Where to eat in Northern Ireland
Heading to Northern Ireland and looking for the best places to eat and drink? Digital editor Rebecca Brett reveals all in her foodie postcard.
Why I’d never been to Northern Ireland before baffles me. How did I go 30 years without seeing one of the most beautiful parts of the British Isles? Granted, there’s a lot of land so close to home that I’m yet to step foot on, but after visiting ‘Norn Iron’ I’ve vowed to see more of the amazing kingdom I call home.
My trip to Northern Ireland was a flying three day visit but we packed a lot in. From the lush countryside in Derry, along the rugged coastline in Portstewart and into the busy Belfast city centre – here’s where we stayed, what we ate and a few touristy treats along the way.
Galgorm Resort & Spa
After the quick flight over the Irish Sea my boyfriend and I picked up a hire car and drove just 30 minutes to Galgorm. We arrived at almost midnight, checked in and then collapsed into bed for a most excellent night’s sleep. Arriving in the dark to a lit-up luxury resort is exciting but come morning you can really appreciate the breathtaking 163 acres of lush parkland and cascading River Maine which flows through the estate.
We had a decadent breakfast in bed followed by a walk around the grounds, then robed-up and headed to the thermal spa village. There’s an indoor pool, celtic sauna, sanarium, jacuzzi pool, hot tubs, and, if you can bear to spend longer than two giggling minutes in there, a snow cabin. I dare you to go there for a day and not feel so incredibly relaxed, revived and rejuvenated afterwards.
We didn’t have to go far for dinner after our day in the spa. The River Room is the resort’s 3 AA Rosette restaurant and there’s also a champagne and gin bar which I, of course, couldn’t resist.
The restaurant is a posh affair with white linen, impeccable service and a seasonal menu made up of wonderful produce from around Ireland. My smoked salmon with salsify, cucumber and horseradish was brilliant, as was the duck with beetroot and port.
No it’s not somewhere to eat but the UNESCO World Heritage site is somewhere I’d definitely recommend visiting if you’re going to Northern Ireland. You can get a warming hot chocolate and slice of cake in the café after your visit if food is what you’re really after.
An unassuming restaurant on Portstewart beach with a simple menu of just six starters and seven mains. The focus is on using really good ingredients and cooking them simply but very well – the results are stunning.
To start: big, fat Mulroy Bay mussels swimming in a creamy Irish cider broth that was just calling out for the sourdough to be dunked into. For mains: you could taste how fresh the pan-fried brill was – it was caught that morning! We also had what is arguably the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten – a huge flaky piece of haddock in the lightest and crispiest buttermilk batter with mushy peas and tartare sauce.
The best thing about lunch at Harry’s is that after getting your fill you can walk it off on the two-mile beach.
Walled City Brewery, in Derry, is a state-of-the-art brewhouse serving craft beers and ales alongside hearty pub grub. The brewery makes artisan beer in small batches – there’s Boom (a Derry pale ale), Wit (wheat beer), Stitch (India pale ale) and Kicks (pilsner).
To eat, there are smaller sharing plates, or ‘pintxos’, and large mains, categorised under pig, bull, lamb, burger, field, garden, hen and sea, to suit all tastes. The lamb kofta flatbread, served with lemon tzatziki, fresh herbs and a lime and coriander dressing was great, as was the jar of house pickles to start.
I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek at Blackbird, a brand new pub in Derry, before it was open. What was previously a bar called Beckett’s has been renovated into a beautifully decorated pub that will host live music and serve good food and craft beers. I can’t wait to get back there for a pint, or two, and lunch.
To finish our trip we had a lovely lunch at Deanes of Queens, located in the university quarter, in Belfast. Despite its Michelin Bib Gourmand and two AA Rosettes, the restaurant is laid-back and great for a long, lazy Sunday feast.
Head chef Chris Fearon (who you may remember from Great British Menu) serves stunning dishes, like the chicken liver parfait below, that are prepared simply and made using local produce. On our visit there was a dry-aged T-bone steak on the specials board – I’m not a huge fan of steak but it was exquisite and a must-try if you visit and you’re lucky enough for it to be on the specials again.
Flights from London to Belfast are cheap, about £40 each, and it takes less than an hour in the air to get there. To hire a car for the full three days was about £40 too. What are you waiting for? GO!