The restaurants in Belfast city centre aren’t really all that exciting, but if you take the time you can uncover a few gems. The rule to obey is the same as for any city – don’t bother with anything that advertises itself as “traditional”. The grease-laden Ulster Fry will disappoint and clog up the arteries, and no matter what fancy names are given to potatoes they will always be what they are – potatoes. Northern Irish people seem to be tolerant of even the most substandard of fare, and the rule of thumb seems to be that if an acute accent is placed above the letter e in a word it can pass for haute cuisine and can be charged for appropriately. Another favourite marketing ploy for passing off poor food is to include a reference to the Giant’s Causeway or to the Mountains of Mourne and suckers the world over will eat it and ask for seconds.
However there are some really good places where good food, properly cooked and reasonably priced can be found. I recommend the following, not only for food but just as much for atmoshpere:
Good food styled on what is normally available in Buenos Aires is what this small restaurant in Fountain Street near the city centre has on offer. It’s certainly a bit pretentious, and the food is prepared with the Irish palate in mind, but the beers they serve are worth the visit themselves. Tapas are available from lunch time into the evening and the lunch menu is varied and interesting. Of course there is a bit of a mismatch between the name and the experience. La Boca is a working class area of Buenos Aires and the restaurant gives a more middle class impression of the city, but then it’s the food we’re after, not a realistic Argentine experience! Moreover I can’t afford the flight to B.A. to check up on authenticity. Check out the menu at www.labocabelfast.com
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Again the name of this eating place gives everything away – yes you’ve guessed, it’s Lebanese. Right at the heart of the city it’s a favourite with office workers with its clean, quick service. Wraps are the order of the day here with all the usual Middle Eastern flavours stirring up a pleasant exotic dream for those escaping the drudgery of routine work or shopping. The cook-waiters are uncharacteristically friendly (for Belfast) and the atmosphere is light and relaxed. It’s unlicensed, but for office workers, tourists and shoppers that’s probably what’s needed for lunch.
One of Belfast’s stranger establishments, the large and airy Café Vaudeville finds its home in what was built as headquarters of a city bank, and that’s exactly what it looks like from the outside. Inside is something else however, and passers-by even stop and come in just to look at the décor, especially former customers and employees of the bank. Sitting waiting for the food to arrive is a treat in itself. Some wonder if they are in a 19th century gambling house in Baden-Baden, a Wild West saloon or a discreet, better class brothel in Alexandria – stuffed parrots, luxurious drapes, palm trees, brass fittings, balconies, opulent chandeliers … and excellent food. The menu speaks for itself and can be checked out at www.cafevaudeville.com
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Of course there are all the usual places around the university area if you are stuck, but the city centre itself doesn’t offer much, but I’m so pleased to have discovered the above. Eat well and leave us undisturbed.