Archive for the ‘Belfast’Category

Jawbox Gin embodies the spirit of Belfast

Gerry White and his Jawbox Gin
Gerry White has spent his career in the bar trade and has been manager of the John Hewitt (thejohnhewitt.com) for the last 12 years. He has pulled many a pint of Guinness and poured countless shots of Black Bush. “But the only spirit I’ve ever enjoyed,” he says, “is gin.”

He is, in fact, passionate about gin—and about his native city of Belfast. For several years he had been mulling over a project to create his own gin. He even had the taste profile he was seeking in his head. “Two and a half years ago, I told myself I’ll kick myself if I didn’t try,” he recalls, taking a seat at our table at the John Hewitt to relate the story.

“Belfast is a big industrial city. I wanted a gin with a big blast of juniper,” he says, “followed by the heat of pepper and then a clean lemon flavor.” He joined forces with Echlinville Distillery (echlinville.com) in Newtownards. Launched in 2013, Echlinville was the first new licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in more than 125 years. Moreover, the founders shared White’s passion for quality products that would reflect their place of origin.

Spirit, show thyself!

Jawbox Gin bottleOn the 15th try, the distillers finally realized the flavors White had been carrying in his head. Jawbox Gin was born. It’s distilled from malted barley grown on land owned by the distillers and other family members. Among the botanicals White added was Belfast heather, which produces an earthy, herbaceous note. White chose the stubby, rounded bottle because it reminds him of Victorian medicine bottles. The label is likewise styled to emulate a heritage marque.

He had a little fun with the name. “A communal wash area with a big sink used to be called a jawbox,” he explains. “People would stand around it and tell stories while they washed up. That’s also what people do in pubs. They meet and tell stories.”

Mixing it up

03-jawbox-and-ginger-ale Jawbox launched in February 2016 and has been well received in a fairly crowded field. It’s smooth enough to enjoy as a sipping gin. The heat and spiciness also pair well with ginger ale, a product that White says was invented in Belfast. He combines a shot of Jawbox with Fever Tree ginger ale to taste and adds a squeeze of lime. The sparks of ginger hit the palate first, followed by the complex herbal notes of the gin. The flavor finishes with a pucker of lime.

Other bartenders have been more creative. Muriel’s (see previous post) adds a small piece of molasses honeycomb candy to a glass of gin and ginger ale. Hargadons (www.hargadons.com) in Sligo goes them one better by adding a small piece of natural bee’s honeycomb. “It’s stunning,” says White.

Chefs are also putting the product to good use. Michael Deane (www.michaeldeane.co.uk) has featured citrus and gin cured trout on his various menus. Niall McKenna of James Street South (jamesstreetsouth.co.uk) has used it to cure salmon.

White hopes to find U.S. and E.U. distributors for Jawbox, but for now you will have to pick it up in Northern Ireland. It’s for sale in Belfast at all three Marks & Spencer locations (marksandspencer.com) and most good liquor shops.

14

12 2016

Pub crawl reveals Cathedral Quarter riches

The Guinness Creation mural in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
After falling on hard times, Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter has been enjoying boom years of late. The district is named for St. Anne’s, a grand structure of the Church of Ireland though not technically a cathedral since it is not a bishop’s seat. The church anchors the 18th century warehouse district north of the city center. The “cathedral” was erected 1899-1903 as an expression of Belfast’s industrial wealth and power at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Historic Guinness sign in Belfast's Cathedral QuarterThese days the Cathedral Quarter is an area more for fun than the backbreaking labor of teamsters and longshoremen. Its atmospheric warren of narrow streets, alleys, cul-de-sacs, and byways is studded with small shops and pubs. Ancient city walls are splashed with colorful murals (like the Dali-esque Guinness Creation above) and old signage (like the Guinness placard at right) has been preserved as part of Northern Ireland’s cultural heritage. As a result, the Cathedral Quarter has emerged as one of the liveliest parts of Belfast for nightlife. Here are some of the congenial gems where it’s easy to while away an evening with a pint or two.

