Food review: The Chef Range from Eurospar
The solution to a problem which frequently arises in our house at feeding time has been found.
The solution to a problem which frequently arises in our house at feeding time has been found.
Every city should have a Hadskis. A busy, atmospheric, handsome bistro with quality lunches at £6.50? It's a must-have for any self-respecting capital. Planners and city developers should ensure that all future visions for urban regeneration in all cities integrates a Hadskis.
The advisor and I frequently compare the restaurants of Belfast with those of Dublin. The conversations usually end up in the same place: both cities have a proportionately unusually high quota of Michelin stars and both have direct access to some of the world's best produce. We agree we are blessed with great restaurants at all prices.
Pub numbers are in decline. Once the backbone of countless communities, pubs provided therapy (it's good to talk), quality beers and a democratic social hub where class distinctions were left at the door. You could do business. I bought a car in a pub one time.
The recently celebrated fourth annual Irish Curry Awards were remarkable in that they revealed a buoyant and healthy restaurant sector going from strength to strength. Despite the lamented crackdown by the Border Force on foreign chefs and restaurant workers - ask any Indian restaurant owner what his or her priority challenge is - the popularity of curry keeps growing.
When Northern Ireland scooped the world's best food destination at the World Travel Market in London a year ago, I thought, at last, the humble Ulster traybake will have its moment in the sun. The traybake is the backbone of the north's baking reputation so it must have played a role in securing Northern Ireland the overall title of world's best.
When superchef Alan Passard, owner of the three-Michelin star l'Arpege in Paris, makes his third appearance in Belfast in three years, you know something is up. Passard is up there in the world listings of best chefs. He rubs shoulders with Alain Ducasse, Jose Andres and Rene Redzepi. L'Arpege is one of the best restaurants in the world with an endless waiting list for reservations. He does not need to come to Belfast yet he is drawn back here in what has become an annual pilgrimage to Ox, our own temple to brilliant food.
In an age of shrinking concentration spans, early adopters of trends, and food fads, how do restaurants and bars keep up with the endless appetites of consumers for new things? By working in collaboration, that's how. Collective approaches by business and community leaders in Belfast have created districts, each with its own defined identity.
The circle of life in restaurant-land isn't so much a circle as a, er, tree. In the beginning there was Paul Rankin. Paul's ground-breaking Roscoff restaurant which opened in 1989 then begat a generation of new chefs including Andy Rea, Noel McMeel, Niall McKenna and Robbie Millar who then went on to create their own next generation such as Danny Millar, Paul Waterworth, Stevie Toman, Marty Murphy and so on.
Thanks to the affordability of foreign travel provided by the likes of the much-lamented Thomas Cook tour operator, the plain people of Ulster have, in recent decades, enjoyed new food experiences. Derided for decades by many nut job xenophobes (there are still a few about) as "foreign muck", the simple and delicious dishes of France, Spain and Italy converted thousands of us to paté, paella and pasta.
The acorn that grows into a great oak tree is, in neighbourhood development terms, the pub and the Indian double act. The Ormeau Road acorn was the Errigle and the Bengal Brasserie. Thanks to these two centres of craic, ceoil agus bia an entire barrio grew around them. Now the upper Ormeau Road is a boho quartier of independent cafes, restaurants and bars.
The talented Sweeneys have added Overwood to their restaurant and it thrills with fantastic tastes, classy look and a reasonable price.
The irrepressible Gary McIlDowney is at it again. This time, the brains (and brawn) behind Slims, the healthier alternative to dirty food, has opened a new sit-down street food outlet called Output Espresso Food Social. On the site of former burger palace Rocket & Relish on the Lisburn Road, Output is a bright, breezy and youthful place with all the right modern references: very cool staff, vegan dishes and kombucha. Like any self-respecting, brand-conscious, marketing-aware, lifestyle enhancing enterprise, it even has a slogan: Sit back, relax, we've got you (my punctuation).
Shocking revelations of the poor catering standards at Belfast International Airport are making regular appearances these days.
People from the city have a tendency to forget or overlook the fact that, in the words of the great Pat Catney, former owner of the Kitchen Bar which made way for Victoria Square shopping mall, they are mostly only a generation or two from the land. What he means is that many city folk are the immediate descendants of country ones and it's the country ones who know all about good food.
Hotels have been trying hard to up their restaurant game in recent years. Taylor & Clay in the Bullitt Hotel, the Seahorse in the Grand Central Hotel and the Catalina in Lough Erne Resort are all fine examples of the new wave of hotel restaurants.
Thank the stars that Emma Bricknell, creator of Made in Belfast and other restaurants, didn't flee to Ibiza after all. A few years ago some political rumpus prompted Emma, who had come to Belfast from England and made a significant mark on the city with her whacky-looking but good-quality bistros, to declare that she had had enough of us and was heading to sunnier climes. I've never met Emma but I understand that while she may have left at the time, she may have since returned. Whatever. Her restaurants are still here and the one in Talbot Street is now doing brunch.
