Nice!

Another place that refuses to disappoint is Cayenne on Bradbury Place. Sure its been around forever, but the standard of the menu is consistently good and the cocktail waiter can shake a mean Manhattan!

Apparently Alden's, the fresh seafood restaurant in East Befast up the Hollywood Road somewhere is bonzer, all my friends rave about it but I haven't been yet.

For lunch I'd recommend you get round to Bagel Bagel facing the Art College and St Ann's Cathedral for a tasty selection of freshly filled bagels of every variety. Cafe Casa on College Street facing the Fountain Centre in town do a great mixture of salads and pasta/rice dishes. And their coffee is the best in town.

If you're ever up the Ormeau Road, Grafitti is always worth a visit, whether for breakfast, coffee, lunch or dinner. Friendly service and great food with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

ps Ginger has closed now. Apparently the owner Simon McCance went to head chef Opium in town which started out well in January but has since gone drastically down hill. Apparently McCance is now 'menu consultant'. Whatever that means?? Avoid at all costs!

Also, some new places are rumoured to be opening in the Cathedral Quarter over the next 6-12 months to keep Nick's Warehouse and Ba Soba company.

Good luck next year Hallie!

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I would agree the overall standard of food is chronically dire.

That appears to be a very harsh assessment indeed. My experience, although now a little dated I admit, was of food and service of an overall good to very good standard. My strong impression was of a quite well evolved restaurant culture, much better than that in my own home town of Brighton for example. Apart from your one bad experience in Deanes, what else has led you to give the city such an extremely poor rating?

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I've had so many average-to-bad experiences in Belfast's restaurants and gastro bars - The Apartment (repeatedly), Bar Soba, Irene & Nans, Water Margin, Sun-Kee, Beatrice Kennedy, Tatu. I was never even a serious foodie in London, but the wee Morroccan round the corner in Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park was better than the average overpriced 'posh nosh' that is unquestioningly lapped up here, especially in Italian restauraunts (Scalini's, Villa Italia, etc, etc), suand in the gastro-bars.

Here's a good one - Belfast first Japanese restaurant is opening early next year (there is actually a pretty good one not far from Belfast already). Anyway, this new gaff, its owned and run by the same people that own the Red Panda restaurants, which are Chinese restaurants. And no one is batting an eyelid at this... what would be your spin on this bold innovation?

Two other exceptions to the prevailing dross i forgot to mention are Bourbon on Great Victoria Street and Alto's on Fountain Street (only open till 5pm tho this may change (hopefully!).

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I've had very enjoyable experiences at both Sun Kee and Beatrice Kennedy.

From what you have said, it sounds like you have had a number of good meals to counter the bad, so that "chronically dire" appears to be an overstatement. I don't wish to be pedantic, but its worth bearing in mind that these boards have a very wide audience.

Its only fair to both those looking for recommendations of where to eat and visit, and those professionals who actually provide the food and deliver the experience, that we try to ensure that posts on eGullet are as accurate as possible. Opinions, especially extreme ones, should be backed up with adequate detail and evidence in order to make them supportable. Its a very different thing to say to a friend in passing that the food somewhere is dire and to post a similar statement here.

In terms of my spin on the bold innovation of Red Panda moving into Japanese food, I can't really see a problem. In London, we've already had a Frenchman cooking Italian (Bruno Loubet at Isola) and Alan Yau, a native of Hong Kong launched Japanese style noodles in a big way with Wagamama. I don't think Red Panda is seen as a "serious" restaurant anyway is it?

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  • 9 months later...
any different or recent Belfast experiences?

Funny you should ask. I was just in Belfast last week for our usual Easter visit. This time we tried the Oxford Exchange (at least I think that's what its called - its in the newly renovated part of town near the water front).

Food wise, it wasn't bad but the service was jaw-droppingly horrific. We reserved a table and arrived 15 minutes late. Our host gestured to what undoubtedly was the worst table in the house (behind a pillar and directly in the entry way to the restaurant) and said 'there's you over there' - not even the courtesy of showing us to our seats. We then waited 10 minutes for menus. The place was far from full, so unless we were being persecuted for sectarian reasons, there seemed to be no logical reason why the service was so bad. After attempting to catch the wait staff's eye for several minutes we were asked for our drinks order - and believe it or not, our waiter turned on his heel and walked away from us while we were still giving it!! Although ready to order our food (we had now been sitting there with menus for 15 minutes - no bread arrived and we were famished by then) no one ever appeared to take our order. When someone did turn up, they were surly and rude. We then waited a further 30 minutes for our starters when the host came up to us and apologised for 'misplacing' our order. We had to order again. At last the starters arrived, nearly 45 minutes after we had initially ordered them. To be honest, I can't even recall what we had - I ate mine so fast (it was now just after 10pm). I do remember being pleasantly surprised at its quality. 20 minutes later our main courses arrived. Again - quite good venison but the details are all a blur due to the fact that I was on the verge of passing out with hunger and had consumed the contents of a very large goblet of cabernet on an empty stomach. At that point it might as well have been a kebab for all I cared.

