The King’s Head in Belfast’s Balmoral district is an important landmark in our house.
For the advisor, who loathes stepping outside the city boundaries, the King’s Head represents the final frontier dividing urban from rural, that point beyond which lies the countryside and, if she should be travelling west of it, the moment at which her nosebleeds begin. It’s a family joke. Me being from Armagh means we frequently travel west of the King’s Head, yet rarely do we get the chance to stop by.
This big suburban pub, restaurant and live music venue rolled into one has improved greatly from being already good to something quite special. A recent visit proved to be a true revelation.
The bar downstairs is a magnificent high-ceilinged chapel of fun with huge bar and loads of space. But you can also find an alternative and smaller-proportioned bar in the front part of the house, a place that feels as if it’s for locals — rustic, charming and intimate.
The restaurant upstairs at lunchtime has a comfortable waiting area with lots of natural light, sofas and attentive staff. The dining room itself, brightly-lit and with the same kind of attractiveness as a designed-for-comfort front room, is welcoming. Having visited a few mismatched furniture places recently, it was a stabilising experience to enter a place that is far from formal but maintains some sense of order. Maybe I’m showing my age. Put it this way, my mum would love it, but so would my 11-year-old.
The King’s Head meal deal choice of starter and main looked disconcerting at first. Slider to start, hot sandwich or burger for main: surely this is overkill on the bun, bap and bread roll front? Yet, as I was to discover, it actually worked out well, particularly for the trencherman appetites of Belfastians.
And when the quality of the food is this good, volume is a bonus. The Italian spiced meat slider (like a tiny burger-sized sandwich) was exceptional. The little bun was well toasted, the neat presentation very appetising and the tiny construction of chips on the side particularly so. In the slider were a thin slice of red onion and tomato and some rocket. The meat was succulent, spicy and quite perfect. It delivered the expectation very assertively. When eating alone, you notice much more and the critical faculties become sharpened. The advantages of dining with company includes discussion about the food. But the moment of eating on your own can be a very pleasant one when the food is as enjoyable as this.
The pulled pork sandwich was another small triumph. The meat, which was plentiful, was soaked in a quality barbeque sauce and was interwoven with crispy tobacco onions. The light, white bun had been toasted and provided a good alternative texture. The cold potato salad with scallions was an attractive accompaniment. While the salad had perhaps chilled for a bit too long and the flavours had weakened a bit, the addition of slices of boiled egg and radish perked it up successfully. It’s a very American barbeque meal, the kind I tasted last year in rural upstate New York, and well executed at the King’s Head.
I managed to fit in the Moyallon dry-cured bacon and Cashel Blue cheeseburger as well. Beautifully and simply presented, the high-precision burger looked inviting and compelling. Tucked inside a folded-over burger the dish was slightly disappointing because the expected flavours were not there. The bacon had been diced and the Cashel Blue had ended up in one corner of the burger. There wasn’t enough presence in the two components which defined this burger.
The burger itself was very well cooked and offered up in a white toasted Belfast bap. This is the kind of classy, clean-cut burger you’d expect to be served in a very posh hotel restaurant. It would not look out of place in a Parker le Meridien.
The King’s Head’s food offering is a surprise to those of us who have only gone there for a few pints on a Friday night. The restaurant is a well-run operation; you can sense the commitment and interest of those who work there, from servers to kitchen to management. When the value for money ratio is this good, it would be mad to drive past it. Even if you’re in a hurry to head west.
Meal Deal £10
King’s Burger £8.50
Sparkling water £1.40
829 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7GY
Tel: 028 9050 9950