I'm starting to think that I have a type when it comes to wee cafes and restaurants as the word 'kitsch' tends to come up a lot in my reviews. Of course I could justify this in saying that I particularly look out for restaurants expressing their own sense of individuality rather than a corporate job like TGI Friday's where no matter the store you'll see the same Darth Vader mask staring at the same Elvis record with the same dead-eyed staff singing a royalties-free version of Happy Birthday whilst silently wishing for death.
So there's something I really like about Harlem Cafe.
Maybe it's the lady who was working in it who had a sort of air of oblivious happiness, of course I didn't know until I came to write this review that said lady was actually the owner. She projects a nice and untroubled air that really filters down into the restaurant, and the attitude seems to be reflected well among the staff who were good humoured and professional.
Visiting for Sunday brunch with my friends and a hangover I got to play 'guess the celebrity and what did they die from' looking over all the old black and white pictures of rock and punk stars on the wall. It's a good game to play, but you can't just say 'drugs' for every answer.
I went for a simple poached eggs breakfast with bacon, sausage and rocket on sourdough, a simple breakfast with a nice twist, and had an espresso milkshake along with it because of the aforementioned hangover. And you know what, after cappuccinos and martinis I think I've found something else that espresso goes great with.
Also on our table was a scrambled eggs breakfast which also involved smoked salmon, avocado and rocket, and there was also a breakfast bruschetta which I'll admit almost gave me food envy except I was really looking forward to my poached eggs.
I can't pass any comment on the lunch menu as I've never had it but if the food is of similar standard to the breakfast then I imagine it will get the same review: simple with a twist and very tasty.
I think Sunday brunch in Harlem is something that I would enjoy doing with my girlfriend... so I'm going to have to look into getting a girlfriend.
34 Bedford Street, Belfast BT2 7FF
Monday to Friday, 8-5 (Late Friday), Sat 9-Late, Sun 8-4
On street, several multi-storey parks within 5 minute walk
I'm being a bit cheeky in writing this review as I'm doing so in the coffee shop that used to be managed by the lady who now owns the Granary.
The Granary is one of those places that I never really wanted to go to, I had always thought of it as something of a greasy spoon cafe, one of those relics of a bygone era in which the menu choice was chips with brown sauce or chips with ketchup. And me being a snob about my foamy coffees and overpriced under-filled sandwiches it wasn't the place for me.
Snap forward to when the Granary was taken over by the aforementioned lady who used to run one of the local chain coffee shops in town. Apparently it wasn't a greasy spoon before takeover, but at the risk of sounding ageist it was an 'old persons' cafe, and according to my mum all the regulars were leaving because 'they introduced a load of healthy stuff onto the menu'.
But it seems to have bounced back, good food tells the tale.
As a wife and husband team the Granary has a great friendly atmosphere, good coffee, good food, and the kind of kitsch 'creaky floorboards' surroundings that people are paying big money to replicate in Belfast.
I went for a Power Bowl plate of steamed green veg with grilled chicken fillet, somewhat healthier than I was planning and the portion was bigger than I was expecting. I was torn before ordering because the chicken burrito special on the menu board sounded quite awesome.
Whilst I was waiting for my food I saw several large plates of sandwiches and paninis coming from the kitchen, so the one thing to take away from this review if nothing else is that you will not go hungry dining here.
The pastries all seemed to be homemade, which is a big bonus in these days of desserts that have been blast frozen and then defrosted on the day like the food had been put into hypersleep and then reawakened in time for a Weyland Yutani plot twist.
Sorry, there're the movie references spilling over from when I did the review for Sam Neill's Two Paddocks Pinot Noir.
The Granary is a cosy little spot, I'd say seating maybe 20 plus a couple of tables outside, but during the half hour I was there I also counted about two dozen people getting lunch to go which is a pretty good testament for their product given the level of competition in the town.
So long story short I think it's a pretty good spot for a healthy lunch or a good sandwich, and a nice coffee. And with a good friendly atmosphere that will keep people coming back.