Good food should not be price related. I recently paid a four-figure sum for a family of four birthday celebration in Patrick Guilbaud and have no regrets, just great memories and a desire to do it again as soon as I can get the money together.
You've got to hand it to Mark Beirne. He gets it right every time. If Mr Beirne was in London or New York he'd have a much bigger palette to work with and I bet he'd be up there with the likes of Corbin and King (The Wolseley, Brasserie Zedel, Colbert, etc) and Keith McNally (Brasserie Balthazar, Pastis, Café Luxembourg), such is his talent for good design, service and matching food.
Thank God Danny Millar has rediscovered his mojo. After too many years of multi-tasking across three restaurants in Balloo, Hillsborough and Lisbane, Chef Millar had become restless. He had raised the bar to magnificent new heights in Balloo House, particularly in the posh upstairs dining room which felt like a beautifully restored ancient stone Breton barn decked out with high quality furniture and lots of linen and crystal. But getting the front of house staff proved a consistent challenge.
Poor old Belfast International Airport hasn't been able to catch its breath since footage of endless security queues started popping up on frustrated passengers' Instagram and Twitter accounts last year. Two-hour waits just to get through security were causing all sorts of hardship for travellers and there's nothing more invigorating and self-validating than a good dose of somebody else's incompetence.
Marty Murphy, chef patron of Howard Street Restaurant, is a man of unusually combined talents. Cautious on the one hand but daring on the other, Chef Murphy's direction means Howard Street has joined Belfast's restaurant elite through its consistency of exciting food and good service. The dining room itself is a cool, bare-bricked affair full of urban bustle and flattering lighting and it has grown a loyal client list who will now be tempted by his new opening, Ora.
Derry-Londonderry is awakening to a culinary new dawn. In recent weeks and months I've been to two outstanding restaurants. Both of them show all the signs of sector leadership you may remember seeing 30 years ago from the likes of Paul Rankin and Nick Price who would later be acknowledged as seminal in Belfast's resurgence as a foodie destination of note.
The top end of the Ormeau Road has now stolen a lead on the rest of the city's cool districts (Lisburn Road and Ballyhackamore) by hosting a cafe restaurant which, I hope you're sitting down, has now banned avocados from its kitchen.
The rise in the quality of Northern Ireland's curry houses has been noticeable in recent months. Is this the result of newly-found competitiveness engendered by the very successful Cobra Irish Curry Awards now entering their fourth year?
I don't want to be the kiss of death for any new restaurant venture but you have to question the wisdom of opening a steak house in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter and only serve beef from Latin America, mussels from Scotland and prawns which never came within 100 miles of an Irish shore.
What have the Ashkenazi Jews ever done for us? Apart from Albert Einstein, Gustav Mahler, Franz Kafka and a hundred thousand more dramatists, business leaders, musicians, scientists, artists and philosophers, they gave us the bagel.
There is a mystery vessel in the docks of Belfast which is slowly emerging as a star attraction. While it still remains a destination for those in the know, its position as one of the great secrets of Belfast is about to be blown out of the water.
Service in restaurants is viewed by too many restaurateurs as ancillary, an add-on, a gap that can be plugged. Server off sick tonight? No worries, just phone somebody to do an extra shift. Sure they'll be glad of the money.
The bish bash bosh of happy men and women cooking in bright steamy kitchens and serving big plates of dirty food in a couple of refurbished 40-foot containers is a uniquely life-affirming and joyful thing. It's a rare sight yet it's going on right under our noses in east Belfast every day.
Newry, the bustling frontier town is all swagger, super-pubs and cross-border Euro-trade. It is the Tijuana of Ireland. Thanks to its position on the north-south axis between Belfast and Dublin it has levels of prosperity most towns across the rest of Ireland deeply envy. What's more, its progressive council is supportive of the arts which means that this is one place whose continuing regeneration is assured.
Lucky Rosettans. Rosetta, the district at the top of the Ormeau Road whose population of scaffolders, bathroom fitters and bookies has moved up to Carryduff making way for broadcasters, lawyers and management consultants, has been transformed into a bijou quartier of tasteful interiors, gravel paths and clipped lawns. The new Rosettans are time-poor. They can afford to eat out and drink but are so busy working and earning all the money, they barely get out at all.
Readers of this column often make road trips to the four corners of Ireland. I know this because they often ask for restaurant recommendations in counties such as Offaly, Tipperary and Cork.
I went to the opening night of Gusto e with the adviser, some months back. I rarely go to openings, because my invitations always get lost in the post. But then I'm not on any lists of desirable guests and because people are afraid of what I might write, I think they rather just leave me out of it.
