Despite having a large Irish family (my Nan was Irish), the closest I’ve ever come to tasting authentic Irish cuisine is scoffing hearty breakfasts made using the chipolatas, fresh bacon, black and white pudding, soda farls and potato bread my relatives would stuff into their suitcases whenever they flew over from Dublin when I was a kid. My Nan would fry it all off and serve it with fried eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried potatoes, hot potato cakes and freshly buttered soda bread. The entire family would gather together around the table – my parents, grandparents, siblings, aunties and uncles – and we’d dig ravenously into our breakfasts, in radio silence except for the occasional grunt of approval.
Recently, however, I was able to expand upon my experience of Irish cuisine when Tourism Ireland and Visit Belfast invited me to visit Belfast for BelFeast Food and Drink Festival. I was accompanied by fellow Welsh food blogger, Becky of Munchies and Munchkins and we had a great time getting to know each other while exploring the best places to eat in Belfast.
- 1 The Bullit Hotel: the perfect base for a foodie stay
- 2 BelFeast
- 3 Belfast food guide
- 3.1 Belfast food tour
- 3.2 The best places to eat in Belfast
- 3.3 The best places to drink in Belfast
- 3.4 Share this:
The Bullit Hotel: the perfect base for a foodie stay
We stayed at The Bullit, a contemporary four-star hotel with 74 rooms, featuring three different room types. I stayed in a Dinky room, complete with a king-size bed, rain shower, free WiFi, smart TV, air conditioning, and complimentary tea and coffee with fresh milk – none of that UHT milk pot nonsense!
All rooms include a ‘grab-and-go’ breakfast bag, which is delivered to your door every morning and contains a pot of granola, a piece of fruit and orange juice.
The Bullit’s rooftop bar and restaurant, Babel, has an impressive cocktail menu and even has its very own garden.
As well as being the perfect base from which to explore the best places to eat in Belfast, The Bullit is also relatively close to a number of popular landmarks and attractions, including Titanic Belfast and Ulster Museum (home to the Game of Thrones tapestry). Rooms are currently priced from £120 per night – click here to check prices and make a booking.
Taking place from 23rd-25th March 2018, BelFeast was a new three-day food and drink festival based in and around the city’s Cathedral Quarter. It was set up by Belfast City Council to showcase the best food and drink the city has to offer, from artisan producers and farmers, to top restaurateurs. Think cookery demonstrations from restaurateurs behind some of the best places to eat in Belfast, local food markets, pop-up restaurants, food workshops, child-friendly activities and more!
BelFeast Artisan Food Market
When we heard there was an artisan food market taking place next to St. Anne’s Cathedral for BelFeast, we couldn’t resist popping along. With over 40 stalls selling street food and gourmet produce, we were spoilt for choice, from Armagh apple-infused Irish black butter and northern Ireland’s first ever bean-to-bar chocolate, to Polish-style hot dogs and paella.
It was the perfect opportunity to pick up a light bite to eat, or in my case, purchase a gift to give to my mum when I got home. She can’t be trusted around a box of Cadbury’s Roses as she always polishes off the strawberry ones before anyone else gets a look-in, so I just knew she would go crazy for Granny Shaw’s Fudge Factory’s strawberry and cream fudge.
BelFeast Food Theatre at The MAC
One of the highlights of our time at BelFeast was having the opportunity to watch several cookery demonstrations from some of northern Ireland’s most reputable restaurateurs, hosted by Kim Lenaghan at The MAC.
I especially loved watching chef Kim Close cook up a butternut squash and chickpea stew with harissa yoghurt, using fresh produce from Will Donnan’s Flavour First boxes, which are packed with organic veg grown on Will’s farm in Dongahadee, overlooking the Irish sea.
Meanwhile, after having boxty (meaning ‘poor man’s bread’) for brunch at Curated Kitchen earlier that day (more on that below) I relished the opportunity to learn how to make this traditional Irish dish from mother-and-son duo, Calvin and Jane Holohan from Holohan’s Pantry and Holohan’s at the Barge, using a cherished family recipe. A mixture of mashed and raw grated potato mixed with milk and fried in butter with plenty of salt, boxty could be likened to a potato rosti, although it has a slightly smoother consistency.
Beer and cheese tasting
If you thought wine and cheese pairing was where it’s at, think again. We went to a sell-out beer and cheese tasting event at the Black Box, one of Belfast’s popular alternative music venues.
I’m not a big beer drinker, but Boundary Brewing have such a versatile selection of Belgian-style beers, there is something to suit even the fussiest of palates. It’s no wonder they’ve been going strong since they first began trading around two years ago!
