I recently spent seven weeks living in a hotel in Belfast, training for my Year In Industry. This, as you'd expect, involved seven weeks of restaurant and takeaway food.
It was exciting for all of about four days (I mean the food — the training was awesome) but a few places made me wish I could stay a little longer, just so I could enjoy them some more. I generally love food (be honest, you can tell), but I'm not good enough at writing about it to be able to stretch one meal out into a whole post, so here's a listicle!
Side Note: Unfortunately you won't find any photos in this review. That's in no way because of any stance against those who love posting Instragrams of their food, it's literally just because I get too excited at the prospect of putting food into my face to stop and take photos before I start eating. Sorry.
Fratelli is a delightful mid-range Italian restaurant with an odd obsession with boars, just around the corner from the hotel. We discovered early on that they offer 2-for-1 on main courses on Mondays, so visits to Fratelli became an almost-weekly affair. Interestingly, I don't think we managed to go even once with an even number of people, so we always ended up splitting an extra main between us — no complaints from me!
As those who know me will know, vegetables are not my thing, which somewhat hindered my ability to choose from an Italian menu. On my first visit I eventually chose the Tutta Carne Pizza - the semi-posh Italian restaurant's answer to Domino's Meatilicious (RIP). I want to use the word "authentic" to describe it but as I've never visited Italy, I'm in no way qualified to. It was, however, tasty as heck and perfectly crispy.
On the second visit I wanted to "branch out" so I instead insisted on having the Tutta Carne as the shared main and had the Bolognese Fusilli as my main, along with a side of skin-on fries. I'm well aware that double-carbing is a heinous act, particularly during a period of such heavy eating, but damn were those some good chips (in my opinion they were far too thick to be considered fries but in this case it was a very good thing). The bolognese was very nice as well but I found myself more excited about my single slice of shared pizza.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Fratelli. The waiter we had on both occasions that I went was very friendly and made us feel comfortable. The only downsides were their stocking of Luxardo Amaretto instead of Disarrono, and their everyday prices. The prices however are a matter of budget, as the food is definitely worth it, and I'm grateful to the 2-for-1 deal for giving me the opportunity to enjoy some more up-market food during my stay in Belfast.
#4: Pizza Punks
Pizza Punks was recommended to us by one of our more local colleagues on the first day that we arrived in Belfast. We were promised pizza with a wide range of weird and wonderful toppings and over-the-top milkshakes. When we eventually succeeded in going (there was no seating available on our first attempt), we were not disappointed.
The Pizza Punks menu is a sight to behold. On top of the usual selection of pizzas with pre-determined toppings, there's the option to design your own 12" from a borderline-unholy list of toppings — with no limit on how many you can choose. Some of the more self-described "rogue" toppings include Mac 'n' Cheese, Irn-Bru Pulled Pork and Lamb Donner.
Predictably, I decided to load my pizza with as much meat as physically possible — pepperoni, Nduja, Tuscan sausage, Fajita chicken and lamb Donner, along with pineapple, mozzarella, parmesan, chilli flakes and oregano. It was an absolute feast and was the perfect amount, though I did eventually resort to eating it with a knife and fork because the pizza base couldn't quite support the amount of toppings. Each topping's flavour was distinct and complemented each other really well.
I'd highly recommend Pizza Punks as a place to eat with friends. They've got a great taste in music, make a solid Mojito and again, the staff are super friendly (contrary to what I'm used to in Birmingham).
#3: The Perch Rooftop Bar
The Perch is a somewhat rogue entry on this list, as it is first and foremost (as suggested by the title), a bar. In my experience, a good bar tends to serve great drinks and provide an interesting and relaxed atmosphere in which to drink them and enjoy time with your friends — but this is usually at the expense of the food, which is usually a tad try-hard and mediocre. This is fine. I don't typically go to bars to eat, I go there to nail some feminine cocktails and have a laugh.
Side Note: Please don't @ me for my use of the word "feminine", I looked up the definition and it included the phrase "traditionally associated with women".
The Perch is beautiful. Some may regard this as a bit of a strange word with which to describe a bar, but I stand by it. The whole place is decked out with a bird/garden theme, it has an open roof so is filled with natural light, has a wide range of comfortable seating and simply has a nice air to it. I felt immediately happy when I walked in, which is a feat considering I'd just awoken from a nap. It also had a very wide range of cocktails (of which I tried one, before inexplicably ending up drinking bottles of Rosé for the rest of the night) and while we were there, was playing some oh-so-sweet Disco Bass that made sure I was always smiling.
This post is supposed to be about food though, right?
Due to my aforementioned nap I didn't have chance to eat before going, so I decided to snack on some garlic doughballs and — surprise, surprise — share a pizza with two of my friends. I'm getting a bit bored of writing about pizza now (don't worry, the last two places I'm reviewing have no pizza in sight) but it was so good. This may have been because I was pretty tipsy by this point and I don't even remember what toppings were on it but either way, at the time, it was the best pizza I'd ever had, and I was pretty sad that I was sharing it.