The Dirty Onion

Peat fire at Dirty Onion in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Belfast’s oldest timber-framed building was constructed around 1750 as a warehouse. It held bonded spirits from 1921 to 1991. Literally tens of thousands of Jameson whiskey cases passed through “Stack N.” A fair bit is still consumed at The Dirty Onion, which now occupies the old warehouse space. The bar also hosts live traditional music every night and two afternoons a week. Its upstairs sister, Yardbird, serves rotisserie chicken. But on a cold damp night, nothing beats pulling up a chair and a pint to a downstairs fireplace (above). The bar burns traditional peat turf. Its smoke is as sweet as a sip of Scotch whisky.
The Dirty Onion, 3 Hill Street, 28 9024 3712, www.thedirtyonion.com

The Duke of York

Duke of York in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
There’s been a pub at the site of the Duke of York since the mid-18th century, and the collection of antique mirrors, hotel furniture, and woodwork inside attests that the current pub has outlasted many another business in the neighborhood. It’s located on Commercial Court, which is protected by the Commissioners of Public Works under the National Monuments Act. The Duke has an impressive collection of more than 100 Irish whiskeys, many of which ceased production decades ago. For all the high spirits, it’s a bar for the well-behaved. An inscription on the half rail of the exterior sets the tone. It reads, “Come in soberly, drink moderately, depart quietly and come again.”
The Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Court, 28 9024 1062, dukeofyorkbelfast.com

Muriel’s Cafe Bar

Muriel's Cafe and Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Located in a former millinery, Muriel’s exudes a certain feminine charm with its ironic displays of bygone women’s fashions and its ever so twee downstairs stage set. (Upstairs is more in line with the masculine, wood-paneled bars of the rest of the neighborhood.) Known as much for its coffee, pastries, afternoon tea, and Sunday brunch as for its alcoholic libations, Muriel’s injects a spritz of whimsy into the historic streets of the Cathedral Quarter.
Muriel’s Cafe Bar, 12-14 Church Lane, 28 9033 2445

Harp Bar

Muriel's Harp Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The back of the Harp shares the Commercial Court alley with the Duke of York. The pub is nearly as decorous and glamorous, with tufted red leather banquettes in one room, red velvet chairs, and Victorian antiques all about. Glass display cases behind the bar hold a stunning collection of Irish whiskeys, although the rare tipples are not for sale. The building used to be the headquarters and bonded warehouse of The Old Bushmills Distillery Company. Black Bush is the whiskey of choice.
Harp Bar, 35 Hill Street, 28 9032 9923, www.harpbarbelfast.com

John Hewitt

The John Hewitt in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The John Hewitt has the demeanor of a pub that’s seen at least a century of Belfast imbibers. But the handsome spot only opened in December 1999. It’s a cash generator for the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. It was named for the late poet, socialist, and community activist who founded the Centre in 1983. With such a sterling left wing pedigree, the bar is hugely popular with poets, musicians, journalists, and artists. The John Hewitt also hosts events for Belfast arts festivals and programs live music most nights. (Wednesday nights are usually devoted to charity fundraisers.)
The John Hewitt, 51 Donegall Street, 28 9023 3768, thejohnhewitt.com

Bert’s Jazz Bar

Bert's Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The Merchant Hotel spearheaded the Cathedral Quarter revival when it opened a decade ago. Its fine, polished bar off the lobby remains the model of an Edwardian whiskey bar. But much of the action has shifted in recent years to Bert’s, located downstairs with a separate street entrance. It’s Belfast’s only dedicated jazz bar, programming live music every night from 9 p.m. The bar specializes in Jazz Age cocktails and the kitchen features affordable French bistro fare.
16 Skipper Street, 28 9026 2713, themerchanthotel.com

Sunflower Public House

Exterior of The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The security cage at the entrance to this disarmingly charming pub on the corner of Kent and Union streets is a remnant of the 1980s, when the Troubles kept everyone wary. Now it’s just a bit of social history that predates half the student and backpacker clientele who flock in for traditional music sessions—or for Gypsy Swing or Hot Jazz on Thursdays. On Tuesday nights, a somewhat more seasoned crowd of ukelele players gathers for a jam. Pipers come on Wednesdays.
Sunflower Public House, 65 Union Street, 028 9023 2474, www.sunflowerbelfast.com
Ukelele jam at The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter

