We chat up three distinguished locals to unearth the best bars, restaurants and shops in Belfast.
From gourmet eateries and raucous music venues to designer boutiques, Belfast has much to offer hedonistic city breakers.
To find out more we caught up with three local trendsetters – celebrity chef, Paul Rankin; fashion designer, Mary Rose McGrath; and music blogger, Will McConnell – to unearth the best bars, restaurants and shops in Northern Ireland’s capital.
Paul Rankin, celebrity chef
The Belfast-based celebrity chef brought Michelin-starred dining to the city at the height of the Troubles. His award-winning restaurant, Roscoff, has since been sold but Rankin still pioneers local cuisine through his cookbooks and regular appearances on shows such as Saturday Kitchen.
What are the best fine-dining restaurants in Belfast?
The hot ticket in town at the moment is Ox (1 Oxford Street). It’s got a lovely energy and passion. The food – modern European using local ingredients – is fabulous, the staff are great and it has an excellent wine list. It’s one of my great joys, going there.
Shu (253 Lisburn Road) is one of my absolute favourites. It’s modern European food with a French base and a bit of an Asian influence creeping in. The service is great and it’s really down to earth.
James Street South (21 James Street South) is a top-end restaurant run by Niall McKenna, who was a finalist in the Great British Menu. They serve local produce with a French twist – there’s a great wine selection too.
And for more modest budgets?
The Ginger Bistro (7-8 Hope Street) in the Cathedral Quarter is a great little restaurant run by a husband and wife team. It’s a good value, modern bistro serving sort of gastro pub food. They use excellent local ingredients and the portions are decent.
Mourne Seafood (34-36 Bank Street) is a fabulous fish house run by my ex-head chef who really knows his stuff. The food is wonderful and great value too – you can get lobster and chips for £13.
Home (22 Wellington Place) is terrific for lunch and dinner. The focus is on local ingredients, which are cooked simply but with a bit of flair. It has a decent wine list and showcases our great local produce.
Where do you wash it down?
There are almost too many bars to mention, but you have to go to Laverys (12-18 Bradbury Place) which is a Belfast institution. You get a great pint of Guinness in there and you’ll find anyone from old codgers to students inside.
The Spaniard (3 Skipper Street) is a terrific wee bar in the Cathedral Quarter. You get a great mix of people in there and it specialises in rum – they even host a rum club.
Filthy McNastys (45 Dublin Road) is a very happening bar at the moment. The décor is quirky and it’s got a huge outside bar, which is great during the summer.
Mary Rose McGrath, fashion designer
Belfast fashionista, Mary Rose McGarth, has designed clothes for international brands such as Oasis, Debenhams and M&S. She creates bespoke designs for anything from red carpet events to weddings and her designs regularly adorn the pages of glossy lifestyle magazines.
What are the best shops in Belfast?
Red Ruby Rouge (120 High Street) is hands down the number one boutique in Belfast. It has won many awards since opening in 2007 and the shop is packed with beautiful must-haves.
I could spend hours in Avoca (41 Arthur Street). The small Irish chain started out as a handweavers and now it has several shops selling in-house designs and variouimported brands. Customers can shop and then enjoy coffee in their fantastic café – the pastries are to die for.
Harper (Merchant Hotel, 16 Skipper Street) is shoe heaven. I could spend hours trying on all the gorgeous heels and can regularly be found peering wistfully through the shop window. The customer service is impeccable, too.
Victoria Square (1 Victoria Square) is the place to go if you want to shop until you drop. Many new exciting brands have opened in this shopping destination, which even has its own personal shopper, Rebecca Mc Kinney, who will find the perfect look in no time.
Co Couture (7 Chichester Street) is chocolate paradise. The rich chocolate smell as soon as you open the door is so tantalising. The owner, Deidre, also runs chocolate making classes in store. I want to live in this shop.
Will McConnell, music blogger
Will McConnell is the editor of Bandwidth Sessions, a Belfast-based blog which documents the vibrant live music scene in Northern Ireland’s capital.
Where are the best places to see live music in Belfast?
The Limelight (17 Ormeau Avenue) is the totem pole of the live music scene in Belfast. It is actually three venues in one and it hosts some of the biggest touring acts as well as smaller local bands. Every Tuesday there’s a wild, Moulin Rougue-inspired night called Circus, which features jugglers, fire breathers and magicians.
The Oh Yeah Music Centre (15-21 Gordon Street) is a staple part of the local music scene. It has a diverse and innovative live music programme – from Q&As with musicians, to raucous clubnights and acoustic picnics. There’s always something worth seeing here.
Voodoo (11A Fountain Street) caters to a more rock, punk and metal crowd. Local punk legend Teri Hooley – the subject of the cult film Good Vibrations – is a regular DJ here. Voodoo does the best pint of Guinness in town and has a friendly atmosphere.
No list of Belfast’s live venues would be complete without the iconic Ulster Hall (34 Bedford Street). Opened in 1862, the building has been lovingly restored to maintain all its original features. If you’re in town and there’s a gig on, including one of the Ulster Orchestra’s famous lunchtime recitals, I urge you to go. Otherwise just call into the café and ask the friendly staff if you can look around its opulent interior.
What are the best bars for music?
The Sunflower (65 Union Street) is one of the city’s newest additions. It hosts an excellent acoustic folk night every Thursday, open mic nights and big-name comedy gigs hosted by one of Belfast’s funniest men, Paul Currie. If you’re looking for a quirky bar with a great atmosphere that’s slightly off the beaten track, you’ve found it.
The Barge (1 Lanyon Street) is, as the name suggests, a refurbished barge moored on the river Lagan. The boat hosts a varied programme of live music, spoken word and comedy, though arguably the main attraction is the venue itself. Watching a band while floating on the river never loses its novelty and, on the deck, Holohan’s restaurant serves great food.
The Menagerie (130 University Street) is tucked away in a small brick warehouse in Belfast’s student area. The bare interior, subtle design quirks and great selection of craft beers reflect the mood of a Berlin speakeasy or a Brooklyn club. Pop in any night of the week and shuffle to the best bands you never knew existed.