Sunday, 8 July 2012

A week of dining out in the wee city

This week the Yorkshireman had a few visitors from the US - timely given that it was Independence Day on Wednesday. I didn't know them at all before they arrived but we soon became well acquainted and spent time together as a foursome (not in that way) every day since Monday. They left this afternoon to see if the grass really is greener on the other side (of the border) so it's nice to think back about what we all got up to this week.

The Yorkshireman and I do enjoy dining out but unfortunately we have a stronger preference for going on holiday and, y'know, paying our rent, so we don't do it that often. Similarly we've discovered that it's cheaper to grab a half price bottle of merlot from Tesco to enjoy on the sofa than hit the bars in town after work, so it was really nice to have our visitors as a valid excuse to spend the time and money frequenting some of our favourite haunts in the city and also trying some new ones.

On Monday evening we met in Northern Whig for dinner.

Northern Whig
Photo source: Belfast Restaurants

The Yorkshireman and I have had some great meals here in the past, and always reasonably priced. Plus I love the d├ęcor in there - I'm a sucker for a chandelier! We got to know each other over their 'two courses for £10' offer, with our visitors opting for starters and mains, whilst the Yorkshireman and I went for mains and dessert. The statesiders thought it was odd that we had a dessert each without sharing, which is apparently the done thing in the US. Dream on - my dessert is alllllll mine!

Our guests then expressed their desire to go somewhere "more traditional". As we were nearby anyway, we took them off to White's Tavern.

White's Tavern
Photo source: Discover Belfast

For those unfamiliar, White's has been around since 1630 and still looks like it on the inside, with its dark beams and (in winter) roaring fire. Alas at 9pm on a Monday night there were only a few patrons around and they'd decided to close up early. Oh well, back out onto the streets of Belfast we went.

Still going with the traditional theme, we walked over to McHughs instead.

Photo source: Wikipedia

McHughs has only(!) been around since 1711, so it's a little younger than White's, but as our statesiders exclaimed, still older than their country. Wow! I guess we take history a bit for granted here. We had a few drinks and continued forging our burgeoning acquaintance for a while. One of our visitors was clearly ready to go all night, but the other was yawning every 3.4 seconds (approximately) so we decided to call it a night. We dropped them back at their hotel and headed home ourselves.

The next night I already had a previous engagement to meet an old friend for dinner at The Point in Ballyhackamore, so the Yorkshireman escorted our statesiders to Gingeroot, a regular hangout for our merry band of amigos.
The Point
Photo source: The Point

Northern Whig
Photo source: In Your Pocket

I actually really loved my meal in The Point (another set meal offer - they seem to be pretty popular in the restaurants of Belfast at the moment - I've declared we shall return for their Sunday roast meal offer sometime soon). Plus they do a mean Long Island Iced Tea (my cocktail of choice). The Yorkshireman and statesiders apparently had a nice meal at Gingeroot too.

After my friend and I went our separate ways, I jumped in a taxi and met the guys at The Spaniard.

Photo source: Hispano-Irish

I love The Spaniard - it's so quirky, the music is good and they sell Brooklyn Lager - what's not to love? However it's only a small space and on Tuesday evening the crowd was literally out the door. With a choice of queuing at the bar for half an hour to get a drink and then standing in the rain with it or moving on to another bar, we (ok, I) opted for the latter.

We relocated to The Cloth Ear, just across the street.

Photo source: Belfast Telegraph

I've been told that The Cloth Ear didn't used to play music (I've only been once before and can't remember whether it did or not) but it certainly had some laid back background music on Tuesday night, which was perfect to allow for conversation and the sampling of something called Jeremiah Weed Root Brew, which tasted like ginger. Odd but nice for a one-off change from Guinness. Then it was back to our respective beds after another late night on the town.

Wednesday was Independence Day in America, but ironically I celebrated it more than our statesiders did this year. My mum and sister always like to have a little Fourth of July family gathering to watch Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum save humanity. Double yum. Combine it with pizza and homemade apple pie and you've got yourself a fun night!

Meanwhile the Yorkshireman had taken the day off work to go gallivanting up the coast to the Giant's Causeway in the statesiders' rental car. They had a long but fun day which culminated in them crashing out back at ours with pizza of their own. Their 24" pizza from Little Wing was a little more interesting than the Dominos I'd had though - the box was bigger than our coffee table! It must have been nice - the statesiders had the whole thing between the two of them (the Yorkshireman went for his own cheeseless pizza... I don't know either!). The guys had also decided to sample every possible ale and stout on sale in Tesco, whereas I was stuck with a few bottles of Coors Light I'd gotten because it reminded me of the happy hours we spent drinking it in The Flying Puck in New York.

