While it was another year like no other (again), our restaurants reopened and we managed to get back to dining. And in the last 12 months there were some serious things to eat and drink along the way. I take a look back at my highlights of 2021.
1 Soufflé, Stove, Belfast
While there’s no specific order to this list, it would be remiss of me to stick this further down. The cheese soufflé at Simon Toye and Simon McCance’s now award-winning Ormeau Road restaurant stands out above the crowd. It’s a quintessential expression of the combination of training, expertise and bold flavour. A true must order.
2 Chicken wings, Madame Pho, Belfast
There’s a reverence afforded to chicken wings and some of their best versions, usually the hot sauce, vinegar and emulsified butter sauce variety, but the sheer balance of crispness, salt, tacky sugar, nuts and overall booming flavour of this option means they are not to be missed.
3 Ham croquettes, The Grateful Bread at the American Bar, Belfast
Justin Nicholl and his team’s casual, playful and always stunning bar food has helped further cement The American Bar’s place as one of the city’s best watering holes. If you’re visiting for food (Thursday to Sunday), the Basque-style croquettes (above) are a thing of beauty.
4 Gougères, OX, Belfast
Stevie Toman and Alain Kerloc’h’s OX has firmly held a Michelin star since 2016, in part, for the little bits of attention afforded to each piece of the experience. Its gougères, a savoury choux pastry filled with oozing cheese, are served as a canape and are a wonderful thing to get a meal going.
5 Canelé, Lazy Claire Patisserie, Belfast
A visit to pick up some eclairs before visiting friends led me towards the canelé. It’s a dark, dense little French pastry packed with brown butter flavour, rich, slightly sticky and with a warming rum character.
6 Bushmills 1995 Marsala cask, Bushmills
The second double release from the historic north coast spot yielded this powerful, rich dram. It’s packed full of dried fruit, wood and nuts. There’s a whack of old sherry nose, rich dark sugars, raisins and a finish of liquid dark chocolate.
7 Lobster and fries, Stove, Belfast
I tried to keep it to one dish for each location on the list, but a lunch special of a half lobster, precision perfect béarnaise and fries at this south Belfast spot proved hard to ignore. Shellfish cooked until just opaque, tender, unctuous, perfect.
8 Truffle fries, l’Gueuleton, Dublin
A French bistro mainstay in the heart of the city, the truffle and parmesan fries put almost any I’ve had here to shame. A perfect thickness, rich, brown and deckled, salty, and very crisp. Not one to miss if you’re paying a visit.
9 We Still Got It imperial stout, Galway Bay Brewery, Galway
The team at Galway Bay first brewed this beast of a stout three years ago. Since then, it’s matured in rum barrels and reached just shy of 14%. It’s full of rich, dark chocolate, Turkish delight, tobacco, vanilla, and bourbon, chewy and sticky.
10 Chocolate dessert, Blank, Belfast
This is why we go to restaurants. You’ll not be knocking this up in the kitchen. It’s a take on Alain Ducasse’s grand Louis XV signature dish. A glistening chocolate dessert is a perfect expression of cocoa. It makes way for a lighter, chocolate mousse, and crisp layers and crunch of feuilletine praline.