I particularly loved ‘The Question of If’ which was accurately summed up by Stephen, the man behind Boundary Brewing, as “a really good beer if you want to get drunk, but don’t want to look like a scumbag’ (we’ve all been there at some point or other, let’s face it!) We also tried an unsuspecting chocolate and coffee-infused stout that left us wanting more – we were gutted to find out they didn’t have any spare bottles on sale behind the bar!
The varied flavours of Boundary Brewery’s beers made them the perfect match for Mike’s Fancy Cheese Co’s range of five different cheeses, from ash-infused St. Tola, to what is probably Belfast’s most famous cheese, Young Buck. Similar to Stilton, this creamy blue cheese is made with raw milk and has a rich, tangy taste. Young Buck is made by Mike himself, although Mike’s Fancy Cheese Co. is a co-operative selling cheeses made by other independent producers. I’ve never been the biggest fan of blue cheese but this stuff was so good, I ended up spending £4 on a big block to take home with me.
Belfast Cookery School
Located close to Ulster, Belfast Cookery School is a haven for anyone who wants to learn how to cook restaurant-quality dishes themselves at home.
During BelFeast, Belfast Cookery School opened their doors up to the public to offer an engaging demonstration on how to cook the traditional Irish dish, seafood chowder.
This was my first taste of seafood chowder and after a late night spent drinking cocktails at Ox Cave (see below), I didn’t think it was going to go down to well. How wrong I was! This comforting, homely meal is made using a fish stock base comprising of fish bone marrow boiled in water to produce a stock (don’t cook it for too long or it’ll go cloudy), which is then mixed with leeks, fresh thyme and veg to boost the flavour. After you skim the scum from the surface, you have the perfect base for a seafood chowder. Just stir in some fresh double cream and add fresh fish such as cod or haddock, prawns and any shellfish you like, and you’re done!
Belfast food guide
Besides eating our way through lots of delicious homegrown produce from Belfast’s top independent producers at BelFeast, our tastebuds were tantalised by a range of other foodie experiences arranged for us by Tourism Ireland. Although we were only there for three days, we packed so much into our time (not to mention our mouths!), I felt like I’d had a thorough introduction to Belfast’s food and drink scene.
From a bar based within a brothel formerly owned by a well-known prostitute called Muriel, to a treasured family delicatessen with loyal customers travelling from all parts of Ireland to get their fix of Belfast’s best food and drink, we had a great time exploring the best places to eat in Belfast.
Belfast food tour
If you only have limited time in which to explore the city, yet you still want to uncover all the best places to eat in Belfast, make a bee-line for Taste & Tour’s Belfast food tour. Some of my personal favourite stops on this tour are mentioned below. The Belfast food tour costs £55 per person and believe me, it’s worth it – it lasts over four hours and you are bombarded with food and drink at every step of the way!
Owner and guide, Caroline Wilson deserves a special mention because she was so full of energy and enthusiasm, and she knew all there is to know about the best places to eat in Belfast.
The best places to eat in Belfast
St. George’s Market
For committed food lovers such as myself, visiting Belfast without taking a look around St. George’s Market is cardinal sin. Built sometime between 1890 an 1896, this historic Victorian market is to Belfast, what mercados are to Madrid. St George’s Market is an emporium for anyone looking to experience the best of Belfast’s food offering; stepping inside is like opening Pandora’s box – you never know exactly what you’ll find, or how long it’ll be until you emerge into the light of day again.
Dependent on what day you visit, the market will be filled with different kinds of stalls:
– Friday Variety Market, 6am – 3pm: over 300 stalls selling everything from fruit and veg, to antiques and books, including a fish section featuring no less then 23 stalls:
– Saturday City Food and Craft Market, 9am – 3pm: local, continental and specialty foods, handmade crafts, flowers, plants and local photography, pottery, glass and metal work. Pick up some Armagh beef, pork from Cookstown or fish landed at Portavogie.
– Sunday Market, 10am – 4pm: a mixture of the Friday and Saturday markets, with a special focus on local arts and crafts, and live music from local bands.
If you fancy a bite to eat after browsing the stalls and want to taste some authentic northern Irish cuisine, you can’t go wrong with the ‘Best of the Market’ breakfast at George’s of the Market, a charming little restaurant located on the first floor of the market, only open from Friday to Sunday. A traditional Irish breakfast also known as Ulster fry, this consists of pork and dulse sausages, bacon, vegetable roll, Clonakilty black pudding, egg, baked tomato, soda and potato bread. This has to be one of the best places to eat in Belfast!
Visiting the restaurant as part of our Belfast food tour with Taste & Tour, we shared skewers of Ulster Fry, served with local Barnhill 100% farm-pressed cloudy apple juice – a great way to fuel up before the four-hour gastronomical journey that lay before us!