The night ended on a strange note with us introducing the statesiders to One Born Every Minute. Being two single males they had declared their curiosity about the childbirth process when we stumbled across the show on the TV listings, but after the full hour we established that it had apparently not been graphic enough for them. Nor me actually - show it like it is, never mind all this blurring malarkey!

There was less gore and bodily fluids involved the next night thankfully. Thursday was such the best night actually! We started with dinner in one of my very favourite restaurants in the city, Made In Belfast Cathedral Quarter.

Made in Belfast Cathedral Quarter
Photo source: Life-in-NI

We'd tried to get reservations for the City Hall one but good luck with that one with short notice on late night shopping night! Besides I like the Cathedral Quarter one just as much. We had great food and good conversation in interesting surroundings, so I had a lovely time. However the evening was only getting started.

In a conversation we'd had a few days before, one of our statesiders said he liked older music, plus they'd both mentioned the traditional Irish thing a few times, so we'd suggested taking them to a traditional Irish music gig. They were entirely agreeable so we headed off to Fibber Magees for Bleana that night.

Fibber Magees
Photo source: The New York Times

The band (two guys playing the guitar, uilleann pipes, tin whistle and singing) didn't start until 10.30pm but we arrived at around 9.30pm and settled in with a drink, quickly afterwards pouncing on a corner table when one became available. Just as well we arrived so early though - by the time the fellas were starting into The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond, the place was packed.

We stayed for their whole set (until well after our carriage had turned back into a pumpkin) and it was such great craic. We drank far too much Guinness for a week night (or indeed any night) but the music was good and it was amazing to watch the couple of people in the crowd who could actually Irish dance compared with the few tourists who were just giving it a good go. By the end of the night the two girls who could dance properly looked like they might be heading for an Irish dance-off but alas the tourists kind of crowded them on the dance floor so the ability to jig about was a little restricted. One thing we did notice is that the ones to watch (i.e. the ones who can actually Irish dance) always go barefoot. Rather them than me in a Belfast pub, but there you have it!

Funnily enough, being a local, going to a traditional Irish folk night never really crosses my mind as something fun to do - another example of taking things for granted I guess - but it was really good fun. Highly recommended for visitors and locals alike.

Somehow we made it out of bed on time for work on Friday morning, but we had one night left to entertain our visitors. We'd asked them what kind of cuisine they were in the mood for and they specified Thai. The Yorkshireman and I have never really gone to any of the Thai restaurants in Belfast, although I'm not sure why not, bearing in mind we love spicy food. Just one of those things I guess, but we were eager to give it a go. I'd heard good things about Thai Village and it was pretty close to their hotel, so we booked a table there for Friday evening.

Thai Village
Photo source: Thai Village

I really enjoyed my meal at Thai Village. I'd been a little hesitant looking at the menu because I don't like peanuts, sweet chilli sauce or shellfish, all of which were heavily featured, but I ordered Seekong Moo Yang (thai ribs) as a starter and Keang Pad (essentially duck thai red curry) with steamed rice as a main. They were all delicious - really tasty and just the right level of spiciness. Yum!

Our statesiders were pretty tired after their long week (as were we!) so we decided to grab one quick drink and then go for a relatively early night. We'd intended to try out the Secret Garden at Filthy McNasty's across the road from Thai Village but unfortunately they wouldn't allow one of our party in because he was wearing sandals, which was a shame but understandable in these days of health and safety paranoia. We decided just to go to the bar at their hotel for a nightcap instead.

One shared bottle of wine in the hotel bar actually soon turned to two, as we got into deep conversations about politics, education and psychological profiling of common acquaintances (to name but a few topics covered) and it was really interesting to discover the differences and similarities between our respective countries. Soon though it was time to say goodnight, with an agreement that the statesiders should call at our house for lunch the next day before they began their road trip to the south.

We figured that we'd covered a lot of different cuisines during their stay, but not really traditional British, so we decided to host an afternoon tea party to send the guys on their way. I dispatched the Yorkshireman to Marks and Spencer this morning for some English themed supplies and set about hunting for my teapot.

The statesiders arrived to a feast of delicate sandwiches, pork pies, cocktail sausages, sausage rolls, salad and a variety of sweet pastries... not to mention tea and coffee (of course they went for the latter). At the beginning they had "wow"ed at the size of the spread, but half an episode of Top Gear later (they love it apparently) it was all gone. I'm glad they seemed to enjoy it!

With our guests fuelled and ready to hit the road, we found some exact change for the tolls they would meet on their journey south and they gave us their last Northern Irish £5 note. And with that, we waved them off on their journey, before slumping on the sofa for the rest of the day. It has been a busy and expensive week but we've eaten really well, drunk a whole lot more than could ever be considered reasonable for any human liver, and gotten to know some very interesting people. To combine the vernacular of our two homelands, I’ve had a feckin' blast!

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