In the end, there was no attempt to compensate. Any good restaurant would have offered us at least a free glass of wine. As a parting gesture we completely withheld the tip and left very quickly.

Another Belfast thumbs down, I'm afraid. :sad:

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  • 9 months later...

Hello everyone, first post.........

I live in belfast and would tend to agree with most of the opinions above, Although There are some decent places to eat.

Micheal deane has three decent restaurant operations at the minute, With his thai venture 'Chokdee' Closing and making way for 'Deanes Deli'. His head Chef At his Brasserie Derek Creah was hestons Sous chef at the fat duck.

Shu recently Had a change of Chef in Brian mc cann who, I'm led to believe was sous at The Square under philip howard.

Also no one has mentioned shanks in bangor who have maintained a Michelin star for ten years now.

And along with Rankins wayward operations, Which always seem ok, Belfast is'nt that bad.

Having said that, I have eaten some of the worst food imaginable in belfast, So it's a case of sorting the wheat from the chaff........

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Having moved back to the good old 'N of I' in December 2003 (to purchase a restaurant of my own) I have to agree with the majority of the negativity about Belfast. Having done all the 'guide listed' when I returned, including Deanes, Roscoff, Cayenne, Aldens, Shanks, Oriel, James St South and Fontana, to be honest, none of them really lit my fire. The best of the bunch being without doubt, James St South. I tried my best to find others, but failed. Are my standards to high? Possibly, but it was the 'whole' experience I was after and if the food had've been slightly under par, but the service made up for it, I'd have made an effort to revisit. The service, in general, in this industry in NI, is appalling. Truly appalling.

Having been away from NI for over 18 years and having left in the first place to pursue a career in Cheffing (as NI had nothing to offer in 1986) it's started to become a destination city, after years of turmoil. From being a nation of non foodies' to now having a huge array of places to dine, unfortunately the infastructure's not there to support it.

I have never worked and run my own business in such a frustrating place. It may be where I was born, but it's ten years behind the rest of the UK.

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Throwing in my tuppence (also as a resident of Belfarce):

Simon McCance has re-opened Ginger within the past 2 months (now situated in Hope Street), and it is as great as the previous version. Still a limited amount of tables which suits me fine, and the food is freshest, local produce, with minimal tinkering, no pretensions, and tenderly treated. Fantastic.

Zen opened last year in Adelaide Street (member of the Red Panda Group, but nothing in common with other Red Panda restaurants) and Belfast finally has a sushi restaurant. Yes, it's pretty standard sushi conceptually, but also perfectly executed. And the interior (upstairs) is beyond striking. Also has the best cocktail menu in Ireland - Sazerac with 18yr Sazerac bourbon anyone? Manhattan with Pikesville 4yr Old Rye? Someone mentioned earlier shaking a Manhatten. No! We "stir" them daaling.

L'étoile on the Ormeau Road - classic French cooking. No nonsense. Rock!

With a few notable exceptions, I have to agree that the standard of eating and service in Belshaft remains appalling - and I say this as someone who still werks in the industry over here. While there are some good restaurants here, they are invariably qualified with the caveat "good for Belfarce". This ain't acceptable for me. It is, unfortunately, perfectly acceptable for the general Northern Ireland palate, which is leaden, lumpen, made of asbestos and judges the quality of a meal by whther the contents of the plate should be climbed or eaten.

City of Culture bid? How we snarfed.

irony doesn't mean "kinda like iron".

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judges the quality of a meal by whther the contents of the plate should be climbed or eaten.

You've hit the nail on the head. Pack the plates and pack 'em high.

'Oh, I'd a lovely meal at (enter any restaurant in Belfarce you wish) and I couldn't finish it, there was so much! It was a bargain! And the £8.50 fresh seabass was so lovely and such a bargain. I especially liked the seasonal strawberries in December! We'll be back - and we'll tell all our friends (both of them)

:unsure:

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I'm afraid i'll have to disagree here, Niall Mc Kenna's food has to be some of the worst I've come across, Fair enough the room is nice but I think that has more to do with 24/7 who designed the place.

His techniques are tired and safe and his repetoire very limited,And some of his pairings very strange to say the least.

But he is a likeable chap who has done well.

The oriel at present is doing some interesting food, But the surroundings are grim.

I still think Deanes and shanks are the only Restaurants Catering to the northern irish pallate with any sort of flair.

And may i ask when postcode intends on opening in belfast, And what sort of place will it be?

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I'm afraid i'll have to disagree here, Niall Mc Kenna's food has to be some of the worst I've come across, Fair enough the room is nice but I think that has more to do with 24/7 who designed the place.

  His techniques are tired and safe and his repetoire very limited,And some of his pairings very strange to say the least.

But he is a likeable chap who has done well.

The oriel at present is doing some interesting food, But the surroundings are grim.

I still think Deanes and shanks are the only Restaurants Catering to the northern irish pallate with any sort of flair.

And may i ask when postcode intends on opening in belfast, And what sort of place will it be?

