This post charts my second visit to Belfast. This is a city that has rapidly become one of my very favourite UK cities, and I was thrilled to return at the end of last month. You can catch my first foodie guide to Belfast here.
Where to eat
The standout meal of our visit was, by far, Ox. This restaurant has a reputation as being the place to eat in Belfast and we looked forward to our lunch there for days. I had high expectations, and I have to say, this was one of the best meals I have had in a very long time. It exceeded my expectations in every way. This is a very cool restaurant with a pared back, modern interior and lovely views of the river from the front. Staff were fantastic, and we enjoyed the tasting menu with matched wines to get a flavour of the food. Every single mouthful was savoured and was deeply memorable. I love the natural ethos of the restaurant, with its focus on superb ingredients and skilled cooking, plus natural breads and wines. This is not a restaurant that focuses on formalities and stuffiness. It’s all about what’s on the plate and in your glass, which is right up my street.
First, we were served with some fantastic wine, a Terraprima Massis del Garraf 2012 and some slices of superb homemade sourdough bread. Gluten free bread is made especially for diners, which is a lovely touch.
We started with some pan fried Turbot with romaneso which was perfectly executed. A nice touch is that the chefs work from an open-plan kitchen, and the chef responsible for preparing your dish brings it over and tells you what it is.
This was followed by a sublime plate of Finnebrogue venison, served with fermented kohlrabhi, black garlic and mushrooms for a bargain price of £8.50. Next, was Châteaubriand with shallots, crosnes and horseradish, which was heavenly. We finished with a caramelized apple pudding, with treacle and fig leaf ice cream. Ox is everything I want from a restaurant, and I hope to return again soon. Exciting cooking, supremely good ingredients and flavours, exciting wines and good value. What more could you want?!
Seafood lovers will enjoy a visit to Mourne Seafood – a Belfast institution. Fresh, local seafood is served aplenty, washed down with a wide selection of wines in this casual, relaxed restaurant.
For a casual gluten free lunch in Belfast, the most surprising discovery was the Avoca café. For us, the formal café upstairs didn’t deliver, but the more informal self-service style café was actually very good. There was a huge range of scrumptious salads on offer, many of which were gluten free. This is good value, wholesome food at its best.
Next, where to drink. The bar at The Merchant Hotel is probably the most elegant spot in town to enjoy a cocktail. Although they’re not cheap, you get what you pay for in terms of ambience here. It really is full-on film set style glamour here, and is a really special way to spend an evening.
Finally, where to shop. St George’s Market is a superb indoor food market selling all kinds of excellent meat, fish and vegetables, much of which is sourced locally. There are a huge number of food stalls there too, which are a very popular choice for a breakfast or lunch. Stop by on a Saturday late morning for some shopping, food and live music.
What to do
Belfast is famous for its Black Cab tours, and I took one by renowned Blue Badge guide Billy Scott, which was superb. Billy tailors each tour to your personal interests. He is both a fountain of knowledge and an absolute hoot. Interested in recent political history, Billy took me up to Stormont, and around some of the most significant and controversial locations in Belfast. It was truly an insight I would never have had without him. I highly recommend booking him.
Another highlight of the trip was a visit to Titanic Belfast. This is no museum; it is an experience, and a profound one at that. Beautifully presented, highly engaging and deeply moving – it should be another essential part of any visit to Belfast. Titanic Belfast is situated in the revitalized dockyard area of Belfast, famous for its ‘Samson and Goliath’ Harland and Wolff yellow shipbuilding gantry cranes which are a real Belfast landmark. The Titanic Studios, adjacent to Titanic Belfast are home to the Game of Thrones filming and offer regular studio tours.
Where to stay
This time, we stayed at Malmaison in Belfast. It’s very centrally located, just five minutes from the main shopping area and Donegall Square. As you would expect from the Malmaison chain, this is quite a dark, funky, adult friendly hotel, which is famous for its glamorous cocktail bars and quirky buildings the hotels occupy. We really loved our Standard room at the hotel, which was very good value at around £100 per night for B&B for two adults. It felt really special and luxurious. What’s more, it was very wet and cold for one day of our visit, and it made a lovely base in the afternoon to retreat to, to warm up with a cup of tea and relax. Travelling is tiring! Breakfast at the hotel was good. It was very busy when we were staying, and we didn’t have the best experience service-wise, but the quality and choice of food is excellent, and I don’t feel our experiences are representative of the hotel overall.
We flew from into Belfast City airport with Flybe, which run regular return services from a number of UK destinations. Our return flights from Southampton were around £150 each for a return Economy Class ticket.
Our car was hired from Enterprise in Belfast City Centre. They offer a free pick up and drop off service and deserve to be commended for their super friendly service. Car hire for over 25s for a small car is around £50 a day, and there is an option to add an additional no-claims waiver onto your rental charge, which we took.
Taxis to and from Belfast city centre to Belfast City George Best Airport are only around £7-10 a way if there is no traffic, and should take around 15 minutes. Belfast International airport is further away, around 30 minutes drive.
Thank you to Northern Ireland Tourist Board for inviting me over and making all arrangements for me.