Gareth Huw Davies

Travel / Travel Blog

How good food became Northern Ireland’s big selling point

Wine and Brine, a small restaurant in Northern Ireland, was named as local restaurant of the year in the Waitrose Good Food Guide 2017. Another culinary coup for the province in 2016, which is Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink.


I was delighted to see Wine and Brine in the small Northern Irish town of Moira in County Down named in the Waitrose magazine last weekend (September 3, 2016) as local restaurant of the year in the Waitrose Good Food Guide 2017.

What the article didn’t note is that Wine and Brine is very close to another excellent local food emporium in Moira, McCartneys, also on Main St, which I picture here. It has a cafe-bistro inside.

Photo – GHD 

It is one of a number of first-class fresh food retailers combined with a cafe in Northern Ireland – another I know is the Coffee Yard in High Street, Holywood, just outside Belfast. This has an adjoining art gallery, with works for sale.

The article did not say, and perhaps it should have, that 2016 is Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink, and if you had no other reason to visit the province (which I doubt, because there are now so many, from Game of Thrones locations and the now wonderfully 20th century-free Giant’s Causeway, to the Titanic Belfast, named European visitor attraction of 2016) you should go there for the food.

I will begin just by naming some I’ve sampled this summer.

We began with a late-night, after a long day travelling, dinner in the Bushmills Inn Restaurant.
The next night, to the Walled City Brewery in Ebrington Square, Derry-Londonderry, where they serve simple pub food with a tapas theme and craft beers “in small artisan batches”.
On, the following evening, to the main restaurant in the Lough Erne Resort where the chef is the cheerful and engaging Noel McMeel.
Then to Deanes Restaurant in Belfast, where there is a choice of restaurants as good as in any provincial town or city on the British mainland. The adjoining Eipic is one of two Michelin starred restaurants in the city.

Even our “down to earth” hamburger the next evening, in the bar in the Malmaison hotel in Belfast was perfectly acceptable.

The province’s focus on food is not new. I liked the way the Everglades in Derry promote the suppliers to its all-N. Ireland breakfast menu with booklets at each table introducing the producers who raise the cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, oats and tomatoes that make up the ingredients.

The Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink is broadening the campaign. It helps that rents are lower in N Ireland than they might be on the mainland, and significantly more so than in the south-east of England where entire towns are good food deserts. Places like McCartneys in Moira demonstrate show how an existing well-established business has invested to expand into what they describe as a cafe-bistro. Then the Waitrose Good Food Guide magazine winner Wine and Brine was encouraged to take its chance just up the street.

It also helps that the province is quite small, and ingredients don’t have to travel far to the table. There is a strong sense of place, and the common feeling that good food is a worthwhile enterprise that producers would want to take part in.  (You will eat imported food too, of course. I’m not suggesting Northern Ireland is self-sufficient.)

The province strives to set out some distinctive selling points as it builds its tourism industry after the long agony of The Troubles. it seems to have hit on a winning formula, in this case food. And there’s plenty of room for more good cooks and dedicated local food producers to join in.

They are likely to be inspired by the creative chefs and retailers, currently working in Northern Ireland, and be emboldened by local people’s evident interest in good food.