11

12 2016

Made in Belfast’s pork belly dish delivers pig ecstasy

Crispy pork belly dish at Made in Belfast City Hall
We dream of returning to restaurants around the globe just for one dish. Made in Belfast is one of those restaurants, and the dish (above) is the “crispy outdoor bred pork belly.” It’s on the menu in every season. Only the accompaniments change. In early November, the pork belly came on a bed of mashed potato and roasted squash with two kinds of croquettes. One contained black pudding (blood sausage) and apple. The other had roasted pulled pork. Pieces of broccoli and cauliflower nestled beside the meat, while a cabbage-carrot slaw in creamy sauce puddled on one edge. The garlicky pork jus pulled all the flavors together.

Interior of Made in Belfast City Hall This was a brilliant 21st century adaptation of traditional Irish fare. The veggies were fresh and bright. The charcuterie in the croquettes was rich enough and no more. And the pork belly was meaty and luscious. It seemed to reflect every happy day that hog had enjoyed, which was much of the reason we ordered it. Restaurant founder Emma Bricknell makes humane, ethical treatment of animals one of the cornerstones of her mini-empire of three Belfast restaurants. Her other guiding principle is to buy local, so the menus are highly seasonal.

Multiple Options

Since we were walking from our hotel and it was raining, we opted for the closest of the three: Made in Belfast City Hall (Wellington Street, 028 9024 6712, madeinbelfast.com). The original 2009 spot is Made in Belfast Cathedral Quarter, and it’s celebrated for its quirky thrift shop décor. The newest of the group is Made in Belfast The Grill, also in the Cathedral Quarter. It emphasizes burgers and steaks. All three serve some variation of roasted pork belly—currently co-starring creamed minted cabbage.

10

12 2016

Jeffers Home Bakery bakes Irish staff of life

Jeffers Home Bakery on College Street in Belfast
Whenever we travel in Ireland, Pat’s mother always requests that we bring her home some soda bread farls. Now in her 90s, she still remembers her own mother, a native of County Armagh, cooking the four triangular pieces on a hot griddle.

For us, it’s a good request since it guarantees that we seek out a homey traditional bakery. In Belfast, that was Jeffers Home Bakery (4-6 College Street, 028 9032 7157, www.jeffersbakery.co.uk), right across the street from Sawers in the downtown shopping district.

Inside Jeffers Home Bakery on College Street in Belfast The operation started small in East Belfast when William Jeffers bought a van in 1937 and began delivering bread from Thompson’s Bakery. By 1950 he had purchased the first bakery of his own and the little business began to grow. Andrew Jeffers, the third generation of the family, runs the College Street shop. It’s the only Jeffers outpost in the central city.

Jeffers makes all types of cakes and tray bakes and is known for such holiday specialties as mince pies, trifles, and Christmas puddings. The shop always has lots of fresh breads and rolls – along with white, wheat, and treacle (molasses) soda farls.

Pat’s mother, a purist, prefers the white soda farls. That’s also what Jeffers cooks split in half and grill in butter for their “Filled Soda” breakfast menu. With prices ranging from £1.15 (cheese) to £2.55 (egg and two strips of bacon), the filled sodas make an inexpensive, quick, and filling meal. (That’s a farl with egg and sausage below.)

Eat them outside at one of the three little tables under the awning and you might catch Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter on the animated Alice Clock on the upper level of the Fountain Centre across the street.

SODA FARLS


The recipe is simple, but the devil is in the details. Quit kneading sooner than you’d expect—while the dough is still a little sticky. Watch heat under the griddle carefully to avoid burning the exterior before the center is cooked. This recipe is adapted from
My NI: Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016.

Jeffers farl with egg and sausage in Belfast

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk

Directions

Prepare a heavy flat griddle or frying pan on medium to low heat.

Place the flour, salt, and soda in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend well. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Work quickly to mix into a dough. Place on a well-floured surface and knead lightly until smooth ball forms. Press into a flattened circle a bit less than a half-inch thick and cut into quarters with a floured knife.

