When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walked in to the Crown Saloon in Belfast recently, they could have been just another couple of tourists on a Belfast food tour.
The saloon - one of the last Victorian gin palaces in the world - is part of a booming food and wine scene in the Northern Irish city - a scene that's increasingly popular with visitors from around the world.
Built in 1826, the Crown is easily one of the most beautiful pubs you'll ever stop for a refreshing drink, but it's only one of a treasure trove of historical gems tucked away in the streets of Belfast – a city long a place of creativity has in recent years emerged as the perfect destination for food and drink-themed adventures.
Visitors rave about dishes like Ulster Fry - a fried breakfast including black and white pudding and the pinnacle of Belfast breakfast foods, the potato bread (known as farl). Irish stew and champ (mashed potato fried with spring onions) are among other delicacies that liven up menus across the city. It seems not even Harry and Meghan are immune to these culinary delights - they enjoyed Irish stew and sausage with champ for lunch at the Crown.
Michelin starred restaurants, eateries, bars and cafés abound and local growers, artisans and purveyors of exceptional food and drinks are springing up all around the city.
Belfast's food revolution began with Stephen Toman and Alain Kerloc'h's OX and Michael Deane's EIPIC, both of which have been awarded Michelin stars -Alain agreeing that they have seen some big changes in the Belfast food scene.
"It has grown in confidence. We are now proud of showcasing our produce and the customers are becoming more adventurous," he's said.
The produce in Belfast has long been outstanding - think grass fed beef, oysters and artisanal cheese – and it's now getting the attention it deserves thanks to the perfect marriage of a warm welcome and brilliant foodie imaginings.
Head chef Alex Greene is doing delicious local things in the kitchen of Eipic, the one Michelin-starred eatery, with a menu made from regionally sourced ingredients. "We get our vegetables from a grower in Comber," he says. "Our meat also comes from local suppliers, Peter Hannan and Carnbrooke, and our fish is from Irish waters." You can try their tasting menus at £30, 45 and £70. For more Michelin-starred brilliance - try OX, where chef Stephen and manager and partner Alain say their focus, while also showcasing local produce, is on "bringing you a top quality, memorable and affordable product that you will want to try again and again". Here a five-course tasting menu will set you back £50 (plus £30 for wine).
A Casual Bite
After a quick lunch or snack? Belfast has many options, all made with exceptional produce. From casual coffee you can't beat Established Coffee.
Working directly with coffee roasters like Dublin's 3FE and London's Workshop, it serves up daily specials and sandwiches made in-house on sourdough supplied by local artisan bakery Zac's Bakehouse. General Merchants, serves a great all-day breakfast using local free-range eggs from Drayne's Farm in Lisburn. Something more substantial? Head to Graze in Ballyhackamore (an area known for its growing list of small and brilliant independent restaurants). Graze is all about local produce and serves up goodies like Portavogie prawns, Fivemiletown cheese and Silverhill duck. Something else? Long's Fish & Chips Restaurant may look run down but it's been serving the finest fish and chips in Belfast, since 1914. Or try the Mourne Seafood bar - they source all their delicious shellfish from their very own shellfish beds.
Make Your Own
First stop has to be Sawers Fine Foods, a purveyor of all-things-food since 1897, it's a must-stop while visiting Belfast - they have the best Irish cheese selection in the city and they have a good range of charcuterie and smoked fish to create your own picnic for later. Next up, head to St George's Market - one of Belfast's oldest attractions and recognised as one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland. It has been selected for numerous local and national titles and awards for its fresh, local produce and great atmosphere. Another great tip is Inns Market - this is true foodie heaven - a monthly farmers' market that invites you to delve into the local artisanal food scene. Head here for locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, speciality meats (including grass-fed dexter, buffalo, lamb, handmade sausages, small batch cured bacon), artisan sourdough breads, baked savoury goods, cakes, small batch artisan larder products including jams, chutneys, relishes, small batch raw milk cheese, speciality coffee and street food.
A Tipple Or Two
Molly's Yard - a beautifully restored Victorian stables and courtyard in the leafy University Quarter - is a must for beer lovers. It's run by Northern Ireland's pioneering real ale company Hilden, and boasts Belfast's only microbrewery, dishing up a dozen delicious beers. Belfast is also home to countless small batch drink companies, with Jawbox Small Batch Gin, Red Bonny Dark Rum, Braemble Gin Liqueur and Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey all winning recent awards. And did we mention the large array of pubs Belfast has to offer? Make like royalty and head to the Crown Saloon or a pub like the Dirty Onion to get your drink on!
Taste It All
Why not take part in a food tour - enjoy a fun and food filled guided walk to some of the top food and drink spots in Belfast. Taste and Tour offer excellent options including a multi-award winning Belfast Food Tour, a Belfast Gin Jaunt, a Belfast Whiskey Walk and a Brewery Tour as well as bespoke private tours.
See also: Hit the road in Ireland
This article has been produced in association with Cathay Pacific and ireland.com.
Fly to Dublin with Cathay Pacific Airways from $983*pp return. Services start from 2 June 2018. Book now at www.cathaypacific.com.au *Based on 2 passengers travelling together in Economy Class. Terms and conditions apply.