Restaurant review: a list of the top 10 restaurants in Northern Ireland by Joris Minne
Why these fine restaurants ticked all my boxes in 2017: Joris picks the 10 eateries around Northern Ireland that you should visit in the coming year for a truly memorable culinary experience
Putting together a list of the top 10 restaurants in Northern Ireland is an invitation to getting your head kicked in. Even as I go through the list of 52 reviewed restaurants of 2017, an intractable argument rages in my head over who should or shouldn't be included. This list will not match everybody's. But for reasons of comfort, hospitality, quality of food and consistency they are as follows, in alphabetical order.
Belfast Woodfired Pizza Co.
It's very hard to match the romana pizza at PizzaExpress, however, Belfast Woodfired's artisanal approach is an entirely different proposition. There are all sorts of nibbly starters but go for the breakfast BT9 pizza featuring artisan chorizo, parma ham, button mushrooms, baby tomatoes, free range egg, red onion marmalade, mozzarella cheese and rocket.
An Irish country pub and restaurant which strikes exactly the right tone. The rustic dishes of sugar pit bacon, roast beef and some very earthy mushrooms on toasted sourdough doorsteps are clear evidence of the country-style vibe which is then supported by roaring fires, bare brick walls, cosy corners and warm, welcoming service.
Harbour Inn, Annalong
The view from the upstairs dining room overlooking Annalong's quaint little harbour must be among the best in Ireland. Better still, however, is chef Trevor Orr's dark magic. What he does with the seafood and fish landed directly to his back door is unparalleled. It's unfussy, beautifully judged and prepared and instantly addictive.
James Street South Bar & Grill
Niall and Joanne McKenna's flagship operation (there are four in the McKenna portfolio) is consistently brilliant and has always expressed a sense of occasion. The same goes for the more informal Bar & Grill. Look out for the Kilkenny farm veal chop which was the most memorable meat dish I've had this year.
Hipster central with genuine hospitality and beautiful, dirty brunches, lunches and dinners. The quality of the cooking in the evening is outstanding and considered. At brunch time, there are dishes ranging from Live a Little Granola made with pumpkin seed granola, seasonal fruit, raw cacao and chia seeds to Captain Ahab's Breakfast named after the Nantucket skipper who must have been an Ulsterman because it features a 'major' sausage, bacon, egg, herb roasted mushrooms and tomato, black pudding and soda bread soldiers.
How quickly Muddler's became part of the city fabric. Within two or three very brief years Muddler's Club has cornered a market which lies somewhere between OX and Noble. Warm, atmospheric and excellent on all fronts, the influence of chef Gareth McCaughey's time at OX is distinct. This is proper restaurant heaven: blackened lamb, halibut and some of the best desserts in the city are all memorable (cocktails are outstanding here too!).
Chef Danny Millar is one of those reliably talented guys who just keeps delivering. The Parson's Nose in Hillsborough may have started out as a typical Ulster pub and restaurant but following a major investment this year it has become something much more exciting. You climb into the higgledy piggledy cosiness and charms and sit down to woodfired pizzas and wonderful winter choices of pies, game and fish.
Extraordinary quesadillas, quesos fundidos and tacos are unlike any other Mexican far from home. This is authenticity with bells on. Chef Adam Lynas spent years in Latin and North America learning and improving his 'Cano skills. His food is robust and refined at the same time, the essence of Mexican cooking.
Juicy fresh beef patties and the perfectly soft yet firm bun are the starting point for Tribal's more grown up burger offering. There's something tailor-made about each one, the way they are composed, gift-wrapped and carefully brought to your table. There's also a good vegan version with smoked beetroot and chickpea pattie with slaw and chilli hummus. Most excellent.
The Dublin success story has come to Belfast making instant impact and loads of friends. The canteen-like diner is buzzy and cheerful, service youthful and smiley. But those falafels, freshly made every day, are out of this world. Be bold and get the Palestinian sandwich into which falafels and other foodies are enlivened further with hot sauces.