We are now in a period of transition. Some restaurants and bars have re-opened while others wait. The semblance of a former nightlife as experienced last weekend would nearly make us believe that things are back to normal. But we’re not back to normal and the health and safety measures meant to prevent the spread of Covid 19 are still in place. And all those restaurants doing takeaways (see the Belfast Telegraph takeaway register which is still being updated each week), are still at it and intend to continue this line of work for the foreseeable.
o while some bars and restaurants are back in business, don’t forget those who for reasons of space or for whom the idea of reopening so soon is just too risky, and who remain reliant on their new takeaway sideline to keep their kitchens and staff busy and generate some income — they need your support.
The adviser and I went out last Friday night on the first permissible day of reopening. We were both more than a bit apprehensive especially as we had invited the two daughters and the boyfriends. Throughout the past three months we had all adhered rigidly to the guidances.
Our attendance at the funeral of a close friend’s father-in-law was made with full adherence to social distancing at all times; my single visit to Armagh to check on the parents was made only after the all-clear on travel was given and even my dog Benny learned not to do his endearing tricks in front of strangers in return for treats. (He’s a very successful busker that way but his routine involves close proximity and a lot of hand licking.)
A visit to Henry’s Bar was agreed, I drew the short straw and was assigned designated driver and we headed into the city centre on that rainy evening. Even the incessant downpour did not dampen the spirits of small crowds we drove past gathering outside pubs including the Parador, the Ulster Sports Club, and others.
Arriving at Henry’s which is tucked down the ancient and narrow Joy’s Entry, we could hear music and laughing and a polite group of dressed up and hopeful weekenders waiting to be allowed in by the doorman. Once inside, a manager showed us the one-way system and took us to the table by the bar, well isolated from the rest of the lounge. As tables in the room filled up, there was plenty of space left between them. Co-owner Mark Beirne was there supervising. He confirmed he had 150 in that night, a fraction of what he would normally expect. You have to start somewhere, he sighed. Henry’s is a beautiful, high ceilinged lounge bar with a full cathedral altar for a bar. Two barmen operated alone fulfilling the orders sent up by servers. They didn’t stop for the two hours we were there. That’s the other thing — part of the safety: profitability ratio means reducing the time of those in for drinks and dinner to try and get two sittings in during the evening.
We were in at 7.30 and out again within two hours. But there was no sense of rush or pressure to finish quickly. Put it this way, I was glad to have to stick to a time limit as the rate at which cocktails were being consumed at our table showed no sign of slowing down (the adviser says the classic daiquiri was textbook).
As for the food, Henry’s strength is its pub grub. No pretences or misplaced ambitions here. A vegetarian burger was very well received as was the sirloin, the pukka burger and the sharing platter of buffalo wings, chicken goujons, scampi, ribs and sauces. Volume is key with pub grub and there was no shortage of thud factor here. In fact the beef burger was among one of the best the adviser has had in Belfast and that says a lot as there is an orchestra of independent burger joints in the city, many of whom are producing outstanding burgers.
I had mussels which were fine although I notice of late that Strangford ones are smaller than they used to be.
In the end, I was glad to head home but relieved that everyone seemed to be taking the ongoing guidance seriously. It bodes well for a full and faster recovery.
Sharing platter £16.95
Fun Guy veggie burger £12.95
Goliath burger £12.95
Mussels and fries £16.45