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James Street Bar and Grill

When eyeing up culinary destinations for a quick and greedy weekender, I’d forgive you for not putting Belfast at the top of the list. I would however inform you that you are quite wrong. 2016 is the Year of Food and Drink for Northern Ireland and so there’s never been a tastier time to visit!
A recent post covered the area’s unbelievable natural beauty with my guide to the Causeway Coast and Glens road trip, voted one of the world’s top 5! From clifftops and the shore, now I turn to the urban city of Belfast. This blog will explore how best to eat and drink this wonderful city…and oh, what eating and drinking there is to do.

 

Where to drink?

Now, I’d normally begin with the food but with this post being on Ireland…I figured ‘when in Rome’ so let’s drink!
No sooner than I’d disembarked the flight and reached the door of our hotel (Malmaison Belfast) was I back outside and off on a bar tour by the wonderful BelfastFoodTour.com company. Caroline, founder of the company, was leading us and told us of the burgeoning scene that has sprung up over the last few years, to rival any major city’s. Together we hit up a heady list of 6 joints ranging from the ultra-trendy, to the old man boozer. See my list of where to tipple:

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The Spaniard

 

The Religious Experience: The Spaniard. This trendy bar, right in Belfast’s centre, is famous for its its quirky decor. Head upstairs and every wall, every nook is decked out with religious iconography. Don’t get me wrong, this is no religious nut-shop – you come here to drink and the bar has over 150 different rums for you to breeze through.
3 Skipper St, Belfast, County Antrim BT1 2DZ
www.thespaniardbar.comThe Warehouse Party: The Dirty Onion. If you want to work a sneaky drink into a scholarly sight seeing itinerary, come here. This bar and live music venue is built into a 1750s warehouse – it used to store Jameson whiskey in the 1900s so order yourself a Jameson and ginger ale, sit and soak up the history!
3 Hill St, Belfast BT1 2LA
www.thedirtyonion.com

The Ultimate Boozer: The Duke of York. Picture the most quintessentially Irish pub you can fathom. You’re there. The Duke of York is just the most perfect old man’s pub on Commercial Court. It serves excellent beers and is always bustling. Commercial Court in itself is worth a visit – watch out for the art installation of 10s of suspended upside down umbrellas across the alley. Walk under these brollies and you come into a courtyard painted with colourful characters by Danny Devenny.
7-11 Commercial Ct, Belfast BT1 2NB
www.dukeofyorkbelfast.com

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The Speakeasy: APOC. Down a strange little alleyway (the sort of shadowy cranny you’ll imagine flashers lurking down) is a hidden speakeasy cocktail bar called A.P.O.C, acronym to the rather charming name ‘Arranged Presence of Company’. It’s a cool joint with a wood burning stove and intimate seating. The bar staff know all there is to know about cocktails and it’s a brilliant spot for a date – nothing like having to give a password for entry to raise eyebrows.
1 Goose Entry, Belfast, BT1 1FP
www.apocbelfast.comThe Shopping Centre: Hudson’s Yard. This gigantic bar, spreading over 4 floors and a courtyard, used to be a shopping centre until it was converted into a bar serving craft beer and whisky, along with bar food – their chicken wings are particularly famous.
10-14 Gresham St, Belfast BT1 1JN
www.hudsonbelfast.com

 

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The Craic & Carols: The Sunflower. If you’re looking for a real relic of 80s Northern Ireland, head to The Sunflower on Union street. It’s doorway still has a metal security cage on it dating from the conflict, where it was used to identify people before they entered. This is a really nice pub with excellent live music. They still operate under the traditional system, where musicians can turn up (unbooked) and play in exchange for free drinks. When we visited 5 individual players had showed up and were jamming rousing Irish music together. Really atmospheric. The movie Good Vibrations was filmed here!
Union St, Belfast, County Antrim BT1 2JG
https://www.facebook.com/sunflowerpublichouse/
 
The Charitable Tipple: The John Hewitt. This is a non-profit pub on the site of an old print works which used to produce the oldest newspaper in the world! Alongside this claim to fame, it was also the site for the first ever gig Mumford and Sons played (in return for pints too!). They do good food here and they’ve even started making their own gin – Jawbox gin.
 51 Donegall St, Belfast BT1 2FH
www.thejohnhewitt.com/The Grande Damme: The Merchant Hotel. The Merchant is a grand old Victorian 5* hotel in central Belfast with a bar and restaurant. The cocktails served up here are delicious, and I can’t imagine a grander spot to sip them.
16 Skipper St, Belfast, County Antrim BT1 2DZ​
https://www.themerchanthotel.com/

 

As an asides – make sure you get hold of some Shortcross Gin whilst you’re over. This is a craft gin made right there in Northern Ireland containing botanicals hand foraged, including clover! It’s a real local treasure and one not to miss whilst you’re there.