After months of relentless and merciless bombardment of the social media with a series of short, moody films featuring bearded men in deep concentration using tweezers to compose tiny dishes, a young parkour expert wearing a six-by-nico sweat-top leaping and cartwheeling in slo-mo from Giant's Causeway to Cathedral Quarter, and tantalising glimpses of chef Nico Simeone himself boarding a plane to Aldergrove, anyone paying attention to their Instagram and twitter feeds could not have failed to notice that the great man was preparing to transfer the magic of his Glasgow and Edinburgh restaurants to Belfast.
I've loved Muddler's Club since its inception three years ago. The woody, beardy, creakiness much loved by the hipsterati is coupled to a very real Belfast sense of fast-moving, finger-clicking urban knowhow. Somehow, it manages to be laid back and on fire at the same time. Your comfort and joy come first, this is evident, and front of house staff under the keen eye of manager Barry Fletcher will keep the bustle levels high, moving silently and gracefully around, smiling, serving, advising to make sure you are both comfortable and joyful at all times.
A handsome, Parisian-style brasserie on the Newtownards Road, just on the western edges of Ballyhackamore's pulsating culinary heart, Cyprus Avenue was an instant marketing coup for chef patron Richard McCracken when he first opened in 2017. Everything you could order on a Paris boulevard was available here including croque monsieur, madeleines, plat du jour, wine and good coffee.
Deane's at Queens keeps winning the awards and has been one of the most consistent, high performing restaurants in the Deane portfolio. Nestling in the Queen's Quarter away from the hoi polloi and in the more rarefied atmosphere of College Gardens, this restaurant is a sanctuary for those who like space, a bit of elegance moderne and most significantly the best acoustics of any restaurant in the city.
I had been trying to get to the Angler's Rest by Benone Beach ever since chef Paula McIntyre had sung its praises to me months ago, insisting we must go there for lunch. Many failed attempts to find a mutually convenient date followed and in the end a window during which I could jump in the car and go there alone opened up. Turns out Paula also had a moment the next day, so we were both there, alone, within 24 hours.
Running a restaurant in a theatre, art gallery, museum or concert hall is probably the toughest challenge for any caterer. Opening times, quiet moments during shows, private functions and weird licensing laws here combine to make this form of business as specialist as some of the art displayed and performed in these centres.
You know you're in good hands when Damian Tumilty is in the kitchen. And he's been in a good few kitchens in recent years. He has left indelible marks of quality in each one, lasting long after he has moved on.
American business executive and author Jack Welch advocates change at all times. One of the most innovative business thinkers in the western world, Welch says: "Change before you have to."
Vans, trucks, converted buses and just about anything on wheels big enough to haul a stove, a fridge and an oven are running up and down roads all over the western world, parking in lay-bys, town squares and shopping centres. Street food is now such a big thing that the food itself is the subject of re-interpretation by top chefs.
Holywood is a charming seaside town cut off from the sea by a four-lane bypass and the railway line. It has streets named 'Shore Road' and 'The Esplanade', but to get to the shorefront walk and park, you need to dodge the incoming Bangor Range Rovers, get across the busy transportation routes and leave Holywood, its elegant High Street, ancient priory and remarkable Maypole Bar behind.
One of the side effects of the forthcoming Brexit is the growing number of requests I am receiving from readers for restaurant recommendations in Dublin. More and more of you are realising that you can in fact enjoy a decent weekend in the capital these days for the same money it would cost for a fortnight in Los Angeles.
The independent café phenomenon in Belfast may be the source of irritation to some (honestly, lads, if you're complaining because there are too many coffee shops, you need to throw a bag of slack at yourselves), but to many of us, it is evidence of an ever broadening and growing understanding of the uplifting quality of spending a short time drinking good tea and coffee in an environment which provides some comfort and solace from the busy world.
Hillsborough, Northern Ireland's most desirable village, is a perfect picture postcard kind of place. You might think you were in a small English market town in the Cotswolds such is the tidiness and cleanliness of its hilly little streets, but its heritage is as Irish as Dingle.
What makes a good café? Coffee, definitely; tray bakes, check; servers with aprons, check; comfortable chairs and no draughts by the window, absolute, red-line must-haves. Oh, and early opening for those of us stumbling in to work at stupid o'clock in medical need of flat whites and teas.
Naz Din is as Belfast as Carl Frampton. He has the same charm and wit and he pulls no punches. Good job he is a restaurateur, though, because Naz is more of a lover than a fighter. He won't mind me saying that, because everybody knows how resilient and single-minded he can be. Also, his understanding of hospitality and the need to keep customers happy makes him a natural at this game.
After a year of selfless tasting on your behalf, our reviewer praises the quality and price of the food on offer and picks his favourite places to dine.
Film and TV
Film and TV