Categories: Luxury Weekends

There’s no doubt that Northern Ireland has put itself on the culinary map in recent years. It’s a fact that’s been recognised in the growing number of Michelin star or Bib Gourmand restaurants now on the scene. And it means you know you’re in for a gastronomic delight – whether you’re pushing the boat out for a special occasion or having a more modest night out. So, who are the stars?

The Muddlers Club, Belfast

Down a quiet street in Belfast’s bustling Cathedral Quarter, this little gem is the newest winner of a Michelin star, featuring in the 2020 guide. Fresh, local ingredients are at the heart of its menu, while an open kitchen means all the cooking theatrics are on full view to the diners. So, for entertainment value too, The Muddlers Club is a go-to spot for foodie visitors.

Eipic, Belfast

Eipic is Irish for epic and this restaurant is certainly that. Part of Michael Deane’s empire in Belfast, Eipic has three key menus to choose from and offers exceptional wine pairing. Local produce takes precedence, as does seasonality, and Executive Chef Michael Deane's approach is unfailingly progressive. The elegant and inviting Howard Street dining room suits the delicate, innovative and beautifully presented food just perfectly.

OX, Belfast, one Michelin star

It’s all industrial lighting, salvaged seating and an open kitchen at the Michelin starred OX on Belfast’s Oxford Street. The bare brick whitewashed walls are intentionally devoid of decoration, as the real artwork is presented on each plate. With an enthusiastic approach to seasonality, OX’s modern Irish cuisine uses the best locally sourced ingredients and each dish is designed to ensure that every element has a role in showcasing them. A carefully compiled wine list features local microbreweries and exciting wine makers.

Clenaghans Restaurant, County Down, Michelin Bib Gourmand

Located in an 18th century traditional stone building, Clenaghans Restaurant fuses the old with the new to offer modern comfort in a cosy interior. Roaring fires and candlelight set the scene for Head Chef Leigh Ferguson’s incredible food which uses only quality locally sourced ingredients. Dishes here include Mourne Lamb, steak tartare, quail and homemade scotch eggs.

Wine & Brine, County Down, Michelin Bib Gourmand

Great British Menu fans might recognise regional champion, Chris McGowan. After 20 years in London, McGowan opened the doors to his first solo venture in Moira just before Christmas 2015. Less than a year later, Wine & Brine captured a Michelin Bib Gourmand – proof that the London inspired elegance of the menu is paired with affordability.

Local is everything here. The restaurant’s butcher is a stone’s throw away. The greens and grains are picked from the surrounding soils and the beers are brewed locally too. Make sure to try McGowan’s famous ‘tongue ’n’ cheek’ pie.

James St, Belfast, Michelin Bib Gourmand

James St is a key player in veteran chef Niall McKenna’s restaurant repertoire. The restaurant gained a Bib Gourmand status for doing things simply and well. The menu changes according to what’s local and seasonal and the beef, cooked on a Josper grill, is renowned for its unbelievable taste and texture. Red brick walls, high ceiling and warehouse style windows make for a light, unpretentious setting, as befits the unshowy menu.

Home, Belfast, Michelin Bib Gourmand

With exposed columns and cool industrial fittings, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into a hipster New York deli at Home. This Belfast eatery is a bustling hub of wholesome, locally sourced, quality ingredients and has retained its Michelin Bib Gourmand since 2013. With Ben Arnold at the helm, the food is vibrant and bold, yet familiar and comforting. It’s famed for long standing menu favourites from its previous life as a pop-up, such as whipped goat’s cheese with candied walnuts or hot and sour Asian chicken broth.

Deanes at Queens, Belfast, Michelin Bib Gourmand

A bustling and informal bar and grill, Bib Gourmand holder Deanes at Queens provides the perfect platform for head chef Chris Fearon, a Great British Menu national finals winner. Fearon’s dishes are inspired and characterised by the seasons, resulting in an adventurous, but approachable, uplifting and earthy menu. Simplicity is key, yet there are deceptively complex innovations in his dishes, all prepared to perfection. The dining room space, the former Queen's University common room, is flooded with light and surrounded by great views.

Fontana, County Down, Michelin Bib Gourmand

A firm favourite in Holywood, Fontana’s good value and great quality ingredients have earned it its Michelin Bib Gourmand status and attracted eager diners from far and wide. The décor is contemporary with an open kitchen, and the seasonal menu is largely British and Mediterranean with an occasional Asian influence. Local seafood plays an integral part with specialities such as Portavogie prawns. Many of the herbs and roots in the dishes are home-grown and foraged, adding to Fontana’s gastronomic allure.

The Old Schoolhouse Inn, County Down, Michelin Bib Gourmand

Stylish and sumptuous, The Old Schoolhouse Inn is just a stone's throw from Strangford Lough in a cosy rural location. It has held a Michelin Bib Gourmand since 2014, and the cuisine at this long standing Comber institution celebrates the finest Northern Ireland produce. Naturally Strangford Lough’s seafood features here. Under chef Will Brown simple, accomplished dishes bursting with flavour and vibrancy flow out of the kitchen – think Comber barley field pigeon, Scrabo cottage pork belly with foie gras sausage roll, or octopus roulade with shaved fennel and smoked eel.

Ready to make your dinner reservation? Or is there too much choice? Well, it’s a wonderful problem to have. And, of course, nobody ever said you had to pick just one. Bon appétit!