So with the quadruple threat of great drinks, a charming vibe, fun music and tasty food, the Perch now sits atop my list of favourite bars ever. I really hope I get the chance to visit Belfast again soon, and if I do, I'll definitely be paying this place another visit.
#2: Kathmandu Kitchen
Since moving to Birmingham I've become a big fan of Indian curry. When I suggested going for a curry and one of my friends responded with the suggestion of a Nepalese curry house, I wasn't convinced. In the absence of other suggestions, and with the assurance from that friend that Nepalese curry is even better than Indian curry (a bold claim), we went to Kathmandu Kitchen.
I was happy to see that the restaurant did in fact offer a range of Indian curries alongside their specialty Nepalese dishes, but I was interested to find my eyes drawn towards the Kathmandu Special Curry, described simply as "Chicken, lamb and prawns cooked in a special house sauce and medium spice". Before that point I'd never had a multi-meat curry before, or a curry with prawns in it, so with the surprisingly reasonable price and notable lack of vegetables in the description, I was swayed.
When the dish arrived along with the Keema Naan I'd ordered, I wasn't amazed or anything. It was a curry after all. Curries don't look particularly impressive. Upon tasting it however, I fell in love. The level of spice was my idea of perfect — enough to give a kick, without completely overpowering the other flavours in the dish. The sauce tasted great (told you I'm not fantastic at writing about food. I am an expert in literally nothing — hence "casual" reviews). The naan was crispy without being dry and served as a great tool for shovelling the curry into my face. All of the meat was cooked perfectly — juicy chicken and tender lamb. The prawns... I never used to see the fuss about prawns in curry but I do now. The burst of flavour you get when biting into one is crazy.
I believe I'm speaking for the whole group of us when I say we all thoroughly enjoyed our food. The service was lovely as well — the waiter went as far as to bring us a complimentary round of flaming sambucca shots, much to my horror.
Most of us went back a second time in our last week and ordered the same dishes as the previous time, though we rejected the sambucca shots before they were poured on that occasion.
It was fantastic, and I'll be looking for a Nepalese restaurant next time I'm craving a sit-down curry.
Sphinx was recommended to me by one of my Belfast colleagues, as an "award-winning kebab house". I made an order to my hotel room one night, for an "Irish Kebab" with "sphinx sauce".
Get this: an Irish Kebab is literally just a normal kebab without salad. Fantastic.
This was the best kebab I've ever eaten, made even better by the sauce — a branded version of the native Northern Irish "house" sauce, which is a delightful halfway-house between garlic mayo and hot sauce. The chips were also incredible — good, hearty hand-cut chips instead of the greasy fries you usually get after a night out. The only downside was that I had to eat it with a teaspoon in the absence of real cutlery, but that's hardly their fault.
The food at Wetherspoons is far from great. In fact I've been put off having steak there since one of my friends found an unidentified meaty sludge underneath his rump in Week 5. However they just have to get a special mention because of their mobile app.
The concept of an app that allows you to order food and drink directly to your table in a pub without having to queue at the bar or speak to humans is innovation at its finest. The sooner more pub chains implement this, the better.
#1: House of Zen
House of Zen is a fine Asian restaurant, and was recommended to us by one of our Belfast colleagues. It took us half an hour to walk there, and it was really quiet when we got there - I think we were one of maybe three tables — which caused us to start managing our expectations. The menu wasn't stereotypically Chinese either, which caused us to struggle to make a decision about what to order.
I eventually settled on the Crispy Aromatic Marinated Lamb with Spicy Curry Sauce. Our food arrived in under ten minutes, which provoked several raised eyebrows around the table.
The dish was sublime. The lamb was indeed crispy and also managed to melt in my mouth, which before this point I didn't know was possible. The curry sauce was spicier than I'm used to, but didn't mask the other flavours, and was so flavoursome that I even ate all of my vegetables. We left very satisfied.
So much so that when Flick came up to visit later that week, she asked if we could go. This time the whole place was packed, but a very kind waitress managed to squeeze us in under the promise that we'd vacate our table within the hour. We ordered both starters and mains to come together so that could squeeze as much goodness into our short timeframe. Flick ordered the Deep Fried Crispy Shredded Beef Strips and the Roasted Duckling with Plum Sauce, while I ordered the Salt and Chilli Squid and the same main as before. We demolished the whole lot with five minutes to spare and left very satisfied.
So much so that Flick demanded we went back the following evening, this time with a booking so that we could take our time and make an evening of it. We more or less skipped lunch and then when the time came, ordered four starters between us and, after much debate, ended up ordering the same mains as the previous night.
As an added bonus, House of Zen does cocktails. We both went for the Signature, which was surprisingly well-balanced considering the number of ingredients that went into it, and didn't at all clash with our food like cocktails often do.
Just to top things off, the toilets were Japanese. If you know, you know.
Eating restaurant every night for seven weeks is actually more tiresome than it sounds. I'm glad to be home and enjoying home-cooked meals again, but I'm so glad that I got to try out these wonderful places to eat during my stay. Belfast has its quirks, but it's a pretty solid place when it comes to food and drink. If you get the chance to visit, I recommend taking it.