No intention of it whatsoever. Belfast is a fickle market dictated primarily by the fur coat no knicker brigade who simply eat out at the likes of Deanes, in order to boast of where they've been to their next door neighbours/colleagues/families/subordinates/competitors.

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Belfast is a fickle market dictated primarily by the fur coat no knicker brigade who simply eat out at the likes of Deanes, in order to boast of where they've been to their next door neighbours/colleagues/families/subordinates/competitors.

Slight generalisation there Postcode, suggesting a wee lack of market research and a frankly myopic view of who eats what in Belshaft these days. And for the record, I like the no knickers brigade.

Where will ewe be opening then? Bangor? Helen's Bay? Both of which are populated by second generation/older variations of the self-same "scourge" ewe so eloquently describe, but have simply evolved into the types of creature who espouse the same wanton elitism that ewe do.

(London)Derry? If so, then this is simply madness as the disposable income is nowhere near on a par with Belfarce, and the restaurant-going public nearly minimal (unless ewe serve ribs 'n' sauce and Ulster fries).

I am genuinely am curious as to where ewe hope to open, if not Belfast, and the reasons for this. Call it a vested interest.

Q

irony doesn't mean "kinda like iron".

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Belfast is a fickle market dictated primarily by the fur coat no knicker brigade who simply eat out at the likes of Deanes, in order to boast of where they've been to their next door neighbours/colleagues/families/subordinates/competitors.

Slight generalisation there Postcode, suggesting a wee lack of market research and a frankly myopic view of who eats what in Belshaft these days. And for the record, I like the no knickers brigade.

Where will ewe be opening then? Bangor? Helen's Bay? Both of which are populated by second generation/older variations of the self-same "scourge" ewe so eloquently describe, but have simply evolved into the types of creature who espouse the same wanton elitism that ewe do.

(London)Derry? If so, then this is simply madness as the disposable income is nowhere near on a par with Belfarce, and the restaurant-going public nearly minimal (unless ewe serve ribs 'n' sauce and Ulster fries).

I am genuinely am curious as to where ewe hope to open, if not Belfast, and the reasons for this. Call it a vested interest.

Q

A vested interest? Why? I'm curious.

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"A vested interest? Why? I'm curious"

Aye, I'll see ewer reticence and raise ewe 3 intransigences. :hmmm:

Ewe'd think EG might be a perfect place to effectively market a new (or, in the pipeline) restaurant. Apparently not!

As ewe asked, I werk in the biz, I write in the biz, I eat in the biz, and I drink in the biz. And I live in NI. One dead cat?

irony doesn't mean "kinda like iron".

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"A vested interest? Why? I'm curious"

Aye, I'll see ewer reticence and raise ewe 3 intransigences.  :hmmm:

Ewe'd think EG might be a perfect place to effectively market a new (or, in the pipeline) restaurant. Apparently not!

As ewe asked, I werk in the biz, I write in the biz, I eat in the biz, and I drink in the biz. And I live in NI. One dead cat?

Whatever. :rolleyes:

Anyway, Paul Rankin has hit the mark once again with Roscoff Brasserie. It's a deceptive name, as to me it's far from being a brasserie and just as formal as the original Roscoff was. Prices aren't cheap and portions are small. £10 for a foie gras starter (foie gras the size of 2 postage stamps) and the food is steeped in French methodology. No fusion, Asian twists, just honest French inspired food. Bloody good service and a cheese trolley to die for.

Belfast's new peerless restaurant. One to watch.

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With a few notable exceptions, I have to agree that the standard of eating and service in Belshaft remains appalling

Over the last 12 months I've eaten in London, Ludlow, Manchester, Brighton, Paris, Vancouver, San Francisco and Belfast among other places. My experiences in Belfast at Cayenne, Roscoff Brasserie, Shu, James Street South and Bourbon were a very long way from appalling. For a small city, Belfast has a decent number of very good restaurants and some very talented chefs. I have generally found the service to be at the very least warm and friendly.

I am of course speaking as an infrequent visitor to the city and can't claim intimate knowledge of the broader restaurant scene, but I think the best of Belfast bears comparison with restaurants in any of the cities named above.

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Not quite Belfast, but not worthy of a topic of its own, Paul Arthurs, in Kircubbin was getting good reviews recently, so we drove the 50 mile round trip down there, from Belfast, for a lunch reservation (which we'd also confirmed) only to find the door of the restaurant locked. On entering his 'fish 'n' chip' shop downstairs which he also owns, we asked if there was a problem upstairs, as the door was locked. We were then told he'd decided not to open for lunch.'But we're booked and we confirmed it' we barked. 'I'll go and get him up and tell him you're here' she proclaims. I think not. We left and eat in a ropey pub across the road, only to be told (on voicing our annoyance at what had just happened) that it's a regular occurance - he opens when he feels like it.

I'm not even going to provide a link to his site - he doesn't deserve to have customers. There's laidback Irish and then there's Paul Arthurs.

Edited by postcode (log)
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Niall Mckenna is doing some really interesting stuff at James Street South, which is also a lovely room. My interview with him appears in the next edition of Restaurant magazine.

The interview actually appears in the issue published today.

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