For well over two decades London has been the shining light for gastronomy in the UK, and some would say, the world, writes Geoff Campion. So much so that the capital has been viewed as autonomous – dominating the rest of the UK, with commentators scathing about English cuisine outside of the big smoke.
But, all this is now changing and one of the leading lights of this transformation is coming from an unexpected source – Belfast.
2016 is the “Year of Food and Drink” in Northern Ireland and a number of initiatives have been created to shout about the excellent produce that NI is developing. At the annual Great Taste Awards produce from Northern Ireland won a host of awards – great butter, great cider, great gin, great oysters. And awesome beef. Peter Hannan of Hannan Meats, was the first person in the Northern Hemisphere to age his meat in a drying chamber that included a wall made from Himalayan salt – the first salt chamber, for those interested, was in Sydney. Those wanting to try his meat will find it at any of Mark Hix’s restaurants or from Fortnum and Mason. This beef speaks for itself and was awarded Supreme Champion at this year’s Great Taste Awards.
The restaurant scene in Northern Ireland is also buzzing. The winner of The Craft Guild of Chefs’ 2017 National Chef of the Year competition, James Devine, is sous chef at Belfast’s Deanes Eipic and is Northern Irish born and bred. The Good Food Guide also crowned a restaurant just south of Belfast – “Wine and Brine”- as its local restaurant of the year, so it’s clear that the region is starting to make waves in the culinary world. Consequently, reviewers from the mainland have been visiting restaurants like Ox; Bull and Ram; and Muddlers Club, reporting favourably on their discoveries.
Like all Guide Books, the Michelin gives a very accurate snapshot as to how good a restaurant may have been six months before the guide was released. In Belfast the restaurant scene is so vibrant that guide entries are doomed to be out of date as soon as they are printed – which is why, in my opinion, only two restaurant’s in the city received a star in the latest round-up. Exciting new restaurants are bursting onto the scene at a mouth-watering rate. The latest is a pop-up Mexican restaurant called La Taqueria which has taken over a floor above the Mourne Seafood Bar. Reports are coming in of authentic food, forgiving prices, and dangerously good cocktails. Belfast certainly is changing.
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