Sprinkle a little flour over the base of the hot pan and place each quarter onto the hot pan, one at a time, until the quarters form a complete circle. Cook the farls for 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through. You may have to cut through the center cross to turn them over. Take the pan off the heat and allow the farls to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes 4 farls

09

12 2016

Co Couture embodies the artistry of chocolate

Deirdre McCanny at Co Couture in Belfast
Deirdre McCanny had never made a chocolate in her life when she decided to leave her job in international sales and marketing to start a chocolate shop in Belfast. From modest beginnings in her apartment, she moved into her cozy shop with a big workroom in back in December 2009. It’s just a few steps down from the sidewalk on the corner of Donegall Square East, literally around the corner from Belfast City Hall. It has become, as Deirdre calls it, “a chocolate oasis in the city center.” The first time we visited, a regular customer had just stopped in for a cup of hot chocolate and a cherry-sencha truffle as a treat at the end of the work day. (The tart cherry and herbaceous green tea are a perfect match.)

Deirdre calls her shop Co Couture in homage to Coco Chanel. “Whenever you think of chocolate, think Coco Chanel,” she explains. “Less is more in chocolate as well as in fashion. The fewer the ingredients, the better.”

broken chocolate at Co Couture in Belfast If you are going to limit your ingredients, they had better be really good, she reasoned. “A lot of chocolatiers were playing in the middle ground,” Deirdre says. “I decided to go right to the top.” She sources her deeply flavorful organic chocolate from Madagascar, where the cacao trees are grown in the shade of a rain forest and the beans are transformed into chocolate. “It’s a sustainable economic model,” she says, “fairer than fair trade.” For other ingredients, she works with local producers.

But good product is not enough. Deirdre trained as a chef before taking another career path and is flexing those culinary muscles again. “I have quite a classic palate,” she says. “I try to keep things classic.” She learned the basics of candymaking by training in Barcelona with renowned chocolatier Ramon Morató.

Exquisite tastes


Cup of hot chocolate at Co Couture in BelfastThe proof, of course, is in the pudding—or in this case, the cup. Nothing seemed more appealing to us than settling in at one of the shop’s tiny tables for cups of hot chocolate—accompanied by small truffles. The hot chocolate (also available as a mix to take home) was so rich and thick that we actually found ourselves thinning it a bit with milk from a small pitcher.

“Hot chocolate,” says Deirdre, “is like a hug for the soul.”

She is most proud of the ganache fillings that she has perfected for her truffles. She was one of the first in the United Kingdom to work with water-based ganaches. Not only are they dairy-free, they lack any of the additives like butter, cream, or lecithin that would coat the palate and mask the pure chocolate flavor. Her ganaches are not technically vegan, as she sweetens with honey rather than refined sugars.

Deirdre uses locally distilled Bushmills Black Bush whiskey for her Irish Whiskey and Irish Coffee truffles. The pure chocolate notes melt away to reveal the high sweet whiskey flavor harmonized with the caramel treacle of the oloroso sherry casks where the spirit was aged. The Irish coffee variant adds the round richness of dark roasted coffee beans for an additional complexity. At the other end of the taste spectrum, her Fresh Mint and Honey Truffle has an airy delicacy, like walking through a patch of blooming summer mint surrounded by the buzz of honeybees. No wonder it won a gold medal from the British Academy of Chocolate.

“I am a chocolate addict,” says Deirdre. “If one must work, working with chocolate is one of the heavens on earth.”

Co Couture, 7 Chichester Street, Belfast, 078 8889 9647, cocouture.co.uk

07

12 2016

Hadskis hits sweet spot of great casual bistro fare

Hello from the kitchen at Hadskis in Belfast
Chef and restaurateur Niall McKenna bet on Belfast’s revival and won. After opening the posh James Street South in 2003, he got hammered with the economic downturn of 2008. So he transformed the upscale dining venue into a great-value steakhouse, The Bar and Grill. As Belfast began to climb out of the economic doldrums, he followed up in October 2014 with Hadskis (33 Donegall St., 28 9032 5444, hadskis.co.uk) in the suddenly desirable Cathedral Quarter. Once again, he hit the sweet spot of serving the kind of food people want to eat at a price they’re happy to pay.

