So, as I was saying yesterday, the Yorkshireman and I spend a lot of time walking through the Cathedral Quarter these days, but not a lot of time enjoying the bars and restaurants that have made it the hip and trendy place to be in Belfast at the moment. It's not that we wouldn't like to (food and alcohol being two of our favourite guilty pleasures) but alas we have a shortage of time and money, both of which are required in copious amounts for such a lifestyle. However as payday approached at the end of June I began haranguing the Yorkshireman about our plans for our next date night and we decided we would enjoy a pre-movie dinner in one of the Cathedral Quarter eateries we usually rush by in our excitement (ha!) to get to the gym.
Originally we had decided on the Cloth Ear, which is the pub attached to the Merchant Hotel. It offers a 'Dine With Wine' special deal - two main courses and a bottle of wine for £23.50, 5-9pm Monday to Thursday - which seemed perfect for a wine-loving couple out for dinner before the cinema. I'd been to the Cloth Ear before for lunch with former work colleagues and had really enjoyed it; I recall lounging around chatting for hours after our meal in a relaxed atmosphere and sipping some very decent Guinness. However on a Thursday night it seems that it's a different beast entirely.
The Yorkshireman and I made our way through the crowd of smokers hanging out by the door and enjoying the occasional glimpse of the sun available that evening, and entered only to be faced with a wall of noise and a sea of people. The place was packed full, with every table seemingly full and many others enjoying a post-work drink standing wherever they could find space. We hovered behind one such group who had stationed themselves by the "wait here to be seated" sign but lost our nerve after a few minutes and headed back on to Waring Street, blinking in the light and allowing our senses to recover before deciding on our next move.
First we looked across the street at 21 Social. They also had a special offer on that day, which I think was maybe two courses and a glass of wine each for £40 or so all in, but that seemed a little expensive in comparison to our original choice and we weren't that inspired by the menu choices. Besides the Yorkshireman is often spooked by places that appear too trendy and I think 21 Social was setting off his inner hipster alarm. And so we moved on.
Next on our list was 2Taps. I'd heard great things about this place from a few people and the Yorkshireman and I both love tapas, so we decided this would indeed be our pre-cinema date night dinner spot. Despite the rather temperamental and fleeting presence of the sun that evening, we opted to sit inside the restaurant rather than under the parasols outside with most of the other patrons. It turned out to be a good move on our part since the outdoor crowd had gotten a little too rowdy for my liking by the time we were leaving whereas inside remained blissfully ambient - just the right noise level to converse with your indoor voices should you choose but otherwise just enjoy what was actually a really great selection of music playing quietly in the background.
The food was very good too - I won't say great because it didn't blow my mind or anything - but it was certainly up there amongst the best meals I've eaten recently. We ordered four dishes each. The Yorkshireman had the selection of breads (one of which interestingly seemed to have apple baked into it) with pesto olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the potted mackerel with chilli butter and ciabatta toast, chargrilled beef with peppered sauce and rice, and his old favourite, patatas bravas. I'm on a bit of a low carb kick at the minute so I had the grilled seabass in citrus butter and mixed pepper salad, the asparagus in lemon butter and parmesan, the flat cup mushrooms with pesto and brie and the meatballs in a tomato and almond sauce (you've gotta love some albondigas!). I would say that most of the tapas were comparable with La Tasca at their best, with a couple of the dishes marginally edging ahead in quality and imagination. We also shared a bottle of their house red wine and it was utterly delicious - I regret not writing down its name.
In all we spent around £45, which ended up being almost double the cost of our intended dinner at the Cloth Ear, and cost more even than 21 Social's "too expensive" meal deal, but I think we enjoyed it sufficiently to make up for the extra expense. I would be tempted to go back for lunch on a warm and commitment-free afternoon, just to sit in the sun and enjoy the flavours of the Mediterranean… and drink some more of that wine obviously! That kind of range of flavours and textures isn't something you find much outside of tapas and the restaurant itself was very pleasant - so pleasant in fact that we spent about two hours there and ended up having to rush to our movie. If only we'd known the trailers were to last for an extra half an hour we could have completed our Spanish-themed evening by popping into the Spaniard for another quick drink but alas I'd left my crystal ball in my other handbag.
There are still a good few places I would like to try in the Cathedral Quarter. I would actually like to get into the Cloth Ear at some point for one thing - perhaps that's another lunch occasion. I'd also like to go for a drink in 21 Social, if not a meal. Then of course there are the old faithfuls of that area, who were thriving there long before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, namely Nick's Warehouse, Hill Street Brasserie and No 27. My gym overlooks The Potted Hen, so I've always fancy going and blowing all those hard-burned calories in there one night too. And then of course I've also been itching for a return visit to my current favourite restaurant in Belfast, Made in Belfast Cathedral Quarter. So I guess that's a few more date nights taken care of if nothing else!
P.S. For those who were curious, I thought that the movie itself (Bad Teacher) was just okay (maybe a 5/10 overall), although I did enjoy watching Jason Segel on the big screen following our recent discovery of - and consequent box set marathon of - How I Met Your Mother, which you can read about over at the Yorkshireman's blog.