by Donna Dailey
With a wealth of superb natural produce on their doorstep and a wave of artisan producers supplying everything from handmade butter and oils to goat kid meat, creative chefs are making Northern Ireland the UK’s hottest foodie destination. Top establishments are found not only in Belfast but across the region. Here are our picks for ten of the best restaurants in Northern Ireland.
Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast
All Photos (c) Donna Dailey
Mourne Seafood Bar
Bob McCoubrey was an oyster farmer before starting a small seafood bar a few years ago. Now, as co-owner of Mourne Seafood Bar, he sources the best oysters from Donegal and the freshest, seasonal fish straight off the boats in nearby Kilkeel. Combine this with affordable prices, and it’s no wonder this restaurant is always hopping.
A firm favourite is the oysters on the half shell Japanese style, served with shredded cucumber and pickled ginger. The salt and chili squid is also delicious, spicy but not too hot. Main courses include scallop, lobster, whole fish and daily specials. www.facebook.com/MourneSeafoodBar
Deane’s Meat Locker
This might possibly be the tastiest steak you’ve ever eaten. Michael Deane is the doyen of Belfast fine dining, and his latest venture at the Meat Locker features succulent cuts of 35-day Himalayan salt aged beef.
The technique was pioneered by Peter Hannan, Deane’s meat supplier, who created the first salt chamber in Europe. According to Hannan, Himalayan salt is 98 per cent pure, with 82 trace elements and minerals not found in any other salt. This method of aging “gives meat the ultimate opportunity to become as good as it can be,” Hannan says. A window in the restaurant gives diners a peek at a mini-salt chamber. www.michaeldeane.co.uk/meat-locker
Coppi Italian Restaurant in Belfast
On a sunny day, head for an outdoor table at this trendy Italian restaurant in St Anne’s Square. Start with a glass of prosecco and a selection of cichetti, the elegant snacks served in Venetian bacari bars.
For small plates, the spicy pork and fennel sausage is delicious. Or try a pizza topped with braised goat from Tynedale Farm, hazelnut and truffled honey. The innovative menu ranges from freshly made pasta to seafood and beef entrees. www.coppi.co.uk
Don’t let the minimalist decor fool you. This riverside restaurant with its whitewashed brick walls, bare wood floors and intimate mezzanine is the hottest ticket in town, and it’s been scooping awards since its opening in 2013.
With their combined chef/sommelier background at some of Europe’s top restaurants, Stephen Toman and Alain Kerloc’h create an exciting gastronomic experience based on a seasonal menu of top-quality local produce and interesting wines. Go for the tasting menu to fully appreciate their talent and flare. The relaxed surroundings make the food all the more memorable. www.oxbelfast.com
James Street South
James Street South
Set in a converted warehouse with a chic, contemporary vibe, this bustling restaurant is one of Belfast’s top fine-dining spots. The best locally sourced produce is turned into signature dishes such as Strangford Lough Bouillabaise. Offerings range from set lunch and pre-theatre menus to a la carte to a five-course tasting menu.
Critics’ Table on Wednesday nights is a fun experience, where the chefs develop new ideas and diners have the chance to give them feedback on the night’s dishes. The four-course menu can be paired with wines. www.jamesstreetsouth.co.uk
At one end of the Cathedral Quarter’s lively Commercial Court, this fashionable wine bar and bistro-style restaurant is part of the James Street South stable. Its simpler, mid-priced menu shows the same attention to quality produce and good cooking.
The menu features classic European dishes as well as daily specials based on seasonal fare. You can’t go wrong with the delicious rabbit, chicken and pork kebabs. www.hadskis.co.uk
Located above the Anchor Bar, the restaurant carries on a nautical theme with pictures of ships on the walls and a relaxed setting of simple wooden tables and chairs. The food at Brunel’s is anything but simple, however. Fresh regional fare serves as the canvas for Chef Paul Cunningham to paint his masterpieces of colours, textures and temperatures.
Home cured salmon is surrounded by fennel gazpacho and sprinkled with bee pollen for an earthy, raw-honey flavour. Mourne lamb is crowned with slivers of homemade lamb bacon, cider braised artichokes and a froth of smoked wild garlic seed. Butter poached local lobster is beautifully balanced with lobster blancmange and truffled pea puree, while sweet malted onion, buttermilk froth and crumbled pistachio soil add interesting tastes and textures. www.brunelsrestaurant.co.uk
Brunel's in Newcastle
A multitude of Irish restaurant awards has made Brown’s the top restaurant in the North West. At the original location, Brown’s Restaurant and Champagne Lounge in Derry’s Waterside district, striped banquettes and black-and-white photos give the dining room a smart, bistro style.
Chef Ian Orr’s delicious cuisine is based on fresh seasonal produce from local suppliers. There is a range of menus including a six-course tasting menu with paired wines. Starting with homemade Guinness bread and creative canapés like beetroot macarons with smoked cream cheese, everything is excellent from the ground up. The turf smoked beef, with its smoky, salty flavours, is a highlight. www.brownsrestaurant.com
Brown's in Derry
On the shores of Upper Lough Erne, this picturesque thatched building with its warm stone walls is a smart but relaxed setting for chef Pascal Brissaud’s fine dining restaurant. He serves Irish cuisine with a French twist, from local lobster and scallops to duck and Angus beef.
The chef is a keen fisherman, and the lough’s fish species are displayed in a large aquarium. Make time for a stroll through the peaceful water gardens on the banks of the lough, a perfect spot to enjoy the sunset. www.watermillrestaurantfermanagh.com
Chef Noel McMeel cooked for the world’s top statesmen when Lough Erne Resort hosted the G8 Summit in 2013. You can enjoy his acclaimed classic and contemporary dishes in the same elegant dining room, with its vaulted ceilings and arched windows.
Menus are based on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and include such offerings as Keenan’s whisky cured salmon and fillet of Kettyle Irish beef with parsley root puree.
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