Joris Minne: 10 standout Northern Ireland restaurants
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.
Another year and another 52 restaurants reviewed. Some good, some indifferent and a couple of rotten eggs. Overall, the restaurant-scape looks good. Strength in numbers might not be a concept readily embraced by restaurateurs, many of whom think there are far too many chasing a dwindling number of diners. But for us, the spending public, this competition means a quality to price ratio unparalleled anywhere else in Ireland or Great Britain. Here are some of the stand-outs of the year and one or two to look out for.
1. Yugo, 3 Wellington Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9031 9715.
This cool little slice of Asia is modern, bustling and very good if you're looking for big spicy flavours, grilled meats and dirty rice, the likes of which nobody can match. Sit at the counter and watch the chefs do their thing or at the comfortable little tables. You'd swear you were in a hip part of Bangkok.
2. CoCo, 7-11 Linenhall Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9031 1150.
After years of ordinariness the once great CoCo is back. Paul Waterworth in the kitchen, Abby Dunlop out front, with Tim in charge of the operation, make a formidable team. Dining room badly needs a make-over and new lighting, but the food and wine are among the best quality and best priced in Belfast. Hint: have a glass of the Peth Werth pinot noir from Germany.
3. Shelby's, 51A High Street, Holywood. Tel: 07926 691174.
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Just opened in Holywood, this little bistro does two things beautifully: cocktails and street food. Honestly, corn dogs are smokey and robustly textured, the sausage within more rural French than urban American. Chicken and waffles feature southern fried morsels served in a waffle cone with maple syrup. And mac 'n' cheese with shredded confit duck is defiantly voluptuous, luxurious and generous for a so-called small plate.
4. Wine & Brine, Main Street, Moira 028 9261 0500.
One of the best restaurants outside Belfast or Dublin, Chris Magowan never fails. The dining room has been sorted out and is bright, airy and comfortable, the service good and that food sublime. This is the same chef Richard Corrigan relied on heavily in London. Prices are, however, distinctly regional rather than capital, yet the quality will stand any comparison with the best. Try the tongue and cheek pie if it's on.
5. James Street Restaurant, 21 James Street South, Belfast. Tel: 028 9043 4310.
The much-loved Bar & Grill has gone and in its place is, er, an extended version of the Bar & Grill. The posh bit is still there but functions more as an extension of the Bar & Grill (don't call it the overflow room!). Anyway, it's still in the hands of the talented Niall McKenna and now that early teething problems have been resolved, it will soon return to its place at the top of Belfast's bistro league.
6. Eipic, Howard Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9038 2111.
The hushed luxury, white linen and sparkling crystal have a place in Belfast. It's the only truly upmarket, old school, posh'n'plush restaurant in the city. But nothing's old school about Alex Greene's cooking. Here you will find former head chef Danni Barry's legacy kept intact, with loads of excitement at the table including cloches, smoke, shots of wine (rather than full glasses if you're in for a long night) and the best ingredients in the world.
7. French Village, 343 Lisburn Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9066 4333.
A family favourite. Ben Tsang and his co-pilot James run French Village as tightly as any top-end Parisian city centre brasserie. Food is always good: excellent brunches feature hashes, and dinners in the evening are outstanding affairs. It's a brassy, busy yet relaxed and comfortable restaurant with all the quality you've come to expect from the French family.
8. Noble, 27a Church Road, Holywood Co. Down. Tel: 028 9042 5655
If you can get a table in Noble, you must be somebody important. Although Saul McConnell manages the tiny restaurant with all the charm and wisdom of a Foreign Office diplomat, he is also democratic. It's just that you need to book early. Pearson in the kitchen never fails: it's always delightful. Look out for Wicklow venison, Moroccan-style baked beetroot and that chocolate dessert.
9. Primrose Restaurant, 53/55 Strand Road, Derry City. Tel: 028 71373744
Derry City needed Primrose to add to Ian Orr's Brown's restaurant. Primrose is a delight; comfortable, hospitable and home to some of the best food in the north west. Much use of local produce and owners Ciaran and Melanie Breslin are butcher and baker respectively, so they know better than anybody the importance of quality ingredients. (His Tirkeeran black pudding is out of this world and make sure to try the Chambers Redgate cider and Melanie's barmbrack).
10. Nu Delhi, 68-72 Great Victoria Street, Belfast. Tel 028 9024 4747.
Owner Naz Dim recently left Bruce Street and transferred the beloved Nu Delhi to its new home above Ginger Bistro. Joint winner of the Ulster category in last year's Irish Curry Awards, Nu Delhi is a must for curry lovers. Naz does cocktails, good bangra music and very good masala. You will see lamb chops, seabass and other fresh local produce transformed into spiced-up Bengali and Indian delights.