With a date being pushed back for the reopening of non-food pubs, John Mulgrew has taken on the hard task of checking out some of those spots that can open and how they are coping with the necessary new changes
Union Street, Belfast
Normally a heaving venue, both in the small inside bar and large outside beer garden, The Sunflower has had to adapt to the changing rules and regulations around both opening, and distancing. It benefits from having the large outside area, and the table set up is very different than before to allow distancing, while there are also now outside urinals and hand sanitiser. Larger tables have been split down the middle with sheeting between each. It’s now table service, as with other establishments. Food wise, it also plays host to The Boxing Hare – an outdoor wood-fired pizza business offering up a range of variations from as little as £7, delivered to your table.
The American Bar
Dock Street, Belfast
The second pub from stalwart Pedro Donald, The American has a small level of seating outside but is now also serving food in the form of soup and fresh bread from a nearby supplier. Since reopening, tables are well-spaced out, with soft semi-transparent plastic sheeting hanging from the ceiling to separate tables. Soup and sourdough comes in generally at just £3 so it’s a solid option for a cheap bite while still availing of a solid range of decent Irish brews and a couple of interesting guest taps.
Deanes at Queen’s
College Gardens, Belfast
Michael Deane’s south Belfast bistro – headed by former Great British Menu winner Chris Fearson – was one of the first restaurants to reopen in the area. Already a fairly large restaurant, some tables have been spaced out further still to make way for appropriate distancing. There’s a new hand sanitiser station on the way in and menus are of the single use printed variety. Bookings are recommended as it was almost a full house during our visit, with the usual wide variety on the menu including the classic chicken liver parfait and salt-aged sirloin steak from Moira meat merchant, Peter Hannan.
Nonnas Wood Fired Pizza
Shipquay Street, Derry
Located close to the city centre and nearby Bishop’s Gate Hotel, Nonnas offers up a range of wood-fired pizzas and, like many others, has adapted its set up post-lockdown. It’s visors for staff serving customers, with booths given greater separation with the addition of perspex screens along the top. Menus are out in favour of a QR code which takes you to the menu. That’s also the point of sale – you can place your order through the app, paying by card, with food then brought to your table. It’s licensed, too, so any additional drinks can also be purchased directly using the online platform.
Downs Road, Newcastle
One of the top spots for food in Co Down, Brunel’s sits just across the gate from the Slieve Donard hotel in Newcastle. Visiting on a Sunday, it boasts an extremely good value menu – two courses for £20 or three for £25. It’s a lot of very high level cooking. A pre-starter of pig’s head croquettes, followed by a liver parfait taken to the next level with malt and homemade sultana brioche. The usual sanitising is available for customers and staff are wearing face shields when bringing food and drinks to the table.
The Errigle Inn
Ormeau Road, Belfast
The Errigle, one of the best-known and largest watering holes in the south of the city, reopened its doors at the end of July, later than others in the area. But in that time it has undergone significant changes. That includes new bathroom facilities in the main bar and updated décor, as well as coronavirus-related modifications. That include temperature testing on entry, bookings for inside (at the time of writing), and large perspex screens separating the outside area, where food doesn’t have to be consumed. Inside, The Pinewood bar has greater separation between booths and tables, with screens and table service. A reliable lasagne is a good option.
Ormeau Road, Belfast
Northern Lights benefits from a large and open space inside, and has taken precautions to space tables out more widely to ensure social distancing is maintained, while larger groups can still sit at the large banquet table in the centre of the bar. The double doors at the front tend to be open, limiting contact, with a sanitising station on the way in. There’s a requirement to purchase a main meal – more or less in line with regulations of owner Galway Bay’s other bars in the Republic – which can constitute wings and fries, or something more substantial. Space permitting, patrons can sit outside at the front without ordering food – an area which has since been expanded post-lockdown.
Cargo by Vertigo
Titanic Quarter, Belfast
Perhaps what will become the first of many businesses to seize on the benefits of using large, outdoor spaces to serve and accommodate customers, while maintaining social distancing. Located behind Spud Murphy’s – also owned by Gareth Murphy, behind the nearby We Are Vertigo activity centre – part of a disused area and former car park, Cargo is now a huge outdoor beer garden, with app-based table service and pizzas. It’s a mixture of entirely outdoor areas, covered sections, and picnic tables under a large canopy.
The Tap Room at Rathmullan House
While Rathmullan House itself is a high-end hotel and dining experience, its popular Tap Room – home to Kinnegar beers – has now taken itself out of the basement area, and to the emerald lawns outside. It does one thing – more or less – and one thing very well. The wood-fired pizzas attract large crowds from local and visitors to the popular Donegal summer spot. Once a smaller inside venue, it’s been transformed to a large outside area with a range of seating options available which are covered to deal with the unpredictable weather.