Or­ganic Ir­ish beef bil­tong? I must be in Belfast…

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

It’s a mark of how much North­ern Ire­land has changed that the Bal­moral Show – the re­gion’s largest agri­cul­ture and food event – is held ev­ery May in Lis­burn on what was the site of the Maze, the pri­son that housed para­mil­i­tary pris­on­ers dur­ing the Trou­bles. I’d been in­vited to help judge the stands in the NI Food Pav­il­ion – no small task, with nearly 100 pro­duc­ers to ap­praise, from ar­ti­san choco­late man­u­fac­turer NearyNógs Stone­ground Choco­late to big brands such as Tayto crisps.

Af­ter a day sam­pling ev­ery­thing from Rooney’s Mill­bay oys­ters (from Car­ling­ford Lough) to grid­dled trea­cle soda bread (from The Krazi Baker in Belfast), the best prod­uct awards went to the Triple Rose – a silken, savoury triple-cream cheese made by Bal­lylisk, from Ar­magh – and a 100 per cent or­ganic Ir­ish beef bil­tong with a sup­ple tex­ture and beau­ti­ful spic­ing, made by ar­ti­san pro­ducer Ke Nako in Bal­ly­clare.

I was stay­ing in Belfast and, as we en­tered the city, my taxi driver pointed out a build­ing site and told me that nine ho­tels were due to open over the next two years, in­clud­ing the 63-bed­room, £15mil­lion Ge­orge Best Ho­tel sched­uled for Septem­ber. The

has re­ported no fewer than 27 on­go­ing ho­tel projects that would bring the to­tal num­ber of rooms in Belfast to more than 7,000 – dou­ble the cur­rent num­ber.

So, what will all those vis­i­tors to the city be eat­ing? I’ve been coming to Belfast for more than 20 years and have al­ways been struck by the imag­i­na­tive use of abun­dant lo­cal pro­duce. Nowhere is this more ap­par­ent than at Miche­lin-starred OX (ox­belfast.com), over­look­ing the river La­gan, where chef Steven Toman serves exquisite tast­ing menus based around sea­sonal pro­duce sourced from lo­cal sup­pli­ers. A stun­ning spring din­ner in­cluded ten­der rack and rump of lamb from the Mourne Moun­tains with roasted cau­li­flower. At Noble (no­ble­holy­wood.com), an in­ti­mate first-floor restau­rant in the nearby town of Holy­wood, you’ll find some of the best meat in the coun­try, supplied by Peter Han­nan who at his fa­cil­ity in Moira ages Ir­ish short­horn beef in a cham­ber lined with bricks made of pink Hi­malayan salt. On the night I was there, chalk­board spe­cials in­cluded a steak aged for a whop­ping 70 days, mak­ing for par­tic­u­larly ten­der and full-flavoured flesh.

Back in the Nineties, the “Golden Mile” just south of the city cen­tre was the place to go, with TV chef Paul Rankin’s Cayenne at its epi­cen­tre in Shaftes­bury Square. It re­ally was heart­break­ing to see the place now derelict (it closed in 2013) and the sur­round­ing area look­ing run down.

The Cathe­dral Quar­ter has re­placed the Golden Mile as the city’s new food and drink hot spot. Its nu­mer­ous restau­rants, cafés and bars in­clude the newly opened Eastern Mediter­ranean brasserie Buba (buba­belfast.com), the hip Mud­dlers Club (the­mud­dler­sclubbelfast.com), the ca­sual-din­ing Had­skis (had­skis. co.uk) and the op­u­lent Mer­chant Ho­tel (the­mer­chan­tho­tel.com) with its im­pres­sive Vic­to­rian in­te­ri­ors and bling cocktail bar.

Cayenne may be long gone, but its global and fu­sion ap­proach to food is alive and well else­where in the city.

Miche­lin-starred OX restau­rant in Belfast

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