Belfast Telegraph

Stormont dining room opens doors to public for first time - you can eat like a Lord, or an MLA

By Noel McAdam

Live like an MLA - at least for a lunchtime - and the taxpayer will even help you pick up the tab.

For the first time in its history, Stormont is allowing electors to try the dining facilities.

The elegant upstairs Members' Dining Room is open to the public for the rest of the summer.

And you don't even have to attend a plenary debate or committee session, since the MLAs themselves are on summer recess.

The Telegraph sampled the delights on offer yesterday - and was not disappointed. A daunting task, but somebody had to do it.

As well as the dining room, MLAs have a full-size basement canteen, where umpteen courses are served up at highly subsidised prices. A full meal would rarely cost more than £6.

In contrast, the Members' Dining Room is where MLAs take their guests to put on the style.

The oak-pannelled room has all the class and atmosphere of a first-rate restaurant - cool and airy and overlooking the front lawns of Parliament Buildings.

In fact, you could be forgiven for feeling like you were enjoying dining equal to that enjoyed by Robert Crawley, owner of TV's fictional Downton Abbey.

Portraits of Assembly Speakers look down approvingly.

The prices are not at the special level MLAs enjoy, but still quite reasonable for the quality. Main courses are around £9.50 - but there are two courses for £12 and a full three-course banquet for £15.

And the food itself is exquisite.

For starters have summer leaf salad with buffallo mozarella, cherry tomatoes and basil; smoked salmon risotto with poached salmon, mint and sweet peas, or ham hock terrine with apricot and ginger chutney.

Then for mains you can have grilled supreme of chicken, with basil puree mash, chipotle butter, spinach and asparagus; tempura of hake with lemon and chilli orzo; slow roast pork shoulder with bourguignon garnish or butternut squash and potato gratin.

Local produce gets a look in with desserts, including Glastry farm ice cream and summer fruits; raspberry and white chocolate truffle with biscuit or strawberry and orange tart with cream Anglaise and ice cream, all washed down with house merlot or sauvignon blanc.

Given the long hours our MLAs often put in - no wonder it takes them all of July and August to recover - it's not just lunch that is available. The new regime also involves morning coffee sessions from 10-11.30am where the high-calorie choice takes in freshly baked scones served with jam and clotted cream to a selection of Danish and pain au chocolat pastries.

Then comes afternoon tea from 2-5pm at the one-stop-cost of £10 with freshly prepared finger sandwiches, warmed scones with clotted cream and preserves and a variety of home-made cakes.

Even on its first full day of the Assembly recess, business was fairly brisk - with 17 punters for morning coffee alone.

Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin served up tea himself to usher in the new era of public fine dining - and you don't even need an expenses account.

An Assembly statement said: "It's the perfect way to round off an early morning walk in the estate or as a prelude to one of our popular Parliament Buildings tours, which during the summer will run on the hour every hour between 10am and 3pm.

"While booking isn't necessary, it is advisable to ring ahead to check availability (028 9052 1041).

"We look forward to seeing you on the hill this summer."

Belfast Telegraph


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