You might have to do a little looking to find Hadskis. It’s off Donegall Street in Commercial Court, one of those alleyway cul-de-sacs in the Cathedral Quarter warren. The name honors 18th century iron foundry founder Stewart Hadskis, who made pots and pans. Hadskis loved to make them, and chef McKenna loves to use them.

Simplicity made manifest


It’s a refreshingly nonsense-free place. Cooks work in an open kitchen near the entrance. They have a single line of two flat-top grills, two stoves with big open gas-fired hobs, a couple of ovens, and a deep fryer that mostly churns out chips to accompany the protein-centric plates. The room is long and narrow, which means that no table has more than one or two neighboring tables.

Ribeye steak at Hadskis in Belfast Like The Bar and Grill, Hadskis is known for grilled beef, which McKenna buys from Hannan Meats (hannanmeats.com). Top chefs affectionately call Peter Hannan the god of meat. He sources the animals from about 120 Irish farms, most in Northern Ireland, and dry-ages the beef in cold rooms lined with slabs of Himalayan salt. It sounds all hocus-pocus, but it’s not. The animals are pasture-fed and humanely treated, and the meat is packed with flavor. The Irish do love their beef—maybe even more than the English—and Hannan provides truly great products.

Hadskis handles most of its meat simply by cooking steaks and chops on a charcoal grill. The grilled ribeye shown above is accompanied by a bowl of fried potatoes and a small pot of Béarnaise sauce. The latter must be included so the diner doesn’t feel shorted on cholesterol.

Spicy meatballs with orecchiette at Hadskis Hannan meats find their way into more humble dishes as well. “Hannan’s spiced meatballs” is a gorgeous plate with orecchiete pasta, a harissa-spiced tomato sugo, and grated parmesan. Neither Italian nor North African nor Irish, it works as a warming combination of all three. The meatballs, naturally, are the star.

Equal time for fish


The kitchen also treats fish to searing heat. The menu almost always features two or three roasted fish options.

Monkfish with chickpeas at Hadskis When we visited they included bream encrusted in herbs, pollock roasted in a spicy crust with fregola (known better to most Americans as Israeli couscous), and roasted stone bass with braised fennel and crab orzo. Usually served as a starter, an entrée portion of monkfish and spiced sausage with chickpeas (above left) right was a nicely warming dish on a cool night. Vaguely Moroccan in the flavor profile, it was also a nice way to highlight the local catch.

What was perhaps most striking about dining at Hadskis was how local all the products were. Sure, the menu says in fine print “We source our ingredients from local suppliers.” But everyone says that and few follow through so thoroughly. There’s an economic method to the locavore obsession, too. The pound sterling has taken a beating since the Brexit vote, but McKenna doesn’t build his menu on items he has to buy in euros or dollars. As a result, his costs stay constant even as the pound slides.

06

12 2016

Enjoy a millionaire’s tea at a pauper’s price

Tea tray at Good Food & Wine in Belfast
Aptly named Good Food & Wine is a gourmet treat shop and casual cafe that serves afternoon tea all day long. It’s tucked into the Queen’s Arcade shopping center between Fountain Street and Donegall Place, Not only is it steps from Belfast City Hall and the Linen Hall Library, it’s also handy to the central shopping district. Mind you, afternoon tea here is not the lifted pinkie, fine porcelain, hushed ambiance formal tea. For that experience, visit the nearby Merchant Hotel (16 Skipper St., 28 9023 4888, themerchanthotel.com), the poshest address in the city.

Counter at Good Food & Wine in BelfastBut at £7.50 per person, it’s hard to beat Good Food & Wine for a tiered tray of finger sandwiches and sweet treats and a pot of brewed looseleaf Belfast Blend. (It contains 90% Assam and 10% Tanzanian black teas.) The selection of sandwiches and treats varies by the day. When we stopped for a respite, we were served four egg salad finger sandwiches on alternating white and dark bread and slices of a three-layer chocolate torte. Even if you just stop in for a cup of tea or coffee, you’ll find a sweet treat at the edge of the saucer. Often, it’s a tiny square of a classic Northern Irish “tray bake” called the Millionaire’s Bar. It stacks a layer of shortbread, a layer of caramel, and a layer of chocolate.