Established in 1897, Sawers has been at the heart of the Belfast community for over 100 years, with many of the Irish guests on the Belfast food tour revealing that their mothers would often send them down to the delicatessen to pick up last-minute ingredients for dinner or ‘broken biscuits’, when they were younger. There’s not much you can’t find here, from cheese and meat, to confectionery and biscuits. Allow 20 minutes or so for a good look-around, and expect to want to buy everything in sight. You can find Sawers at the Fountain Centre on College Street.
We sampled a selection of local cheeses, including Young Buck blue cheese and a Guinness-flavoured cheese.
If you’re feeling peckish, treat yourself to a freshly prepared cheese and/or charcuterie platter, each of which come with a free glass of wine and are ideal for sharing. If you want to experience the best places to eat in Belfast, don’t miss out on a trip to Sawers!
While in Belfast, I had the pleasure of enjoying a meal at Ox, one of two Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, based on Oxford Street. This was actually my first experience of dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant and it was one that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. Having recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, Ox seems to be going from strength-to-strength and after sampling the food for myself, it’s clear to see why it’s one of the best places to eat in Belfast.
Headed up by local Head Chef, Stephen Toman and Brittany-born Alaine Kerloc’h, Ox ticks all the boxes of a typical Michelin-starred restaurant in terms of the quality and presentation of the food, without the airs and graces that usually come with the fine dining experience. Stephen even took the time to speak to us in person, and it was refreshing to meet such a down-to-earth, modest chef.
The seasonal five-course tasting menu (£55, or £85 with wine-pairing) is carefully crafted by Stephen and on the evening of our visit, highlights included fresh scallops in a bisque with salsify and squid ink crisp, medium-rare Mourne mountain lamb and my personal favourite, rhubarb cooked four-ways and served with thyme, honey and creme fraiche parfait.
With a focus on discovery and story-telling, Curated Kitchen on Donegall Street likes those who enter to feel as though they are guests, as opposed to merely customers. Owner, Alan Cahoon was inspired to open Curated Kitchen after he had a go at recreating one of the recipes from Feed Me Now by Bill Grainger, which gave him the idea of opening a café that showcased dishes concocted using the recipes of others.
The menu features around ten dishes, three of which change on a weekly basis, and all of the dishes have been carefully curated from cook books, blogs and platforms such as Tasty and Buzzfeed, with full credits given to the original recipe authors.
Every day at around 3pm, when our energy levels tend to slump and the sugar rush starts to kick in, Curated Kitchen start selling a different kind of sweet treat. On the day of our visit, they were serving freshly baked zappoli (Italian donuts) with a homemade raspberry jam – needless to say, they were delicious. In my opinion, this is one of the best places to eat in Belfast if you’re looking for a sugary pick-me-up.
A small library of cookbooks straddles two bookshelves at the entrance to the café, from which guests are able to loan out copies at a cost of £2 each. At the end of the year, the profits raised are donated to Belfast’s ‘Black Santa’ appeal, run by St. Anne’s Cathedral, just opposite from Curated Kitchen.
If you like your coffee, this is the place to be, as Curated Kitchen boats Ireland’s only ‘Slayer’ coffee machine. Made in Seattle – the home of coffee – this machine is used to steam milk in such a way as to maximise its sweetness, while retaining its original quality. The attention to detail is even apparent in the coffee cups themselves, which are modelled on the same pattern that appears on the original ceiling of the café.
We were so impressed by our initial visit to Curated Kitchen, we decided to return for brunch the following day. I tried a traditional Irish boxty breakfast of potato rosti, pork chipolata, crispy bacon rasher, fried egg, black pudding and a punchy whiskey chutney, drizzled with olive oil.
Opened around a year ago on Church Lane, Pablos is owned by the same team behind Muriel’s and The Spaniard (mentioned below) and you can order food direct to either bar from Pablos, so there’s no need to give up your bar stool. They are perhaps best known for their Glanarm short-horn beef burgers, all of which are made on-site, with the exception of one of the burger sauces.
We tried a Pablos burger while in Muriel’s bar, and it was delicious – full of meaty bite and packed with aromatic flavour, served in a fresh brioche bun.
The Bull and Ram
*Update* – The Bull and Ram has now sadly closed down.
The Bull and Ram was the final stop on our food-filled Belfast itinerary, although it was by no means the least – it has to be one of the best places to eat in Belfast for a roast dinner, if you ask me! We knew we were in for a treat when we saw the pork crackling (£4) we’d ordered as a starter. Served with a spiced apple sauce, the portions were so big the bowl was almost overflowing, and every now and then, we could actually hear the crackling popping.
Meanwhile, we inhaled a platter of braised short rib Young Buck blue cheese arancini (£5.50). The meat was so tender it literally dissolved in our mouths – the perfect match for the crunchy breadcrumb coating.
