As St Patrick’s Day (17 March) syncs up so nicely with the launch of our 2019 survey, we would like to draw your attention to 15 Northern Irish restaurants that we feel should be included in next year’s guide. Yes, Ox in Belfast sets a world class standard, and yes the Bull & Ram in Ballynahinch serves what are perhaps the best cuts of beef in the UK, and yes the fish & chips at Harry’s Shack on Portstewart Strand is the perfect marriage of food and setting. But there is so much more to discover in Northern Ireland. So please take part in Harden’s 28th annual diner survey now and make sure this corner of the UK is better represented than once it was…
Forget about Belfast for a minute
Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea you’ll find this much-loved restaurant from chef Paul Cunningham; touting “good food from the heart” using the best, seasonal, Irish ingredients. Originally at the Anchor Bar in Newcastle, Brunel’s moved to this smart new premises last year.
The best food in Derry is to be found at Kevin Pyke’s fantastic food-truck-turned-permanet-shipping-container. It started out as an adapted van in a disused car park before moving to its current home by the river Foyle in 2013 and has gone on win awards and tour festivals. Try their signature Notorious PIG pulled pork burger.
This picturesque seaside town on the Antrim coast with views towards Rathlin Island is perhaps best known as the home of the Auld Lammas Fair. But in recent years it has become something of a foodie enclave, with food tours a popular activity. One of the stop-offs is this aesthetically pleasing bakehouse which creates what is perhaps Northern Ireland’s finest sourdough bread. Sit in for a coffee and a delectable pastry and get yourself a loaf to go.
A stone’s throw from the shores of Strangford Lough, this prettily-situated restaurant-with-rooms occupies a (you guessed it) renovated former rural school house. Chef Will Brown (who spent time in London kitchens like Gordo’s Maze and MPW’s Mirabelle) forages marine vegetables and herbs from the surrounding Co Down countryside and shoreline.
Rivalling the Bull & Ram for Northern Ireland’s best Sunday Roast? Well, both restaurants do serve Co. Down meat mogul Peter Hannan’s beef – dry aged to perfection in Himalayan salt chambers. The Parson’s Nose occupies a lovingly restored 18th-century building in Hillsborough (which underwent a major revamp last year) and boasts a beautiful, Georgian-inspired dining room.
Husband and wife team Gareth & Kasia Reid run this attractive restaurant in a converted, listed Georgian building with aplomb. Adjacent to the ancient Cathedral on Vicars Hill, 4 Vicars serves fabulously fresh seafood, all caught locally and landed in Kilkeel. There’s also a garden terrace overlooking Navan Fort for that very occasional patch of good Northern Irish weather.
Enter through a quaint little shop on Bushmills main street (where you’ll find plenty of souvenirs) and head to the back of the room to discover a hidden Gallic gem. This relaxed and airy café serves classic French bistro food alongside a short, predominantly French wine list, a range of local beers and some pretty potent cocktail specials. If you’re in Bushmills you may also want to check out the Bushmills Inn, Tartine at the Distillers Arms, and of course the whiskey distillery itself (est. 1608).
Saul McConnell and chef Pearson Morris, who both worked with Michael Deane – the big name in these parts – opened their own joint in Holywood, an outlying neighbourhood of Belfast, last year. It has been a busy little spot ever since, so book in advance. The seasonal, changing menu is complemented by a jolly good wine list.
Yeah, yeah, yeah – we know that Enniskillen boasts 3 AA Rosette restaurant Catalina at the sumptuous Lough Erne Resort, and it is worth checking out, but for some local flavour we prefer Blake’s of the Hollow. Downstairs, below the lively pub, you’ll find Café Merlot with its ornate stonework and vaulted ceilings. It also happens to have an excellent wine list and hosts regularly changing gourmet theme nights.
Housed in what was once Portstewart’s old golf clubhouse, and overlooking the town’s old course and Atlantic coastline, is this fantastic Italian run by the local Morelli family. There are proper wood-fired pizzas, freshly made pasta dishes and a great cocktail list featuring a variety of martinis. Steaks are a bit of a winner too.
Okay, back to Belfast
The name makes it sound like a cocktail bar (and, yes, there are tasty concoctions on offer: chilli margarita anyone?) but the food is what really makes this three-year-old operation in the back streets of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter stand out. Chef-patron Gareth McCaughey delivers simple but perfectly executed dishes using seasonal, Northern Irish ingredients from the open kitchen. Including a very reasonably priced tasting menu at just £50.