The Millionaire’s Bar (also sometimes called Millionaire’s Shortcake) is a popular treat in Belfast. Most versions are topped with semisweet or milk chocolate. For a change of pace, Good Food & Wine sometimes uses white chocolate (legally called “white confectionery” in the U.S.). We played around with a few recipes and came up with the version below. The sprinkle of sea salt on top enhances the toasty flavor of the caramel.

Good Food & Wine, 12-16 Queen’s Arcade, 28 2766 8879, thegoodfoodandwinecompany.co.uk

White Chocolate Millionaire's Bar

MILLIONAIRE’S BARS


A few notes about the recipe: Measurements are largely given by weight. Since many baking ingredients vary widely by volume, weighing the components guarantees that the recipe comes out the same each time. As far as we can tell, no one makes golden syrup on this side of the Atlantic. Imported cans of Lyle’s Golden Syrup are available in gourmet shops and well-stocked grocery stores. Nothing can substitute for the toffee flavor, as the syrup is made partially with invert sugar.

Makes 16-20 pieces

Ingredients

For shortbread
225 grams (8 oz.) all purpose flour
175 grams (6 oz.) butter, cold, cut in small cubes
75 grams (2 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar, ground fine in spice grinder or food processor

For topping
150 grams (5 oz.) butter
394-gram (14 fl. oz.) can condensed milk
100 grams (3 1/2 fl. oz.) golden syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
350 grams white chocolate, grated or cut very small
sea salt for finishing (Maldon flake or similar)

Directions

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan with aluminum foil.

In food processor, combine flour and small cubes of butter. Process in pulses to consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add ground sugar and pulse until combined.

Place mixture in lined pan and spread evenly with back of a spoon. Press down shortbread firmly to pack tightly in pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until pale golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

As shortbread is baking, begin to prepare the caramel layer of topping. Place butter, condensed milk, and golden syrup in saucepan. Stir occasionally while heating until butter melts and mixture is smooth.

Raise heat to bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. When the caramel thickens and turns golden brown, remove from heat. When it has cooled a little, pour over the cooled shortbread, spreading evenly over the surface. Set aside to cool completely.

When caramel is cooled, prepare chocolate layer. Bring water to a simmer in bottom of double boiler. In top of double boiler, heat the cream over direct heat until simmering. Place over simmering water in double boiler and add white chocolate, stirring until mixture is smooth. Pour over pan and smooth to edges. Sprinkle sparingly with finishing salt and let cool before cutting.

04

12 2016

Sawers gourmet shop in Belfast champions Irish flavors

Sawers in Belfast has been around since 1897.
Sawers was established in 1897 to bring gourmet foods from around the globe to the people of Belfast. It is the oldest deli in Northern Ireland. The purveyor even provided the R.M.S. Titanic with game, seafood, cheese and other delicacies for its infamous maiden voyage. The people of Belfast can still rely on Sawers more than a century after that ship’s larder full of caviar and pheasant ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic. They can stop by to shop for Spanish hams, Italian pastas, French pâté and escargot, Greek olives, and Turkish candies. At the holidays, the place buzzes with people filling gift “hampers” with exotic gourmet goodies.

But Sawers also cherishes great Irish foods, making it a must-stop for overseas gourmands. The cheese case alone includes more than 200 varieties, including some of the spectacular artisanal Irish cheeses that have arisen recently. The staff at Sawers seem to know the pedigree of every Irish cheese in the case (shown below). For a cheddar type, they introduced us to Banagher Bold. Introduced in fall 2015, it’s made from pasteurized cow’s milk, aged for three months, and washed in a Derry craft beer. Northbound Brewery’s No. 26 helps impart the mouth-forward sharpness. For a blue cheese, it’s hard to say enough about Young Buck. The raw-milk blue is made by Michael Thomson in Newtownards, about 10 miles east of Belfast, with milk from a single herd. He calls his company “Mike’s Fancy Cheese.”

Sawers in Belfast has a broad selection of Irish cheeses.