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Where to Eat?

Belfast is a fabulous destination for any foodie. You hear a lot about the rolling green hills and glens of Ireland, and what else could these breed but wonderful produce.
Below you’ll see a list of my top food spots to visit, but if you really want to dig beneath the surface of this city’s culinary scene, take the BelfastFoodTours.com tour. It lasts 4 hours and hits up tonnes of places off the beaten track you’d never discover otherwise and introduces you to the characters behind the companies. Indeed, I did it on this trip and I owe the below list to it almost entirely.

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St George's Market

 St George’s Market – For me, there’s no rapider way of cutting to the heart of a place’s food scene than visiting the local market and St George’s is a fantastic one. It’s in an old, grand Victorian covered market (the last in Belfast) and Saturday is food day (therefore the BEST time to visit). We had Caroline from BelfastFoodTours with us to take us round all the best stalls and wrangle us samples, but it’s great for an unguided potter too. This market has EVERYTHING: from the oldest coffee roasters in Ireland (SD Bell & Co Ltd.) to bespoke Suki teas, from the freshest fish and oysters, shucked right in front of you, to Lough Neagh eels, from aged beef from cows fed on beer to the beer the cows are fed on (Hills Town Farm), and to the best fry up you’ll ever have (Belly Busters). This latter point is official: the Ulster fry (Northern Irish equivalent of an English Breakfast) is regularly recognised as the best in the world and Belly Busters do an epic one!
East Bridge St, Belfast BT1 3NQ
https://www.facebook.com/StGeorgesMarketBelfast

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Local Grub: The Garrick is a typical old man’s pub near St George’s Market serving up great Irish pub grub, including the best champ in Belfast! For those who haven’t tried champ – it’s buttery mashed potato with spring onion. Simple but fabulous. This pub was founded in 1870 and has a good selection too of local ales – try the McGrath’s stouts!
29 Chichester St, Belfast BT1 4JB
thegarrickbar.com/Brunch & Lunch: Coppi restaurant is a wonderful, chic Italian bistro near the Cathedral. The menu is broad and tempting, including a duck ragu with truffle, pizzas and tonnes of meat and fish. My highlight there includes their insane feta fritters with truffle honey – to die for.
www.coppi.co.uk
Unit 2 Saint Anne's Square, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast BT1 2LR

 

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Coppi

Meat Meat Meat: James Street Bar and Grill is a sleek bistro serves up an awesome selection of local Northern Irish beef, including the famous Peter Hannan’s Himalayan Salt Aged Beef (winner of multiple awards and truly spectacular). We also tried Peter Hannan’s sugar cured pork here – they bury the pork in a pit covered in sugar, leave it to cure and then smoke it to perfect tenderness. Just insanely good.
21 James St S, Belfast BT2 7GA
www.belfastbargrill.co.uk/

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Fine Dining: Ox Belfast is a one michelin star restaurant recently voted the ‘Hottest Restaurant to visit in Western Europe’ 2015 in the World’s Best 50 Restaurant awards. From its clientele, I can believe it. Behind our table the entire cast of Game of Thrones were dining (they do much of their filming nearby – see my earlier post for the locations!) and James Nesbitt was downstairs dining too! As for the food? Very interesting. Plates are dainty, combinations artful with a focus on nature. One for a special occasion, although at £45 for a 5 course tasting menu it really is good value.
1 Oxford St, Belfast BT1 3LA
http://oxbelfast.com/
 
Chocolate fix? Visit the Co Couture shop near Belfast City Hall. They have a massive selection of handmade chocolates and hot chocolates, to suit any sweet tooth.
2 Chichester St, Belfast BT1 4LA
www.cocouture.co.ukTime for a coffee? Established Coffee House is widely heralded as the finest coffee in Belfast and I can understand why. It's a quirky little joint in the Cathedral District, staffed almost exclusively by men that look like lumberjacks (think beard and flannels as a uniform) and serves a range of seasonal coffees.
 54 Hill St, Belfast BT1 2LB
established.coffee
 
I’ve never thought much about Belfast as an up and coming or progressive city, food and drinks wise. It’s presence in the press has been overshadowed, sadly, with historic conflict and tragedy. However, from this history a a new city of culture and technology has arisen. It’s not many cities that have the opportunity, or impetus to start afresh and Belfast has grabbed this, and its apron strings, with both hands. Sure, a scar remains, but it’s one that’s birthed a tremendous appetite to compete with the great food and drink cities of the United Kingdom. Boy, how it does compete. Please visit and do, yes do, come hungry.

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