1. Abernethy butter: arguably one of the greatest things to come out of Northern Ireland. Whether it’s plain, smoked or with dulse (the latter has an umami hit like nothing else) spread it on some sourdough and you’ll be laughing. If you happen to find yourself in London’s Fortnum and Mason – they sell it there too.
2. Short rib tortellini at The Muddler’s Club. The menu changes regularly but at lunch the value for money for the level of cooking (starters and desserts £5, main courses £10) is impressive. Fun and relaxed vibe.
3. Feta fritters at COPPI in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast. If you fancy a bit of Italian then this is your spot and it’s huge too so you should be fine bagging a table. These cheesy wonders are smothered in honey. HEAVEN.
4. The tasting menu at Michelin-starred OX. The room is a real looker (like a Northern Irish Clove Club) and the food is just lush. Pray they have lamb on the menu, locally sourced of course, as it’s so delicate. Accomplished cooking served by people who care.
5. The Ulster Fry after spending a night at Newforge House. The house itself, littered with antiques passed down from 6 generations, is pure old fashioned glamour – definitely the place to stay in NI although it’s just outside the centre. The fry up, with three different types of homemade breads, is how every day should start.
6. Hot chocolate with vegetarian marshmallows at Co Couture. It’s a cute little chocolate shop selling handmade choccies but it’s the liquid form that you REALLY need in your life; quite literally melted chocolate in a cup.
7. Beef cheek empanadas at Quails at the Gallery, Banbridge. The Quails have been farmers and butchers for generations and as well being bloody nice blokes, they know what they’re doing with meat. The cafe attached to the gallery offers steak fajitas and lamb koftas to spice things up.
8. If you fancy cooking, then sausages from Quails butcher cum deli on the high street is just the ticket. Their beef and caramelised onion sausages are award winning for good reason.
9. Eggs royale at the Malmaison Belfast. If it’s runny yolks that tickle your pickle then you’ll be right at home here. This ex-seed warehouse has been transformed into an ideally located swanky hotel – the city centre is a couple of minutes walk away.
10. Poached eggs on toast with bacon at Established Coffee. If you can’t function without good coffee (we’d rather have no coffee than bad coffee) then these guys will sort you out. Their breakfasts – look how crispy that bacon is – are simple but effective.
11. Young Buck is the cheese of Northern Ireland and it’s made by hipster Mike Thomson of Mike’s Fancy Cheese. This raw milk blue cheese gets the tastebuds going and it feels good knowing you’re supporting a young and enthusiastic cheese maker.
12. Meat aged in a Himalayan salt chamber by Peter Hannan. This Irish, meat obsessed chap has perfected the ageing process of his beef and lamb by using masses of the pink salt, which gives it flavour like no other. Either buy from his butchers shop or eat it in the numerous NI restaurants he supplies. Also available in London’s Fortnum and Mason.
13. Steaks at Bull & Ram – who use Hannan’s meat and do it justice. You don’t have to eat this much but we had a giant platter of bone in rib and short rib. No sauces needed. The dining room is an old butchers shop so this restaurant has character aplenty. Even Jay Rayner liked it.
14. New potatoes in seaweed butter at Wine and Brine, Moira. Owner Chris McGowan used to work for Richard Corrigan and this charming restaurant is run with him in the kitchen and his wife in front of house. There’s meat aplenty but it’s your chance to get some proper decent seafood too.
15. Brunch at General Merchants 361 on Ormeau Road, Belfast. It’s a trendy spot which was rammed our entire visit so they’re doing something right. Avocado on toast with poached eggs and a Bloody Mary. #WINNING
16. Hannan’s sugar pit bacon ribs – and if you ask nicely enough, John at Newforge House will cook them for your dinner when you stay there. The whole rack of ribs, cooked low and slow, are sweet, sticky and oh so fatty.
17. Potato bread cooked on a hot griddle by Krazi Baker. Currently they serve at markets but it can’t be long till they secure a site. The bread is exquisite (the chunks of Peter Hannan’s guanciale help); eat them hot and smothered in Abernethy butter.
18. Black pudding by Scullery Made. Caoimhe has a passion/obsession with black pudding and it really shows when you taste her handmade puddings using local ingredients to Belfast. Available at the Owl & Pussycat in Hillsborough, The Yellow Heifer in Camlough and Finnegan & Sons in Newry.
The best way of seeing the city (and all the food and drink it has to offer) is a tour with Belfast Food Tour. Our guide Caroline, one of the founders, took us on a varied tour at an energetic pace – lots of fun with lots of food.
We visited Northern Ireland as guests of Tourism NI