All manner of spreads


Sawers favors pairing some of these cheeses with jams and chutneys. The house brand Sweet Chilli Jam is especially popular. Like their English cousins, Belfast folk love preserves and condiments. Sawers’ own line includes Belfast Preserve (raspberry and lime), Belfast Breakfast Marmalade (lemon, orange, and grapefruit), chutneys such as Indian Spiced Pineapple, Smoky Apricot, or the combination Mango, Chilli, and Lime chutney. Ditty’s Oat Cakes (made with County Armagh oats) are the classic support for cheese and jam.

Slicing salami at Saws Belfast. The Irish are big fans of fresh and smoked fish. Sawers smokes several species of fish, and sells smoked salmon from elsewhere in Ireland and from Scotland. The shop also sells the fish spread known as “patum pepperium” or “Gentlemen’s Relish.” Sawers has three versions. The traditional is made with anchovies. The Anglers’ Finest Relish contains smoked mackerel and lemon zest. The milder Poacher’s Relish has smoked salmon and lemon. Spread on crackers, they provide an instant hit of umami.

The charcuterie cases are piled high with a huge variety of sausages. The most popular seem to be imported French and Italian salamis and other hard sausages, along with Italian and Spanish hams.

Dining on charcuterie at Sawers Belfast. We were pleased to find a local “whisky salami.” Traditionally, it’s a garlicky pork sausage made with reduced Bushmills whiskey and whiskey-washed while curing. The salami is very firm and dry, so the Sawers staffer sliced it paper thin. Along with the cheeses, it lasted for days. We finished it off on the bus from Belfast to Dublin Airport, knowing we couldn’t take it through U.S. Customs Preclearance there. (See “Bringing Food Through US Customs.”) Other customers at the charcuterie counter weren’t planning to fly. They elected to enjoy sausages, ham, cheese, and olives at the indoor cafe tables.

Sawers, 5–7 Fountain Centre, College Street, 028 9032 2021, www.sawersbelfast.com.

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01

12 2016

John Long’s serves apotheosis of fish and chips

diner at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast
Owner John Copeland is fond of calling John Long’s Fish & Chips (39 Athol Street, 028 9032 1848, www.johnlongs.com) one of the “seven wonders of Belfast.” That puts his modest eatery right up there with Titanic Belfast (which relates the tale of the doomed ship built in the local shipyards) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (the 1820s bar known for its ornate decoration).

John Copeland at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast But Copeland is onto something. John Long’s is a Belfast institution. Founded in 1914 by its namesake to serve fish and chips to the workers in the city’s thriving linen mills, it’s the city’s longest established fish and chips shop. Located five blocks due west from City Hall, John Long’s is a little off the beaten path. But we knew we had arrived when we spotted the tall red brick building with a white potato delivery van parked out front.

Copeland became owner in 1996, after first being a customer. “I used to come here 40 years ago. I would order two fish, chips, baked beans, and two glasses of milk,” he told us. He was taking a break from preparing orders to stop and chat with diners seated at the rows of Formica booths. The seating was installed by the second owner when he moved the establishment a few yards down the street in the 1970s.

Upholding a tradition


Copeland takes his stewardship of John Long’s fish and chips legacy seriously. “The fish comes in fresh every day,” he said. “We use haddock from the Irish Sea all the time. It’s all caught about 40 miles up the coast.”

namesake meal at John Long's Fish & Chips in BelfastHe’s equally particular about the potatoes, preferring golden-skinned Maris Piper variety popular in England. “A lot of my spuds come out of England, where the soil is drier. Wet spuds don’t fry the same,” he explained.

Although the establishment serves a few other dishes—hamburgers, sausages, scalloped potatoes—the basic fish and chips are its raison d’être. The fish is flaky and rich, and the fried potatoes have a sweet earthiness than most fries lack. It’s Irish comfort food at its best.

Although the Roman Catholic Church no longer decrees fish on Fridays, old habits die hard. “Friday is still a big day in Belfast for fish and chips,” Copeland said. But he acknowledged that he always have room for more diners. “I would love to talk to the Pope to bring it back again.”

