Restaurant review: Mourne Seafood Bar still producing the goods despite Bank Buildings cordon
Bank Square, Belfast. Tel: 028 9024 8544
We become blind to the familiar. No-one had much to say about Primark and the Bank Buildings until they were engulfed in flames which now leave a legacy of economic scorched earth all around them.
For the bars and restaurants in the vicinity who have seen their footfall collapse and now face deep uncertainty - the familiarity and sense of stability provided by a solid city centre infrastructure meant optimism and investment - this is suddenly a shocking and potentially irretrievable situation.
The cordon surrounding the danger zone is very wide. Within it lie 14 businesses. For some of those, the game is over. But the no-go zone is having a negative impact on a dozen or so restaurants just outside the cordon.
Which is why it's worth remembering those like the Mourne Seafood Bar and Kelly's Cellars in Bank Square, two institutions we have learned to take for granted until now, need your custom. They're not alone in their struggle to regain some semblance of business.
Havana Bank Square, The Saggart, La Taqueria, Jumon, Pizza Boutique, Manny's and a good few others are all in need of visitors.
But sympathy is one thing and the search for quality is another. This is the second in a series of restaurants of the cordon and it focuses on those worth going to and making an effort for.
Mourne Seafood Bar had been off my radar for many months. It wasn't that I was avoiding it, it was just that I took it for granted, a city fixture, as recognisable as the shipyard cranes.
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A visit early this week with the brother revealed what I had forgotten: just how good it is.
On a bleak Monday evening we navigated our way quite easily, as it happens, to Bank Square. It was always an awkward place to reach but being cut off from the main Castle Place entry clearly was having an impact on numbers.
Numbers are lower than usual. Those who are in the know, pukka Belfast people or friends of people who know how to get around, are congregating here. It's as if the citizenry is responding to the tragedy with a business as usual, come what may, shrug of the shoulders.
When you walk into Bank Square of an evening now, it's like you've automatically joined an exclusive club of cordon busters. You've made it here so you must be a dedicated city person, is the inference. People standing outside Kelly's with a pint in their hand nod and wink approvingly to arrivals. We're all in this together.
A quick pint in Kelly's followed by dinner in the Mourne Seafood Bar is as Irish and as quality-matching as any experience I've had in Kinsale or Galway.
Oysters in the Mourne followed by roast hake turn out to be the perfect fortifier. There is a buzz in the atmospheric restaurant, tourists have taken over a table for 12; the brother and I are next to a pair of Americans, beyond them are two Frenchmen and all tables are taken. Monday night! It's very unusual, explains owner Andy Rea who says business is down 70%.
When Paul Rankin opened Roscoff and Nick Price opened his Warehouse in 1989, the Troubles couldn't stop people in search of a night out with excellent food.
The Primark fire should not have any more impact either. Yet, at the moment, it does. This is possibly because Belfast now has such a rich portfolio of good restaurants and there are many alternatives.
All the more reason to be supportive and make the effort. We need to do this again as soon as possible or risk losing the very heart of culinary Belfast and part of the fabric which has positioned the city firmly in the international foodie spotlight.
12 oysters £17.50
Glass of wine x 4 £22.00
Sparkling water x 2£7.50