Ask someone in Belfast to name a chef, and they will probably know of Michael Deane – here, he shares the best restaurants in the city to emerge from what he calls Belfast’s “culinary revolution.”
When Deane started his career, there wasn’t much opportunity for an ambitious young chef in Belfast. He cut his teeth in London’s West End before returning to Northern Ireland to open a small restaurant in a railway arch in County Down. Deane’s on the Square gained its Michelin star in 1997, a year before the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
“We’ve always had great produce,” Deane explains, “and we’ve always had people who wanted to cook, but hidden away behind the political curtain. It was only in peace time that Northern Irish food was really discovered.” Despite beginning to earn global accolades, fine dining in Belfast can come in a lot cheaper than other capital cities, making it an excellent spot for foodies. These are the city’s best restaurants, as recommended by Deane, to enjoy Belfast’s cuisine.
Restaurant, Contemporary, European
Chef Michael Deane is pictured outside his Michelin starred restaurant "Deane's" in Belfast
From humble beginnings, Deane’s restaurant empire now spans six venues, each offering a different atmosphere but all with the same focus on quality ingredients and exquisite flavours. Restaurants range from the Michelin-star EIPIC, where beautifully designed fine dining is the star of the show, to the more casual family-oriented Deane and Decano, which draws in crowds with their £6.50 kids menu. If you want the full Deanes experience, book onto their unique Dine around Deanes tour – this tour takes you around Belfast on a double decker bus where you’ll sample a course in each of the restaurants, all with their own individual wine and cocktail pairings. The tour costs £75, but often books up six months in advance, so make sure to plan ahead – if you don’t manage to score a ticket, many of the Deanes restaurants seat guests without reservations.
Deane is quick to point out that he’s not the only place in Belfast to be recognised with a Michelin star. After meeting while working in L’Arpège in Paris, Stephen Toman and Alain Kerloc’h founded OX in 2013 and have been inundated with accolades ever since, including a coveted star. Each bold course is carefully considered and perfectly curated, and while Toman takes the lead on food, Kerloc’h looks after the drinks – wines are selected from places like the Middle East, and there’s an extensive Irish whiskey menu. After your meal, slip into the OX Cave next door to cap off your evening with an after-dinner drink.
The name of this restaurant comes from a secret society in the 1790s that met in the same spot, tucked away in an alley off Waring Street to conspire for Irish independence. This rebellious nature is retained today in the industrial-style decor and the innovative character of the food. Opened in 2015 by chef and owner Gareth McCaughey, who honed his culinary career at OX, The Muddlers Club serves up beautifully designed but unpretentious tasting menus that change frequently to make the best use of seasonal, local produce.
Deane had a hand, albeit indirectly, in the creation of Noble – it opened in 2016 after co-owners chef Pearson Morris and manager Saul McConnell met at Deanes. Noble, in the Belfast suburb of Holywood, quickly gained a reputation for its quality cuisine and the difficulty of scoring a table. If you do manage to book into this small restaurant, you’ll be treated to an inventive and ever-changing menu served up in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s also rumoured to have fans from the other (slightly more famous) Hollywood, such as Star Wars creator George Lucas, who supposedly ate here when visiting Belfast’s Titanic Studios. Their Early Doors hours offer a three-course menu at affordable prices (and a better chance of getting a table).
Deane told Culture Trip that although the city is bursting with incredible European and Irish cuisine, he’s most excited by the city’s growing roster of Asian dining. One he recommends is Jumon, one of Fountain Street’s trendiest restaurants. Launched in 2018 by Thai chef Nokveedz ‘Nox’ Serewiwattana, this restaurant is cool, with relaxed seating and low lighting; the mixed-up decor of film posters and murals emphasise that there is nothing traditional about this venue, including the food. Nox is passionate about clean eating, bringing a healthy twist to classic Asian cuisine. Vegans love the Korean fried broccoli and kimchi wontons – sip on a homemade kombucha and feel virtuous while you indulge.
Deane also recommends Bo Tree Kitchen, found in Belfast’s student area of the Holylands. It’s a reincarnation of the renowned Chiang Mai Kitchen in Oxford that has successfully managed to crack the (occasionally a little staid) Belfast food scene without compromising on flavour with authentic Thai dishes. Opened by Helen O’Malley and head chef Suthat in 2017, it’s hugely popular with the residents of the area, but should definitely be on a visitor’s radar. The food is incredibly flavourful – try the gaeng massaman and the plaa meuk thod (crispy fried calamari) if you’re struggling to make a decision – and staggeringly cheap. They offer BYOB at £2 charge a bottle, and dishes range from just £5 to £7, with frequent chef specials that are ideal for sharing.
The name of this restaurant is the Japanese word for “fusion”, and that’s exactly what Yugo is famous for. Since opening in late 2016, this restaurant has gained a city-wide reputation for incredible pan-Asian cuisine guided by fresh Irish ingredients. Booking in advance is a must, especially if you want a much coveted seat at the counter to watch the chefs at work. The open, minimalist design means this restaurant always feels vibrant and bustling. Menu highlights include the sharing portion of lamb shoulder massaman curry, carefully slow roasted all day using locally sourced meat, and the lighter steamed dumplings and bao buns bursting with fillings such as prawn, duck and kimchi.
This charming converted stable serves up truly traditional Irish cuisine, though it’s far from boring; modern dishes that include Antrim steak, Tyrone lamb and free-range chicken from Fermanagh steal the show on the dinner menu. Vegetarians aren’t left out either; a delicious Thai curry is made with local organic vegetables and served with a cheeky fusion spicy soda farl flatbread. The cosy restaurant has a homely feel and is managed by Marty, who welcomes guests like old friends. The restaurant is owned by the Hilden Brewing Company, the oldest independent brewery in Ireland, so it has a great selection of locally brewed craft beers and ales at great prices to enjoy with your meal.
The sister restaurant to the popular Holohan’s Pantry in the University Quarter, this family-run venue is set on an idyllic barge, moored in the heart of the city centre on the River Lagan. Though the whole menu is a roster of classic Irish cuisine, the stand-out dish and one that visitors to the region can’t leave without trying is the ‘Boxty‘. This ever-versatile Irish potato cake is particularly beloved in Ulster, and the one served at Holohan’s is in a class of its own. Once you’ve cleared your plate and left the cosy barge, head to an after-dinner show at the Waterfront Theatre, where you can catch a performance from both homegrown talent and international acts.