If you want to try something different on your next weekend escape, head for Belfast – one of Europe’s most dynamic, fast-changing cities with a fresh energy, vibrant cultural scene and stunning, wild landscape waiting to be explored just beyond the city limits. Now is a perfect time to go because it just happens to be Northern Ireland’s Year of Food & Drink. To get the measure of any new place, go out for dinner, see what the locals are eating, where they’re excited to head for, and what they’re talking about over a pint. So fancy a taste of Belfast? Let us serve you up a few of our favourite foodie reasons to go this autumn.
1. One word: Deanes
Lisburn-born chef Michael Deane started his career at Claridge’s in London but, lucky Belfast, he took his talent home and now he has a mini-empire around the town, offering something special for all tastes and budgets. On Howard Street you’ll find not one but three of Deane’s restaurants: the Michelin-starred EIPIC offering fine dining, Deane’s seafood restaurant Love Fish and Meat Locker, which is THE place for top steak. He has other places around the city too. Wear loose-fitting trousers and experience all of them in one go via the Deanes on Tour double-decker bus.
2. The Taste and Tour food tour
Discover Belfast by meeting the people who are turning it into an exciting city of flavours. The tour begins at bustling St George’s Market then you’re off, heading for food-themed hotspots, with the chance to talk to local producers like Gerry White, creator and founder of Jawbox Gin. Find out why Armagh Bramley Apples have the same accreditation as Champagne and sample local produce like dulce from Belfast Lough, Craft beer from the Mourne Mountains and award-winning Young Buck blue cheese from County Down.
3. The chance to discover something new about Belfast while you refuel
If you’re looking for the perfect restaurant or that cracking little pub your mate recommended, you’re very likely to stumble across more of the city’s other treasures. Try the Cathedral Quarter – a mix of great restaurants such as the Italian Coppi and artisan coffee houses like Established in the heart of the arts district, and handy for visiting great venues like The MAC, the Oh Yeah Music Centre and The Black Box.
4. Local flavours
Set in beautiful countryside and right on the coast, it’s no surprise that in Belfast chefs don’t look far for their menu inspiration. Places like the Michelin-starred Ox offer laidback luxury so you can indulge in a five-course tasting menu or go a la carte with dishes like Mourne Mountain lamb and Belfast Lough lobster. (The Ox Cave Wine bar has an impressive choice of eight local gins, too.)
5. Travel further
As well as a burgeoning local food culture, Belfast diners have a hunger for the exotic. At restaurants like Permit Room (a spin-off from popular Asian fusion restaurant Howard Street) you can explore innovative combinations at breakfast, lunch or dinner – filled flatbreads served with home-made braised beans; salt and chilli beef with Asian slaw; red Thai curry; and plates of Middle Eastern shakshuka eggs. Grapevine also has queues around the block as locals clamour for a delicious lunch for less than a fiver – pots of Cajun chicken gumbo, sesame pork noodle broth and seafood chowder.
6. Fireside pints and stylish cocktails
Want a great bar to cosy up in this autumn? Belfast’s got it covered. The genial Garrick Bar. The craft beers at Woodworkers Tap Room. The 100-plus gin menu at Muriel’s. The impressive whisky selection at the tiny Bittles Bar. The velvet banquettes at the uber-trendy cocktail bar Rita’s and the charming rooftop escape, The Perch. Music nights in the pleasingly old-school John Hewitt and the jumpin’ Duke of York. We could go on…
7. In fact we will: the Crown
We couldn’t sign off without mentioning the stunning glass and brass splendour of this magnificent drinking house. The Crown Liquor Saloon is one of the most beautiful pubs you’ll ever have the pleasure to drink in. So much so, it’s now preserved by the National Trust. But no museum piece, this. You’re still very welcome to come in for a brew in one of the snug booths. What are you having?
Visit timeout.com/tourbelfast for our full city guide, and to enter our special competition to win a mini-break to Belfast for two people.