A city cen­tre de­light as Ba­bel tow­ers above the op­po­si­tion

Cool-o-meter is set to 11 with the ar­rival of roof gar­den and bar restau­rant serv­ing top-notch posh street food at ex­cel­lent prices

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FOOD - Joris Minne

In tourism terms Belfast has gone from sticky-car­peted, ring of steel, smicked-out, club-land, fag butt, to hot­ter-than-South Beach, Miche­lin-starred, ce­les­tial plain of abun­dant joy and a hun­dred thou­sand wel­comes city break des­ti­na­tion. In less than two decades we have rad­i­cally changed our tone and out­look. Would-you-drink-up­now-please! has been re­placed by: would-sir­pre­fer-the-61-or-82-Pomerol?

Even out in the coun­try, peo­ple now re­move the parka hoods from their heads be­fore sit­ting down in a restau­rant to eat. We’ve be­come much more so­phis­ti­cated, knowl­edge­able and con­fi­dent in our choices.

It will all end in tears, of course. Abil­ity to use cut­lery in the cor­rect man­ner, eat­ing with our mouths closed and not speak­ing with our mouths full is un­sus­tain­able. Our de­sire to be mod­ern, cul­tured and fashionable does not sit com­fort­ably with our baser in­stinct to shout rude and vul­gar greet­ings on see­ing close friends across the street, or to fight the bit out with any tak­ers on any sub­ject on ra­dio phone-in pro­grammes. But be­fore it does all end, let’s have a look at the sit­u­a­tion to see if we can iden­tify where the suc­cess comes from and the causes of this suc­cess.

Okay, so I’ve had a look and I lay the blame en­tirely on Bill and Pe­tra Wolsey. From pour­ing pints in Ban­gor 40 years ago to cre­at­ing the cur­rent di­a­monds in Belfast’s tourism crown, the Wolseys have trav­elled a long jour­ney. We’ve all been mer­rily swept up in their wake mov­ing on from pints and vod­kas and white to a new age of cock­tails, the five-star com­fort of op­u­lent din­ing rooms and the broader ac­cep­tance of eat­ing out fre­quently and go­ing “out out” just like the grown-ups in north Amer­ica and the rest of Europe.

Now the cool-o-meter has been set to 11 with the ar­rival of a roof gar­den and bar restau­rant called Ba­bel (it’s too cool for a def­i­nite ar­ti­cle).

It is ef­fort­lessly stylish and fashionable be­cause it looks time­less perched up there on the roof of the Bul­litt Ho­tel. You could be walk­ing onto the set of a Six­ties, Sev­en­ties, Eight­ies or for that mat­ter, just about any decade in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury, to be frank. Which is why it is so wel­com­ing and, un­like the cool places of note, un­in­tim­i­dat­ing. There is a long pa­tio of din­ing ta­bles for two along the Vic­to­ria Street frontage and a wider beer and cock­tail gar­den on the city side. But as win­ter set­tles in, it’s the restau­rant and bar on the in­side which will work best. There are booths and sep­a­rate ta­bles and a ver­ti­cal spice and herb gar­den be­hind the bar and most im­por­tantly, well trained, youth­ful staff who know what they’re at and never lose sight of their duty to­wards hospi­tal­ity. And on top of all this, the food’s not bad ei­ther. There are cu­ri­ous small plates and dishes plucked from tra­di­tions as vary­ing as Korean to North African.

The menu is a list of posh street foods and not a bad or medi­ocre one among them. Kim­chi chips (chips with fer­mented cab­bage on top) are ex­cel­lent with the whole eye-wa­ter­ing tangy Korean thing as ex­pected; Ker­alan chicken thighs are boned (what a plea­sure) and mildly but deeply spicy, slid­ers of slow cooked wagyu are like baby ver­sions of the fa­mous Bark­ing Dog shin burger and come with more of that lovely bit­ter kim­chi.

Sugar pit ribs are fall-off-the-bone ten­der and sweet and ac­com­pa­nied by a slaw rem­i­nis­cent of top qual­ity cele­riac re­moulade.

The spiced prawn and mus­sel stew is prob­a­bly what I would come back for. The com­fort and warmth in it is matched by the fresh­ness of the seafood.

And amaz­ingly all these range in price be­tween £6 and £7.50. You can go lower as well as higher but its good to start some­where in the mid­dle when you’re not sure.

Cock­tails are the thing in Ba­bel. Bar man­ager Frankie Cos­grove is prob­a­bly the best in the game right now. You’re safe in his hands.

So it looks like the rep­u­ta­tion of Belfast as a su­per cool, best in class, ir­re­sistible des­ti­na­tion has gone up a bit even fur­ther.

The city is small enough to feel the pos­i­tive im­pact of in­di­vid­ual de­vel­op­ments like Ba­bel.

Let’s hope the Wolseys sur­prise us yet again. Soon.

WEL­COM­ING: The plush in­te­rior of Ba­bel in Belfast’s Bul­litt Ho­tel BA­BEL, BUL­LITT HO­TEL 75-81 Vic­to­ria Street, Belfast Tel: 028 9590 0600

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