50 James Street, Cookstown BT80 8LT
Monday to Saturday, 9-5.30 (9pm Thursday)
Made in Belfast City Hall is one of those wee places you might not find if you didn't know where to look, or one of those little gems that you stumble into. It all depends if you're having a goal orientated day or waiting to see where your feet will take you.
The interior is very 'urban cafe' with mismatched furniture, random tiles, posters and graffiti, and exposed brick and pipe. It all looks very cool and I find is a great place to impress when you're out with a few friends.
But lets talk about the food, that's the important part when reviewing a restaurant after all.
The food is awesome.
Myself, I'm fond of the flat iron steak (served medium rare) with beef shortrib, buttermilk onion rings, and beef fat fries... today as any other day it came out to perfection.
Their burgers are a nice big handmade affair, and of course there are baskets of chicken wings, cups of soup with tasty big lumps of foccacia bread, big pots of mussels... oh I could go on and on.
They make a big thing about having sustainably sourced and ethical foods, which I'll admit I always think is a gimmick when I see that in any restaurant, but I do get the feeling that MiB is actually trying.
The menu caters well for vegetarians and vegans, but to be honest given that I've waxed-lyrical about the flat iron steak I'm probably not the man to talk to about that.
Cocktails is something that Made in Belfast has a good reputation for, although since I'm normally driving I can't say I've sampled anything, and the last date I took there considered gin and tonic to be the only cocktail that she needed. Fortunately the gin selection is fantastic, so there's a reason for you to go and check it out.
The beer selection is pretty decent, although craft beer is exclusively Whitewater Brewery. If you've been following my reviews you'll know that I think this is no bad thing, but it is an area I think Made in Belfast have room to broaden their horizons given the sheer spectrum of local craft currently on the market, perhaps as beer specials or a beer of the week.
Last to mention about Made in Belfast City Hall is the service: I can't speak highly enough about the team. They're friendly, on the ball, and (for example) when you land in on a rainy day with a party of six and no booking they'll do their best to squeeze you in (I promise I won't make a habit of that).
Units 1 & 2 Wellington Building, Wellington Street, Belfast
7 days a week
On street and nearby multistorey
This review applies only to Made in Belfast City Hall. I haven't eaten in The Grill restaurant mentioned on the website, I'll do a separate review whenever I have. It also does not apply to the Cathedral Quarter restaurant.
The Perch Rooftop Bar is one of those places in Belfast that I was always hearing about but had never actually been to, mostly because if I had been enjoying a drink in sister bar Sweet Afton I would later turn toward the city centre rather than look around the corner of the building to head upstairs.
I finally managed to correct this deficiency in my knowledge and I found The Perch to be something of a kitsch gem. The darkened entrance tunnel is lit by fairy lights as birds twitter from speakers all around and then you travel a manned lift to to the top floor of the old converted warehouse, or you can walk five storeys if you are feeling energetic.
The bar itself sits in the centre of a bright and airy room, half of which is permanently covered and half of which has a retractable roof to make the most of those rare days of sunlight that cook us up like vampires.
The furniture is a mix of trendy conservatory and patio furniture, along with a few stools and long tables, with wooden floors on the inside and artificial grass outside. It's quirky without being annoyingly so.
Cocktails are the big selling point on the menu, but they also have a decent selection of more niche beers on tap (I won't say 'Craft' because I have a friend who would have a coronary if I called the Coor's owned Franciscan Well beers Craft), and the mandatory prosecco.
I was quite surprised to see that they also offered a decent range of pizzas and nibbles to snack on, but I know usually that if I had the option to sit and graze all day I would probably never leave, so fair play.
I had a giggle to myself when I noticed that they literally just sawed through the joices of the old Victorian warehouse to lift the roof off and make the bar, that's the ingenuity we're famed for.
And you know what, the whole thing works. There is just something cool about sitting on a patio sofa drinking a cold beer on a sunny day five storeys above the traffic.
The Gate, 42 Franklin Street, Belfast
7 days a week
On street and nearby multistorey, but don't be thick if you're driving