28

11 2016

Belfast’s OX treats Irish food with hugs and kisses

canape of butternut squash, onion galette, ricotta, and fennel pollen at OX in Belfast
We weren’t surprised to eat foie gras and truffles at OX in Belfast, which won its first Michelin star last spring after opening in March 2013. (It’s one of two starred restaurants in Belfast.) Restaurateurs believe that foie gras and truffles must appear on a menu before Michelin will award even one star. No doubt there are exceptions, but we haven’t encountered them. What was a delightful surprise was that such highfalutin ingredients were the exception rather than the rule at OX (1 Oxford Street, 28 9031 4121, oxbelfast.com).

interior of OX in BelfastThe truly defining moments in the spectacular autumn tasting menu were those dishes where humble, local ingredients sang. OX aims to serve brilliantly conceived, highly seasonal food. The price is low for fine dining (£50 for the tasting menu) and the dishes are easily understood. There’s no need to brush up on the precepts of Structuralism before making a reservation. Just bring a hearty appetite, an appreciative eye, and an open-minded palate.

Picture perfect


Chef Stephen Toman’s food looks as good as it tastes. The canapés shown at the top of this post were feats of legerdemain. The cracker is an onion galette. Mounted on it are a few dabs of fresh ricotta cheese freckled with fennel pollen. The “pastry” draped over the cheese is perfectly cooked, thinly sliced butternut squash. The whole plate is sprinkled with marigold petals. It is about as sunny looking and tasting a plate as you could find in gray November in Belfast—and it was all accomplished with local ingredients.

550px-ox03-beet-venison-kohlrabi Flowers are one of Toman’s tools to make the dark foods of winter look brighter. After a great celeriac soup (more on that later), Toman lit up a dark dish with pansy blossoms. Called “beetroot, wild venison, fermented kohlrabi, black garlic,” it combined several elements we rarely use at home and often avoid when we go out. We shouldn’t have worried. The beet was rich and sweet, the venison was butter-tender and savory, and the kohlrabi was a truly inspired pickle. It was the ideal foil to the unctuousness of the other ingredients. A glass of pinot noir from Germany’s Baden region (on the border with Alsace) had the austerity and spiciness to bring out the best in the food.

Nuanced wine list


The synergy between the owners—Belfast native Toman and Brittany-born Alain Kerloc’h—gives OX an international sensibility that places it directly between classical French dining and the New Nordic cuisine emanating from Copenhagen. Kerloc’h manages the restaurant and often serves as maitre d’ but his background is as a sommelier. A handful of wines on the list are there for big spenders, but most are food friendly choices from all over Europe, often without regard for prestige appellations. We tasted six with the dinner, and each was a surprise.

Chateaubriand and truffle at OX in BelfastFoie gras appeared in a supporting role in the most classic dish of the night—a slice of Chateaubriand served with foie gras, artichoke, and hop shoot. The dish seemed to be Toman’s nod to his lineage as a classically trained chef who worked extensively in Paris, including at the legendary Taillevent. The accompanying wine—a 2013 Faugères—was fruit-forward and uncomplicated. The inclusion of a small percentage of Syrah gave the Grenache-dominated red a spicy finish. The wine made the steak and liver course actually seem light!

Like Toman, we often exalt vegetables over proteins when we’re cooking at home. We thought we could best replicate his celeriac soup—minus the swirl of black trumpet mushrooms and generous shavings of truffle. (The inspiration is pictured below.) The recipe that follows is our adaptation of a French standard with the addition of diced apple at the bottom—a trick we learned at OX. It’s more rustic than Toman’s version, but it’s a cinch to make at home. If you feel it needs some extra oomph (lacking truffle), try stirring in some crumbled pieces of bacon.

celeriac soup at OX in Belfast

CELERIAC SOUP AND DICED APPLE


Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
sea salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 pounds celery root, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
6 cups chicken or mild vegetable stock
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut in 1/4-inch dice
crumbled bacon (optional)
extra virgin olive oil to garnish

Directions
In large soup pot over medium heat, melt butter and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add sliced leeks and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook until leeks begin to soften. Add garlic and another pinch of salt. Cook slowly until leeks and garlic are soft but not brown. Add celery root, stock, and ground pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 45 minutes until celery is very soft. Using an immersion blender, purée until creamy and smooth, adding extra stock if necessary.

To serve, cover bottom of each bowl with diced apple. Pour in celeriac soup, and add optional bacon. Garnish with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil.

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11 2016