Friday, 15 April 2011

A meal in Muriels and a luxury liner on the Lagan

Yes, get a load of the alliteration in that title! It also concisely sums up how I spent Wednesday evening with the Yorkshireman and our merry band of amigos.

We met at our usual haunt (Starbucks) and, as usual, were practically forced out at around 6.15pm, even though it doesn't close until 7pm. I totally understand that they need to start cleaning upstairs before closing time, so that there's not as much to do when the last customer has taken their last sip of latté and finally left the building, but when the downstairs is full to bursting a whole hour before you're due to close, do you really have to close off the whole upstairs and shout at people who dare to attempt to join their friends who are already up there? Could you not even just leave a few tables available near the top of the stairs or something? Just a pet peeve…

But anyway, having enjoyed a very quick grande, skinny, wet, white chocolate mocha with no whipped cream (new favourite drink - lots of calories, even the skinny version with no cream, but a delicious once-in-a-while treat), we ventured to Tesco Metro on Royal Avenue in search of supplies for our plans later that evening. Then, laden with cheap and mostly unhealthy food and drink, it was on with our evening. First stop, dinner.

We'd been meaning to try Muriels on Church Lane for dinner for a while. I'd read some good reviews about it online a while ago and it was actually going to be the venue for my birthday dinner back at the start of March, but our plans on that day changed and so we didn't manage to get around to it until this week.

It's a strange little place altogether. From the outside it looks like it's been plucked out of a romantic little side street in Paris and implanted unceremoniously into a slightly less classy side street in Belfast. There are little outdoor tables, undoubtedly hugely popular in warmer weather, and a little menu stand in front of the door - all very charming! It's fairly small inside but the décor is interesting, with boldly patterned wallpaper, chintzy furniture and arty black and white photographs of young, attractive starlets on the walls, leaving you wondering whether you're in a brothel or your granny's living room. We went upstairs and grabbed a couple of tables in the corner beside a huge fireplace (although the only heat and light it emitted came from the fairy lights in the hearth) and perused the menu.

I'm a little torn as to how much I liked the food. On the one hand there's plenty of choice on the menu - even more so than the menu they have online - and they have some very inventive ideas, for example a mini three-course meal served as a main course and the option for a cupcake and tea/coffee for dessert. Most of us took them up on the latter and I must say it was delightful. However dinner itself was, for me at least, just ok. The chips were too skinny and crunchy and, bar the tasty seasoning, might as well have been from Burger King. I also had the fish bake, which had far too much creamy sauce and not enough fish in it for my liking. Comments from the others seemed to range from a rather bland "nice" (the steak sandwich) to "soooo good" (the risotto), so perhaps it's a little hit and miss depending on what you order. Personally I thought it was alright - I'm glad I went and my meal was nice enough but I'm not in any big hurry to return.

With our opinions formed and our stomach full, it was on to part two of our evening's entertainment. After the success of last year's event we had been hoping the Belfast Film Festival would be putting on a few more films on the Lagan Boat this year - happily they didn't disappoint us! We actually had three to choose from this time around but as "scary" sea creatures and ghost stories aren't really my thing, I opted for Juggernaut instead. I'd never heard of it, let alone seen it, but IMDB revealed that well-respected actor Anthony Hopkins was in it, so how bad could it really be?

One thing we noticed last year was that everyone on board seemed to have come prepared to party. People, who had clearly been to these events before and were as such "in the know", were rocking up with takeaway food and bottles of wine, while we made do with a few measly sweets. This year, no longer novices, we boarded the boat complete with our own stash of goodies courtesy of our aforementioned shopping trip. Within minutes of settling ourselves in for an evening's floating entertainment, I had whipped out the first bottle of red wine and was doling out the white plastic cups. I had mild pangs that this might make me seem like a bit of a lush, but when four different parties of eager movie-goers took their seats and promptly produced their own bottles of red wine and plastic cups I knew I had found kindred spirits. I mean, wine and sweets, watching a film about a boat, on a boat, floating around the calm waters of the Lagan, watched over by the lights of the city... it just doesn't get better than that on a weeknight!

The film itself was awesome purely because it was quite rubbish. I hadn't realised it was a British-made film from the 1970s and as such knitted jumpers and handlebar moustaches were all the rage. You can read all about it on IMDB if you so choose, but essentially it was a cross between Speed, Titanic and The Sweeney, the plot being centred around some bombs that had been planted on a cruise ship and the efforts to disable them on time before everyone is blown to smithereens.

The villain of the piece was the most monotonous baddie I have ever come across. The man just did not stop giving instructions over the phone! And they weren't even straight-forward instructions. It was like, "Go to number 372 Smith Lane. Underneath the gnome with the red hat and the green fishing rod you will find a key. Take the key and go to Jones Bank at number 22 High Street. The key will open box number 452. Therein you will find a purple party hat and a monkey called Eric. Take the monkey to the fountain at Trafalgar Square and place the party hat on his head. He will then dive into the fountain and retrieve a small plastic tube. Within this tube are further instructions. I will contact you again at 2.13pm precisely." I so totally would have been doodling on the corner of a page and "mmm-hmm"ing after about thirty seconds.

The film also featured two of the worst parents in the world. The mother was so miserable with sea sickness that she kept losing her children and let them run freely around the ship, even when her boy-who-looked-like-a-girl son said he was off to investigate the "hole in the ship" and also later after said boy had almost been blown up already. It's ok though, his father, who by the way was such a good parent that he wasn't even on board the ship with his family, responded to the news of his son's near-death experience by telling him to go to bed. Parenting fail, much.

It wasn't the most exciting of movies but it was so bad as to be entertaining. I barely noticed anyway - I was more preoccupied with looking outside at all the real ships moored up and down the harbour, as we passed by within a few metres of them. I'm always fascinated by proper big ships, especially those that have portholes. I have no idea where this delight comes from other than a vague memory of having had a wooden jigsaw that included a ship with portholes on it as a child, but I just think it's cool when a ship has honest-to-goodness portholes!

Our own little portholeless boat soon stopped back at the Big Fish and, having disembarked back on to dry land, it was time to go home. I had great craic though and will definitely be back again next year, red wine and plastic cups in hand, natch.

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