Bradbury Place is to Belfast what Patpong is to Bangkok — a brightly lit den of excess which comes to life after dark. When I say ‘life’ I mean a night of drink-induced, inhibition-busting, clothes-shedding, fight-inciting lunacy.
The only difference between Patpong and Bradbury Place is that we have no funny ping pong games. You have to go to Drogheda for that.
And while a thousand young boozers are downing their Bacardi and Armageddon cocktails, a number of restaurants within a hundred yard radius of ground zero are serving up excellent food in pleasantly relaxed surroundings.
Next door to Lavery’s, for instance, is a shy little restaurant marking its tenth birthday this year — Darcy’s. In the adviser’s teenage years this space was occupied by Froggities, a slap-dash, busy bistro where you could enjoy some authentic French cooking, including crepes. It was a refuelling station for the wise drinker who knew that while eating was cheating, you might suffer less with a bit of scran in your belly.
Today, Darcy’s maintains that tradition, although there’s less of the slap-dash and more of the slick service. If Belfast’s night-time economy kicks off on Friday lunchtime then it seemed appropriate to start there (Darcy’s opens every night from 5pm but only does lunches on a Friday and weekend).
The bohemian exterior, all Barbie pink window frames and four brightly coloured-in blackboard menus beckoning passers-by, leads into a dark and cosy interior whose arch-like ceiling makes it feel underground. The long bending dining room is lined with green tweed upholstered banquettes facing bistro tables and chairs. Above these are mirrors in the arch helpfully angled to reflect the top of the diner’s head and the food before them. Upstairs is a bar and further dining room with evocative olde Belfast prints. It’s well done, unpretentious and appealing. Very Belfast.
And while the modesty of the place makes it easy to relax and feel at home, the menu enhances the spirit even further by offering simple but attractive options including all manner of bistro nosh at fair prices. The specials today include carrot and coriander soup, haddock and shrimp main and cheesecake dessert.
The a la carte fulfills the need I mentioned for packing before an evening out — starters here include toasted soda bread with garlic and melting cheese (ill-advised for those on the pull) and potato bread with strips of Irish beef and pepper sauce. But there are more appetisers such as monkfish and prawn in garlic butter and melting mozzarella, roast duck with mandarin and plum salad or deep fried brie with croutons, crispy bacon and raspberry vinaigrette.
Choosing from the mains is another challenge because, as in all good bistros, the secret to success is comfort food. And what could be more comforting than this lot? Irish beef and Bushmills pie with fat chips, or chicken and ham pie, vegetarian pie, Portavogie fish and chips with mushy peas, Cullybackey roast Irish ham with cider and parsley cream sauce, mash and vegetables.
Even if you weren’t looking forward to going out for the night, anything from this menu would enliven the spirit, inject renewed and refreshed vigour and bring about a change of heart. And the wine list is very reasonable, especially when the first glass is only £1 before 7pm. (Go for the house rose, a generous glass of well-chilled Chilean).
The mussels are from Dundrum — Darcy’s says it’s very keen to use local produce across all its offerings — and there are lots of them in the starter. A big pasta dishful arrives with a rich creamy garlic and scallion sauce. The mussels are good, firm, juicy and sea-salty. The creamy liquer is too close to chowder-thick for me, but it’s tasty and there’s nothing wrong with it. It comes with a generous
basket of white and wheaten bread with plenty of butter.
The following grilled smoked haddock with a few large curried prawns and chargrilled potatoes and courgettes is the perfect lunch combination — not too many carbs to slow you down the rest of the day, but tons of flavours and substance.
The dish might have benefited from a small amount of sauce, something to moisten it a bit and Darcy's really should use natural smoked haddock rather than the deep yellow dyed version. Diners don't need colour shock when the food's good.
Which brings me to the raspberry ripple cheesecake — an electric pink slab over which lay a thick sprinkling of dessicated coconut. This gave it the look of a reconstructed monster Mikado biscuit.
In fact it looked so much like it that I expected the springy, spongey texture of marsh mallow, rather than the soft, giving cheesecake. It was utterly decadent and despite the scarey colour, very good — it should become a permanent fixture at Darcy’s if it isn’t already.
Darcy’s should be on your itinerary of Belfast’s now-famous night time economy. While mayhem may resound all around, you’ll be glad you took cover in this little family-run sanctuary.
Mussels x 2 £11.90
Haddock x 2 £20
Glass rose x 2 £2
Bottle sparkling water £1.60
Coffee x 2 £3.20
10 Bradbury Place, Belfast BT7 1RS
Tel: 028 9032 4040