Let me preface this review with the fact that I am not a restaurant reviewer - think of me more as a food critic masquerading as Karl Pilkington for a week.
I went to China and ate McDonald's, I can cook one dish, and when in doubt, I smother most meals with Ballymaloe relish. My only saving grace is a bit of travel with my family where my mother gave me a few lessons on how to pronounce things like Chateau Briand.
With my dad showing me a little culture in opera and Yeats' poetry.
The reality is though, for the most part, I am still fairly ignorant, and by day five of travel, I pine for the aforementioned relish. However, I hope that my simple background gives me an opportunity to convey an honest food review in everyman language..
Made in Belfast is one of these typical hipster places that can't fathom buying a set of table and chairs that actually match. It's a sort of Dillinger's cum Crackbird meets Fumbally.
Great stock is placed on local ingredients and sustainability with suppliers (proudly shouted about on the walls), and they have recently won several sustainability awards. The staff look like they missed their calling as rock stars but after some initial frostiness proved to be very pleasant.
The Ed Sheeran lookalike had to deal with a table of elderly ladies deconstructing the menu to their tastes, and I don't think they really understood the menu concept. My first crucial mistake in popping my restaurant review cherry was ordering just one dish on my maiden voyage - I panicked as I hate eating alone, and I didn't want to stick around for too long.
I've been going to the gym recently - I know I get these fitness notions roughly every two years. It started when I tried to bulk up my chicken legs in school by commandeering my parents shed, and turning it into something mirroring an Arnold Schwarzenegger style gym shrine. Sorry I digress, but I am trying to eat healthily again so I scanned the menu and picked what I thought looked healthiest.
I went for the Organic Chicken Salad. It came with a really tangy dressing and there were big bits of tasty grilled chicken with beetroot, walnuts and tomatoes. The salad came with a big chunk of bread - no butter though - why is there never any butter?
Also on the menu I noticed a pretty interesting Sustainable Haddock and Sea Bass Risotto, but I wasn't in the mood for a massive feed. They have a great selection of cocktails but at 2.30pm in the afternoon I felt it wasn't really gin o'clock!
The place was still buzzing when I left after 3, so I imagine it must get jammers for dinner.
My next stop was Harlem Café, and I thought why not finish the meal, so I grabbed a coffee and brownie there. I'd been here about two years ago and for whatever reason it really struck me then.
There was a great buzz, but I think I was also in a good mood - it was nice second time around. After being admonished for attempting to order a gluten free brownie when I'm not a coeliac, I settled on a gluten full brownie. Although the waitress did explain that there is no difference unless you are allergic to gluten, and she's probably right.
The brownie was a combination of almonds and chocolate and I found it very flavoursome, but a spell in the microwave or a bit of cream wouldn't have gone astray. I tucked into a breakfast here on my last visit, and I remember it being very good.
A wide variety of eaters are catered for with the menu varying from burgers to healthy salads, so seems like a solid option if eating in a group. The matriarch of the restaurant is a tall elegant blonde lady called Faye, who was engaging with her regulars and seemed really friendly.
So while I will never be a restaurant critic, these places will always be buzzing with decent food and sound staff (despite mocking my gluten confusion, the waitress in Harlem was a sound skin, as they say in Limerick). For visitors and locals alike, I'd seriously reccomend you ask for Faye in Harlem - it seems everyone else did!