Anthony Bourdain in Belfast: 3 Spots Where Tony Ate
When most people plan a trip to Ireland, they forget that the island is actually two countries: Ireland and Northern Ireland. It has been 100 years since this single island became two nations, and for most of that time, it hasn’t been easy or prosperous on either side. While Belfast was originally more economically successful (and thus Northern Ireland was kept as part of the United Kingdom), this heavy-industrial city struggled to develop in more recent decades*.
Having historic context helps frame the time spent by Anthony Bourdain in Belfast, as his focus is as much on social and political aspects of life in Belfast as it is on the food you can find there.
Anthony Bourdain visited Belfast once, while filming the “Ireland” episode (season 3, episode 1) of No Reservations; this is the only time he visits the Northern Irish capital on-screen during any of his shows. He visits during 2006, an interesting time when southern neighbor Ireland is prospering due to its participation in the E.U., while Northern Ireland – as part of the U.K. – is still finding its footing.
*Belfast has developed tremendously since Tony’s visit in 2006, and indeed my own trip through in 2013. A trip there today is very different than what Bourdain saw almost two decades ago, and this is an exciting prospect for visitors.
If you’re planning or considering a trip to Belfast and want to eat at the same places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Belfast on his Irish trip, you’re in luck. There aren’t many, but two of the three are still open and happy to pull you a pint of Guinness.
Want to watch the episode where Anthony Bourdain visits Belfast?
The Ireland episode of No Reservations is available on Amazon and Hulu.
The Rock Bar
Anthony Bourdain kicked off his time in Belfast at one of the city’s famous pubs, The Rock Bar. Here, he enjoys – as you might guess – a pint of Guinness while introducing himself and us as viewers to the history of Bellfast.
Though it’s been over 15 years since Tony’s visit, The Rock Bar is still going strong today; it’s a popular spot to watch local and national football (i.e. soccer for us North Americans) and they usually have live music 3-4 nights per week.
The Crown Liquor Saloon
After his first Guinness, Tony sets out on two black cab tours; a bit of research suggests it may be these two companies: cabtoursNI and Black Taxi Tours. On each tour, he learns about the history and perspectives of the two sides involved in The Troubles – the Catholics and the Protestants – and then brings both of his driver guides together for a meal to discuss life in Belfast.
Over plates of Irish Stew (lamb, potatoes, carrot, and onion) and Beef and Guinness Pie, the three men talk about Belfast’s past and present, and the hope they have for the future, which they toast with pints of Guinness, naturally.
This all occurs at what Bourdain calls on-screen “The Crown Saloon.” My research suggests it’s The Crown Liquor Saloon, and is now a Nicholson’s pub (part of a large pub conglomerate). Undoubtedly due to this ownership, Tony would undoubtedly say the pub has lost some of its character and charm – but both Irish Stew and Steak & Guinness Pie are still on the menu, so that’s one positive!
Finally, Bourdain meets up with a fellow chef, Paul Rankin, who at the time was widely considered Northern Ireland’s best chef and the first to earn a Michelin star. The two meet at his restaurant Cayenne, which unfortunately closed during the global recession, for a meal of Asian-Irish fusion and to talk about Irish people’s changing tastes.
While you can’t have the same meal, it’s worth mentioning the dishes they tried as they sound delicious and other restaurants in Belfast today were inspired by Rankin’s influence and you may find equally innovative dishes elsewhere.
The two chefs have a multi-course meal consisting of an Oriental appetizer plate (salmon terriyaki, tempura prawns, sushi, and “Japanese-style ceviche”), lobster and chicken won-tons with spicy lobster jus, Irish beef filet with miso glaze and wild rice potato pancake and Asian-style herb salad, and Irish lamb loin with spiced potatoes and kimchi.
They toast the meal with red wine and Irish whiskey and Tony expresses his hope that great food like this continues to be available in Belfast. While there have been times where this calibre of food was not on offer in the Northern Irish capital, today there are three one-Michelin-star restaurants in Belfast (and two more with the Bib Gourmand) you might visit as an alternative.
Belfast Tours to Try
While I normally include a section of recommended food tours to try as an alternative to the restaurants listed above, there actually aren’t many good food tours in Belfast. Instead, here’s the best food tour in Belfast that I could find, plus two black taxi tours you can book and experience as Bourdain did.
Have any other questions about dining at the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Belfast, or experiencing the city in the same ways he did? Let me know in the comments below!