Dining at the restaurant on a Sunday, there was no doubt in our minds that we’d be ordering a roast dinner. Priced at £17.95 with a glass of house wine, this isn’t the cheapest roast dinner you’ll come across in Belfast, but it has to be one of the best.
Served with a choice of locally sourced Himalayan salt-aged beef or lamb, each dinner is brimming with well-seasoned mash, steamed seasonal veg, golden roast potatoes, crispy parsnips, creamy cauliflower cheese and crunchy roast carrots, topped with a gigantic Yorkshire pudding.
The best places to drink in Belfast
If you’re visiting Belfast for a night-out, you’ll be pleased to know that the city is home to no end of historical pubs and lively nightclubs. The Cathedral Quarter is usually where it’s at on a Friday or Saturday night, with live street music and pubs overflowing onto the cobbled streets. Here are some of my favourite drinking spots in Belfast.
Duke of York
This famous pub on Belfast’s Commercial Court (formerly the Belfast Merchant Boxing Club) is actually missing a floor, having been bombed back in 1971. While we didn’t have time to make it here for a drink during our short visit, it’s well worth a look if you’re interested in exploring Belfast’s historical side.
This popular 1600s drinking spot is named after the cock-fighting ring that formerly existed within the Duke of York. Despite only having a few bar stools inside, The Spaniard is one of the most popular pubs in Belfast. What’s more, as it’s owned by the same team behind Pablo’s, you don’t have to give up your bar stool when you get hungry, as you can order a burger direct to the bar.
Another highlight of the Belfast Food Tour included a visit to Muriel’s Cafe-Bar on Church Lane, once a former brothel run by a local prostitute named Muriel.
Even to this day, the bar oozes with provocative glamour and risque decor; from the lingerie hanging on the make-shift washing line as you make your way in, to the landscape portrait of a semi-naked lady sprawled across the wall behind the upstairs bar, and the monochrome framed photos of vintage glamour models adorning the lavatory walls.
Relax in a vintage velvet armchair while sipping on Belfast’s own Jawbox Gin, and if you happen to get peckish, pop to the bar and order a burger from the aforementioned Pablo’s, and it’ll be delivered to the bar for you.
One of the oldest pubs in Belfast, The Garrick is thought to have been built in 1870. This traditional pub is rich in character and charm, with a colourful history. It’s thought that the pub was once visited by the 18th-century Shakespearan actor, David Garrick, although others believe it took inspiration for its name from the Garrick Club, a trendy London establishment founded some forty years earlier. The Garrick Club was one of author, William Thackeray’s favourite watering holes. Apparently, he visited Belfast in 1842, so it may be that he mentioned something that inspired the name for the pub. The pub has changed hands a number of times since it was originally run by McCauley, McCashin and Co, and today, it’s run by Colm Oates.
Popping into the pub at lunchtime, it was clear to see that it’s one of those places that attracts the locals. We could spot the regulars, who had already bagged the best spots.
We sipped on local craft pale beer, Belfast Blonde as we munched on fresh champ; a typical Northern Irish dish of creamy mash mixed with spring onions (a.k.a scallions), fresh butter, milk and plenty of salt and pepper. This modest, unsuspecting dish was actually incredibly satisfying, and I imagine it would taste even better paired with some smoked haddock or perhaps even some seafood chowder.
The Merchant Hotel
Stepping inside Belfast’s AA Award-winning five-star The Merchant Hotel is like entering another world – a world filled with colossal crystal chandeliers, grand fireplaces and vintage glamour. Besides being an exceptionally lovely place to stay, this swanky venue is ideal for pre-dinner drinks and it’s cocktails are rumoured to be among the best in Belfast. Click here to book a stay at The Merchant Hotel.
I tried the the Sicilian Collins (£9.95) – a refreshing combination of Plymouth Gin, Campari, Cointreau, cane syrup, lemon juice, fresh ruby grapefruit juice, orange bitters and chilled seltzer water, served with a stainless steel straw.
It’s not just its food that Ox has developed such a great reputation for. Next door to the restaurant, you’ll find Ox Cave.
Ox Cave is the ideal go-to for after dinner drinks, although the rules state you have to order something to eat too, if only some cheese and crackers. This serves to maintain an affluent clientele and keep out the riff-raff, so to speak.
I hope you enjoyed reading my guide to Belfast’s food and drink scene, and I would like to thank Tourism Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland for being such excellent hosts. I had such a good time visiting the city that I am already considering returning for a second visit, so expect further updates to my Belfast Food Guide when I finally get round to booking another trip!
Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? What do you think are the best places to eat in Belfast – are there any places that deserve to be added to my Belfast Food Guide?