Our Man in Milliways - Northern Whig, Belfast
Created | Updated Jun 20, 2010
The Northern Whig, Belfast
The Northern Whig is never hard to find. Slap bang in the middle of Belfast, it's a five-minute walk from the City Hall, the River Lagan, the Art College buoys, and St Anne's Cathedral with its daft stainless steel spike. All this means it's a great place to meet, and it's easy to find when the smells from every kitchen start making you hungry. The siren's song pulled us right in before we looked further afield - or perhaps it was the vuvuzelas warning us away from certain other eateries. Either way, in we went.
We arrived about 7 o'clock, and Tuesdays are no restaurant's busiest night, so we had plenty of elbow room as we started to ponder at the menu. It offered a pretty good range; local, seasonal favourites along with dishes from further afield. There were quite a few more vegetarian options than a leafy salad, too, to my co-muncher's satisfaction. It isn't always the case! After some deliberation, she plumped for a "Sizzling Moroccan vegetable tagine" - and "sizzling" it certainly was!
I was drooling over a venison stew with pastry croute, shallots, pearl barley, Guinness and assorted root vegetables, but sadly it wasn't to be had. Out of season. So I went for a delicious rib-eye steak instead. When it arrived, it was cooked just a tiny bit more than I'd asked for. I forgave them for this when I put the first piece in my mouth. I don't know how they got that flavour, but it nearly made me cry. I started making plans to kidnap the chef and chain him in my kitchen.
The tagine arrived in its lovely little dish - and when the top was removed we knew what they meant about the sizzle. If you spilled it, you would have needed a skin graft! It bubbled away like a good 'un. We were slightly disappointed that they took the little chimney away, because we wanted to admire it and play with it, but that's life. The tagine came served with cous cous, which proved to be a little dry - and it was felt that it would do better if there were some flat breads on offer instead. It smelled fantastic, and had a subtle clove-y taste. There was one keynote spice in there, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. I offered Mal some of my chips in return, and as the spices began to kick in, I think she was glad about that. "Ah, at last! Something mealy to cleanse my palate..." But damn. That steak was good. I could have eaten three of them.
Interesting. The building served first as a club and hotel1, then as the base of the Northern Whig newspaper2, and now it's back as a restaurant and bar3. Nice high ceilings in the restaurant mean that the big stone socialist realist statues4 don't really feel like they are looming over you. In contrast to these, the lightbox-mounted black-and-white photographs of male and female models on the wall look like something from a perfume advertisement in an airport - they really want to axe them. At the time we were there, most of the other diners seemed to be groups of co-workers, but it made for some entertaining people-watching. Backing music: familiar music from the past ten years. Nothing remarkable, but nothing too objectionable, other than a Bob Dylan cover by a singer who decided Bob Dylan should sound musical. The live music they have on a Friday is much more appealing, but tonight's was more low-key. Not bad, though.
Good waiting staff have an odd kind of telepathy born of experience and skill. I don't know how she did it, but our waitress almost seemed to know what I wanted almost before I knew myself. The only reason I'm not giving a 10 is that she stole our wee tagine chimney.
Being so central, The Northern Whig is a great spot to meet up in Belfast. The flavour of that steak is still in my mind, and I'm still trying to pinpoint the elusive spice in the tagine. We didn't sample the cocktails, but they do a wide variety of them (which they'll helpfully tell you about if you're interested). With each main course costing around £8 - not much more than a bagful of sugary blah in the MacDonalds around the corner - it's well worth a visit.