I have recently returned from another delicious trip to Belfast. It’s been nearly two years since I last visited, and this time, I spent a weekend in the city on my own to relax and enjoy some seriously good food and drink. This is a city experiencing a boom in tourist numbers and enjoying some redevelopment that goes with it. Every time I visit, I find there is a wealth of new shops, cafes and restaurants to visit. But what I love so much about this vibrant city is the energy and creativity. There are so many interesting developments on the food scene, it is so worth a visit, if you haven’t been already, and if you’ve left it a while, you’ll find so much to see and do here that may have opened since last time.
What to do
Ask anyone what a foodie should do in Belfast and I’ll bet St. George’s Market will be the first suggestion. This market runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week, selling fresh produce, including fish, Broughgammon goat, cheeses, breads, seaweed, fruit and vegetables and hot food stalls, selling breakfast rolls, sweet treats, burgers and curries. This is not exclusively a food market though. You’ll find all sorts of other things for sale here alongside food, from pictures to clothing to crafts. This is a great spot to visit for a wander to acquaint yourself with some lovely local food producers, stock up some shopping and some food on the go.
Belfast city centre is pretty compact, and easy to walk around. Take a look at City Hall, head over to Victoria Square for some shopping, or even walk out along the river to the new Titanic Quarter to see the superb Titanic Belfast museum and Game of Thrones Exhibition at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, which runs until 1stSeptember.
Evening entertainment options are plentiful. Try the Crown Bar for a drink in this very special pub, or visit the Opera House, as I did, as the National Theatre were in town on tour.
Where to stay
Belfast city centre has seen a significant increase in the provision of luxury hotel accommodation in recent years, so this time, I decided to visit Grand Central, which had not opened on my last visit two years ago. Grand Central opened in 2018 on Bedford Street, following extensive renovation of the site and the construction of a 23-story tower hotel.
Owned by the Hastings Hotel Group, this is the newest hotel in their portfolio of hotels in Northern Ireland. It is certainly impressive – the slick, modern and opulent ground floor reception sets the tone nicely. I was welcomed very warmly by the charming door and reception staff and whizzed up in the lift to my suite on the 22ndfloor – the highest floor on which bedrooms are situated.
The birds eye view of the city, docks and surrounding hills was really special and must be one of the most commanding viewpoints in all of the city. In fact, I pulled up an armchair and sat down to take it all in with a cup of tea – it is that good!
My suite at Grand Central was wonderfully comfortable, with, frankly, more room than I could ever need on my own — a huge, comfortable bed, desk, sofas, kitchen area and more. The bathroom was small, but very smart with a good shower, bath and lovely ESPA toiletries to enjoy.
I had a free day ahead of me in Belfast to enjoy, and I was able to check in early and drop my luggage, and, being located so centrally, I could pop back throughout the day to drop shopping off very easily. I had a great day walking around the city, and popped back for a relaxing soak before heading up to floor 23 to the Observatory for a cocktail to start the evening.
Set on the top floor of the building, tables need to be reserved in advance. My reservation was quite early (6:30pm), and there were some guests lingering after enjoying afternoon tea when I arrived for a cocktail. The views are really wonderful, and this is a very elegant, atmospheric space that is made for celebrating a special occasion, or just a treat. I sat in the window, looking at the lights across the city and sipping my delicious tequila cocktail. Staff were extremely friendly, helpful and well-acquainted with the menu. Cocktails are well made and attractively presented.
Dinner and breakfast were taken in the Seahorse restaurant on the first floor. I ate on my own, sitting by the window, watching the bustle in Belfast city on a Saturday night. Whilst I enjoy eating alone on the rare occasions I do so, my only disappointment here was that I had no-one to share with – it was genuinely difficult deciding what to eat from a very enticing menu.
In the end, I chose a steak, because the steaks on the menu here are from Peter Hannan, of Hannan Meats in Moira, who I and many others, consider to be one of the finest meat purveyors in the UK. But, before that, I chose the roasted local scallops with a Jerusalem artichoke velouté and black olive oil for a starter. The scallops were served halved, and perfectly cooked, wonderfully sweet and juicy, and served with a savoury, richly flavoured velouté. A lovely combination of ingredients and a wonderfully light, umami-rich starter.
So, back to the beef for my main course. Hannan’s beef is Glenarm shorthorn beef, which is aged in his Himalayan salt chamber, which I visited on my last trip. This sirloin steak at the Seahorse was cooked perfectly, and served with an excellent green peppercorn sauce, lovely crisp chips and a superb watercress salad with fine slivers of red onion and a wonderful slightly sweet punchy dressing.
When a classic dish is so well executed with such fine ingredients, it is far from a safe choice. I’m afraid I couldn’t manage a pudding. This was a fantastic spot for a great meal, and really manages to balance feeling special, yet informal. Service was friendly, professional and charming.
Breakfast the next morning was also in the Seahorse. Again, staff were wonderfully friendly and chatty, welcoming me and settling me in with coffee and weekend newspapers. The breakfast is self-service, with hot food prepared in the kitchen and served from the pass. After an initial scan of what was available, I was amazed by how much local produce was on offer. Sausages, bacon, bread, yoghurt, apple juice, honey, oats and more are all from small independent producers in Northern Ireland. I was also really impressed with the quality of everything I ate – the fruit was delicious, at the right stage of ripeness and carefully cut into generous chunks. The Clandeboye yoghurt I had with the fruit was wonderfully rich and creamy. And the local eggs, sausages and bacon were really high quality and skilfully cooked. Juices were very high quality, including freshly squeezed orange and Armagh apple juices. Genuinely, it was a really excellent hotel breakfast and very memorable.
Honestly, I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Grand Central on my next trip – it made for a highly comfortable and relaxing stay, with some great local food and drink.
Where else to eat
There is plenty of choice in the city centre. My first stop for a cup of coffee is in the excellent Bullitt hotel café. Their coffee is first rate and it’s a very pleasant place to sit and have a break.
For lunch (or indeed dinner), I like Yugo for its delicious Asian flavours, from pho to dumplings. Coppi comes very highly recommended for its Italian chichetti, pizetta, pasta and risotto. The Muddlers Club is a great spot for dinner, with some seriously creative and sublimely delicious dishes on its ever-changing menu.
I have also really enjoyed visits to EIPIC, OX, Mourne Seafood, Deanes Meat Locker, Noble in Hollywood, Deanes at Queens, and SHU on previous occasions, and would happily visit any one of them again.
Where to shop for food
I am not known for my sweet tooth, but Co Couture is a must on every trip to Belfast. This amazing independent chocolate shop has won many awards, and makes an exquisite hot chocolate. Deirdre also sells some lovely fresh bread, pastries and chocolatey treats from this charming little shop.
Mike’s Fancy Cheese shop is a lovely new cheese shop on Little Donegall Street, selling his own cheese, Young Buck, and a range of excellent Irish cheeses and accompaniments.
Sawers is a very well-established deli in Belfast city centre. I am not sure I have visited a deli with more stock than this one – it has quite an astonishing amount of choice, but it is a great place to visit to stock up on lovely local produce, including Abernethy butter, Suki Tea, Broighter Gold rapeseed oil, local charcuterie, local seaweed and much, much more.
There are two airports in Belfast, and UK regional flights use both airports, depending on the airline. City airport is very close to the city centre, but International is around half an hour away. Taxis are usually easy to come by, and there is also a very good public bus into the city, which costs £2.50 a way from City airport and takes around 15 minutes.
My stay at Grand Central was generously provided as their guest, but I paid for everything else myself in full.