Belfast, Northern Ireland foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
Head to Northern Ireland’s foodie capital for gingerbread waffles, sharp cocktails and local venison with salt-baked beets and bitter cherry
Looking for restaurants in Belfast? Want to know where to eat in the northern Irish capital? Local food tour founder Caroline Wilson and restaurant guru Mark Taylor share their insider tips for the best restaurants in Belfast, along with where to find the best brunch, Irish pubs and markets.
Established – for coffee
The coffee at industrial-chic Established is reliably well made but so, too, are the brunches. Try a gingerbread waffle with candied lime cream, bourbon-poached nectarine and pistachio crumb. For more coffee shops in Ireland, click here...
St George's Market – for market vibes
Saturday is the day to visit St George’s Market if you’re in search of the best food stalls. Pick up some Belfast Brew (Irish breakfast tea) from Suki Tea, Barnhill apple juice from Armagh and Young Buck cheese from Tom & Ollie’s.
Bunsen – for burgers
Keeping it simple and using high-quality ingredients (such as Black Aberdeen Angus beef minced on site every morning, and homemade soft Amish dinner rolls) is what sets Belfast’s Bunsen apart from competitors. It’s a straightforward choice between classic hamburger or cheeseburger, the latter of which includes a special blend of comté and monterey jack.
Il Pirata – for rustic Italian
A neighbourhood Italian restaurant that uses stand-out local produce, Il Pirata gets it right whether you’re after lunch or a romantic dinner. Order a few dishes to share and get stuck in.
General Merchants – for brunch
When General Merchants’ chef and co-owner Tim Fetherston first visited Australia, its brunch scene blew him away: “I fell in love with the coffee and café culture. Lots of fine-dining chefs were opening breakfast places. It was an epiphany.” That inspired the original East Belfast General Merchants and its second branch, 361 Ormeau Road, which opened this year. Its sunny all-day fusion breakfasts range from huevos rancheros to mashed avocado on Zac’s Bakehouse sourdough with Vegemite, popped quinoa, mustard cress and optional eggs and bacon. Of course, General Merchants’ coffee is excellent. It’s sourced from Bailies in Belfast and guest roasters such as Berlin’s hip The Barn.
A Peculiar Tea – for unconventional afternoon tea
Every 10 weeks, chef Gemma Austin’s restaurant unveils a new afternoon tea created around a theme (currently, Broadway shows). Gemma and pastry chef, Rachel Anderson, produce a feast of espresso soups, sandwiches, gougères, mini tacos, chocolates, macarons and tarts, inspired by favourite games, books, films and music. Teas are served on stands carved from tree stumps, a continuation of A Peculiar Tea’s fairy tale interior.
Co Couture – for chocolate
The first branded version of milk chocolate is said to take its name from a Northern Irishman, Hans Sloane. There’s no better place to continue his tradition today than tasting some of the creations produced by local chocolatiers Co Couture. Try the Irish truffles, made using Bushmills’ Black Bush whiskey.
Arcadia – for local produce
A local institution, Arcadia deli first opened in 1933 and has been going strong ever since. It’s supportive of local producers so new produce hits its shelves first. Look out for Broighter Gold rapeseed oils, Abernethy butter (try the dulse and sea salt), Passion Preserved pickles (including spiced apple jelly and kasundi chutney), Corndale chorizo and Ispini charcuterie.
Home – for vegetarian food
Andy Rea is the culinary brains behind the Mourne Seafood Bar restaurants, but while Home, which he owns with Steve Haller, uses some meat, its vegetarian and vegan menus make it a flexitarian’s dream. “We wanted veggie dishes to be the star,” says Steve. The kitchen’s mantra is: “Source local and use global influences.”
Cheeses from County Tyrone’s Five Mile Town or Abernethy butter feed into dishes such as salt and chilli tofu with miso slaw or kale and quinoa tabbouleh with aubergine and mint yogurt. “Home embraces cultures where veggie food is the staple diet,” says Steve.
Belfast Cookery School – for cooking courses
Set above a seafood restaurant and shop (they’re connected) Belfast Cookery School is an unsurprisingly good spot to sharpen up your seafood cooking skills. Sign up for its fish masterclass and learn how to prepare Strangford mussels in a light fennel cream.
Cuban sandwich factory – Cuban street-food
Clued-up Belfast foodies love the Cubano-style pressed, toasted sandwiches at Carlos Arguelles’ friendly takeaway-café.
On Saturdays, the factory also pops-up at St George’s Market, where shoppers wolf-down his stacked beef brisket and roast pork sandwiches.
