The penultimate part of our Northern Ireland series brings us to our more culture-oriented instalment, but also to our first outdoor rooftop dining experience here on Expensive Tastes.
Before I left to go on this trip, I was asked what Belfast was like and what there was to do there. Besides knowing that it was the capital of Northern Ireland, and that some of my favourite shows like Game of Thrones and The Fall are filmed there, I did not have a clue – having never been there myself – but I was determined to bring the answers back with me.
It took roughly 25 minutes to get a train from Bangor to the Northern Irish capital, and with no plan to go anywhere in particular, Tom, Matt and I put ourselves in the hands of our other friend Mike Slater, to give us a tour of the city. As a tour guide, I recommend him – what he lacks in information, his humour makes up for it in spades.
I have actually recently had published an article dedicated to some of the must-sees of Belfast based on this very tour, so please see here if you want to see some of the suggestions. Apart from the murals, which are a strong cultural and socio-political illustration of the country, my favourite part of the tour, which compels me to return to Belfast, was Joy’s Entry (see pictured)- a walkway so narrow it would make the claustrophobic among you scream blue murder, but also home to McCracken’s Café Bar. A review of this place is in store upon my return, but we must move on.
Our tour ended after having seen Belfast’s Big Fish (but not kissing it for wisdom as local legend would recommend), and after contemplating and deciding against watching the Under-18s Ice Hockey between Lithuania and Estonia, we made our way back into the city to watch something more important. Namely, the football – Arsenal versus Manchester City at a very welcoming little pub called The Garrick. Welcoming, but small – too small for me to happily spend the first half of the match stood up. I left Tom, Matt and Mike to seek a bit more luxurious surroundings for my lunch.
I found it on the roof of House of Fraser, of all places – the self-proclaimed Belfast’s Top Restaurant The Ivory Restaurant. A huge great place, which I had practically all to myself, such was the time of day. To take the bull fully by the proverbial horns, I took a seat outside on their al fresco rooftop dining area. While I can say there’s nothing better than being able to eat outdoors, the view – or the lack thereof – takes the appeal away somewhat, and unfortunately there was not much of a view here.
Having traipsed around the city at my friends’ pace all afternoon, I began my meal with a well-earned cocktail. A Razamataz (see pictured), by name. It may look like your run-of-the-mill Cosmopolitan but that’s on the menu too! This is much more special. It’s a blend of raspberry vodka and Midori – a Japanese melon liqueur that I know I have mentioned in the occasional post before – mixed with vanilla sugar and lime juice. Hell it was so refreshing, sweet and tasty I could happily last all afternoon and evening on them if I were able to stay awake!
The food would definitely be reason enough to stay awake, actually. My starter of choice was originally Salt & Chilli Chicken with a tomato Ceviche, toasted capers and pesto. Except on this occasion they did not have any chicken so they replaced it with squid (see pictured), a replacement about which I will not complain whatsoever.
A Ceviche is something I have had only once before – in my life, let alone whilst running this site. It is actually attributed to fish – typically raw and cured in lemon and/or lime juices. That is not to say, however, it does not suit tomatoes, as in this case. If anything, for me, who normally hates uncooked tomatoes, it was an improvement on the flavour. Mixed with the gorgeously juicy squid pieces, which were only slightly hot, aided by the thin rings of chilli pepper also in amongst the plate, it all made one very delicious combination.
My main course – a Risotto (see pictured) of winter vegetables – in this case carrots, celery and potatoes – peas, tarragon and scallions, which, if you are not aware is very similar to a spring onion – suited the cool temperature brilliantly. Presentation-wise, this is probably where they fell down. As you can see from the image there, it is quite reminiscent of something far from a risotto, but try to put that out of your mind – making such a dish look attractive is harder than it appears! The important thing, in my opinion, is the taste of it, and believe me, there were so many flavours going on in there it was difficult to focus on one at a time. The sweet from the carrots and peas, the almost herbaceous from the scallions and tarragon. But a definite choice for one in need of warming – remember we were a bit further up-north than we are normally in Bournemouth or Southampton!
Loving my contradictions, of course, my dessert was a cold one, but ever-so worth it. A Chocolate and Hazelnut Torte (see pictured). I have been trying to cut down on all my favourite things to lose a few pounds this year, and chocolate has been the biggest sacrifice for me. So to have such a rich, dark piece of pâtisserie work, freckled with toasted caramelised hazelnuts and crowned with a scoop of the most perfectly-tasting strawberry ice cream I have had in years was a Godsend. It may have been a thin slither in terms of portions but that’s not an issue here. The best things come in smaller packages after all. What the Hell – skip the first two courses, just come here for a Razamataz cocktail and a slice of this gorgeous dessert.
Ordinarily three courses would cost you something in the region of near-to £30, which given its rooftop location and stylish surroundings is not that difficult to believe. But The Ivory’s three-course-and-wine deal, knocking it down to a much more attractive £23.95, is well worth investing in. The wine itself – a Chardonnay in my case – is not all that impressive – not when you have the cocktail for comparison at any rate – but better value than ordering it all separately nonetheless. When the weather gets warmer, I don’t need a crystal ball to see this place’s outdoor balcony being chockablock with people.