One of only two restaurants in Northern Ireland to attain and retain a Michelin star (the other is Ox, see our top 10 list below) this is the jewel in the crown of legendary local restaurateur Michael Deane. Heading up the stoves here is Alex Greene, who started out at Deanes in Belfast before heading to London where he worked at Petrus and Claridge’s by Gordon Ramsay.
Much of Edo’s menu centres around the wood-fired Bertha oven, roasting meats and fish to smokey perfection (the beef cheek is a particular highlight); other dishes on the ‘European’ menu tend toward the Spanish, with tapas, jamon and (brilliantly oozy) croquetas, with the odd visit to Italy and British pub classics, many designed for sharing.
Marty Murphy’s restaurant on Belfast’s Howard Street manages to be simultaneously industrial-chic and warmly welcoming. It is known locally as somewhere that Belfast’s chefs go to eat, and it’s easy to see why. The classic menu, which brings a few international twists to local produce, is created with a deft hand and the cocktails pack a punch. It’s a good option for a pre-theatre meal too.
On the fringe of east Belfast’s foodie hub, Ballyhackamore, a sharing plates venture with an ambitiously modern menu. Named after the nearby, tree-lined street – a millionaire’s row made famous by the Van Morrison song Cyprus Avenue. Look out for seafood specials, inventive cocktails and Sunday lunch.
Our top 10 Northern Irish restaurants from the 2018 survey
Launched in 2013 by local boy Stephen Toman (ex-of James Street South) and Brittany native Alain Kerloc’h, this acclaimed riverside venue is artfully “austere” in design, and the cooking is “exceptional” – “real haute cuisine with a sense of place”. Try the Ox Cave next door for “a great wine experience” plus “wonderful” charcuterie and cheese.
Situated in a beautiful Grade-I listed Edwardian butcher’s shop of an attractive market town, this shrine to Northern Irish beef has won major plaudits from local and national press for its prime cuts, expertly cooked. Early feedback is of “amazing quality meat at prices that are outrageous value”. In 2017 chef-patron Kelan McMichael opened an outpost in Belfast.
“Small but with big ambitions” – this “tiny but amazing” courtyard eatery in converted Victorian stables turns “good locally-sourced produce into solid, tasty cooking” (“goat’s cheese pannacotta anyone?)”.
A “tiny deli/café serving up tasty light lunches, and occasional degustation evenings, which are a gastronomic delight” in the seaside town of Portrush on Anrtim’s spectacular Causeway Coast.
“Renowned and inventive chef Joery Castel, who moved recently from the multi-award-winning Boathouse in Bangor” has set up Belfast’s most “luxurious” new eatery, in a “beautiful old church”plushly converted by celeb designer Kris Turnbull. Enter through an interior design shop and be rewarded with “wonderful food, including a not-too-expensive tasting menu”.
Reporters “love this simple restaurant on the beach” – “the menu is straightforward” (burgers and “properly cooked, well-priced fish ’n’ chips”) “but everything is fresh and delicious, especially the fish”. No longer BYO, but there is a short, keenly priced wine list.
“A contemporary twist to some great Irish classics” keeps Niall McKenna’s well-established destination (celebrating 15 years this year) at the forefront of the local dining scene. There’s an Ã la carte menu, but fans recommend the “divine tasting menu” which provides a four-course and five-course option.
After 20 years working alongside leading London lights like Richard Corrigan, chef Chris McGowan and his wife returned home to open this spot on the main street of town, a couple of years ago – and locals feel “so fortunate” to have them. The food, with a focus on ageing, curing and brining, is very good, and has already helped the “fabulous local”rack up the awards.
The changing blackboard menu of fish dishes including shellfish sourced from the owners’ own beds, plus “great service and a lovely atmosphere”ensure the ongoing popularity of this local landmark, situated in boozer-like premises (also hosting a fishmonger’s and cookery school). “So good we went twice in the same weekend!” Also in Dundrum, Co Down.
A chic Cathedral Quarter two-year-old, set in a former 1760s iron foundry, from James Street South luminary Niall McKenna; the set lunch includes some “great culinary delights”, and is a bit of a steal.