Go for anything that involves Carlos’s vibrant chimichurri sauce. It’s a zinger.
The Garrick – for pub vibes
A traditional Victorian boozer with wood-panelled walls and open fires, The Garrick has been one of Belfast’s best bars since 1870. You’ll find great session music, and the city’s best champ, plus a range of local ales (try a Hilden’s Belfast Blonde or a MacIvors cider).
The Muddlers Club – for modern dining
Deep within the Cathedral Quarter The Muddlers Club bar and restaurant takes its name from a secret society that used to meet on the site 200 years ago. There’s nothing hush-hush about its operation now, though; sharp, modern food (think venison with parsley root, salt-baked beets and bitter cherry) served from an open kitchen.
Merchant Hotel – for cocktails
The luxurious Merchant Hotel, in the vibrant Cathedral Quarter, makes a glamorous, Grade A-listed backdrop for a cocktail or two. Try a Finn McCool, made with Finlandia vodka, Amer Picon, house-made passion fruit cordial and lemon juice.
Ox – for dining with a river view
It may have a Michelin star, but dining at Ox is a relaxed experience overlooking the River Lagan. Classic dishes include hay-baked celeriac with black garlic, chanterelles, lardo and truffle. Or head straight to Ox Cave, next door, for excellent wines and Irish gins with plates of meat and cheese.
Coppi – for Italian food
Located in St Anne’s Square in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, Coppi takes its inspiration from all regions of Italy, but when it comes to ingredients the kitchen looks to producers in Northern Ireland. “We work closely with local suppliers including award-winning farmer Peter Hannan – two of our signature dishes are Peter’s Tuscan spiced pork and fennel sausage cichetti and a steak florentine of salt-aged beef,” says Coppi’s Tony O’Neill.
“The pasta we serve is freshly made daily in our production kitchen and the duckragu, porcini mushroom ravioli and truffle has been on the menu from day one, along with our cichetti of feta fritters with truffled honey. I think there could be a riot if we tried to take them off the menu.”
Titanic – for afternoon tea
On the exact spot where the British passenger liner RMS Titanic was built and launched in 1912, Titanic Belfast’s Sunday afternoon tea allows guests to step back in time to a period of luxury, elegance and five-star service. Set in the opulent surroundings of the Titanic Suite, featuring the replica staircase recreated for a few scenes in the 1997 film, afternoon tea here features a selection of finger sandwiches, scones with Cornish clotted cream, cakes, éclairs and savoury bites inspired by those served on board the original boat. Wash it all down with a selection of loose-leaf teas served in replica White Star Line crockery. The teas are supplied by Belfast’s Thompson’s Tea, a family-run business that pre-dates the Titanic itself. Its luxury Titanic house tea is a blend of second flush Assam and high-grade Kenyan teas, but the Irish breakfast tea and six champagnes are also worth a look in.
Where to stay in Belfast – The Grand Central
A large, luxury hotel in the heart of Belfast’s Linen Quarter. Expect panoramic views and Northern Ireland’s highest rooftop bar. There’s a definite dose of NYC swank about The Grand Central, from the uniformed top-hatted doormen to the huge, high-ceilinged glass and marble lobby. Despite the grandeur, however, there’s plenty of cosy Irish charm.
Rooms are spacious, calm and luxuriously furnished with king-size King Koil Cloud beds, smart white linen, and thick, noise-cancelling carpets. The bathrooms are particularly swish with double sinks, freestanding baths, walk-in rainfall showers and toiletries by ESPA.
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The Seahorse restaurant on the first floor is an airy space, with floor-to-ceiling glass flooding it with light by day, and the twinkle of city lights by night. The dinner menu is a celebration of Irish and European classics, with modern touches and delicate portions.
The 23rd floor rooftop Observatory Bar is a must-visit, before or after dinner. With its own private lift, it’s become something of a destination for trendy Belfasters. But don’t mistake that for exclusivity; the welcome as you reach the top floor is still very warm. Each cocktail refers to a local landmark – try Napoleon’s Nose (a heady mix of mezcal, Benedictine, fig and orange bitters), or the more floral Botanical Garden, made from gin, rhubarb, aperol, pomegranate, pink peppercorn and citrus.
Rooms start at £126 per night, check availability at booking.com
More info: visitbelfast.com
Words by Caroline Wilson, founder of the Belfast Food Tour and Director of Taste and Tour NI (tasteandtour.co.uk) and Mark Taylor
Photographs by Leonid Andronov/Getty, David Cornder/Alamy stock photo and Elaine Hill Photography