I’m always willing to travel for good food, in fact most of the time that is the deciding factor in my destination choice for a jaunt. Pair this road-trip relishing with a soft spot for a certain Northern city and there was no chance I was passing up the opportunity to hop on the Dine Around Deanes tour bus for a night of Belfast revelry.
I had first heard of Dine Around Deanes when TheTaste interviewed the Belfast food hero that is Michael Deane and was immediately tempted to head up the M1 for what sounded like the perfect night – a double decker red tour bus tour of four of Michael’s restaurants, with a course and a tipple in each. Running on Friday nights having been introduced as a special event in 2013, Dine Around Deanes is so popular it is booked out months in advance, so to celebrate nabbing tickets it was only right that we made a night out of it and opted to stay the night in the Northern Irish Capital.
With my sister in tow, we hopped in my Mini and were Belfast bound and the short drive flew by knowing a night of foodie fun awaited us. Pulling up outside our home for the night, we were immediately impressed. If there is one word to describe The Fitzwilliam Belfast, it is undoubtedly slick. Everything from the lime accented accessories to sultry black mirrored hallways screams ultra modern chic. You can’t help but feel like a little bit of a starlet handing your car keys over to the top-hat touting valet and making your way through the wall to wall glass, skyscraper ceiling lobby.
Arriving in our sixth floor room, we were greeted by a plateful of bespoke baked treats, signature lime-green pistachio macarons, amaretti and fudge which momentarily drew our attention away from the stunning art deco furnishings. A king size, turquoise pillow head-board, a jade button cushion couch and dimly light low hanging lamps ensure your room is as uber stylish as the rest of the hotel, no detail has been overlooked. A striking black tiled bathroom with a roomy waterfall power shower and generous double-ended bath completed the luxe feel of the room.
If we didn’t have exciting dinner plans, I would have 100% protested leaving the hotel. For a city-centre space which will often end up being just a place to sleep, The Fitzwilliam is an extremely tempting abode. A quick change meant we were raring to go and hopped in a taxi to Lisburn Road, where the first stop on our tour was set to begin at Deane’s casual Italian-inspired eatery, Deane and Decano.
We were greeted by Kinga, our lovely guide to the Deane’s empire for the evening, who ensured our hands were quickly filled with a glass of chilled prosecco as we took our seat at the counter for some pre-tour nibbles. Nibbles these were not, we were presented with four generous taster plates of Caprese Salad, Napoli Sausage, Handmade Pesto Rigatoni and Crab Crostini.
Although not a pasta fan, I must admit the rigatoni was particularly good and perfectly al dente, but I was mostly taken by the fiery Napoli sausage cooked in a fennel-rich tomato base which extremely more-ish. Aisling enjoyed most of the crostini but my little taste told me the crab in question was fantastically fresh and beautifully seasoned. We could happily have sat here all night nibbling on small bites, Deane and Decano was positively buzzing, but our carriage, the iconic red double decker bus, awaited.
A short and scenic trip through the Queen’s quarter of East Belfast, catching a glimpse of the famous Botanic Gardens, led us to our second stop – Deanes at Queen’s. Sitting in the shadow of the majestic Queen’s University, like a red-brick Northern Irish Hogwarts, DQ was certainly no dodgy student eatery. We had barely stepped through the door when we were handed a candy pink Cosmopolitan each before being welcomed to an informal Cosmo making masterclass. One of Deanes’ lovely mixologists talked us through the steps to the perfect Sex and the City tipple, flaming orange rind and all, in a Northern drawl as enjoyable as the Cosmo itself!
With our appetites whetted, we sat down to enjoy our starters, a Smoked Haddock Fishcake, which sat in a pool of flavourful gazpacho with a delicious spicy kick alongside a zingy lime spiked avocado mousse. Fishcakes can be too potato-heavy but these had a crisp exterior and plenty of smokey, meaty haddock within. The spiced contrast from the gazpacho followed by cooling avocado put a modern twist on a classic favourite, which we both enjoyed with a glass of chilled Prosecco looking out onto the University.
The time again came to board our chariot, this time venturing into the heart of Deane’s territory – Howard Street, where a sprawling premises houses not one but three of Deane’s ventures with Meat Locker, Love Fish and Michelin-Starred EIPIC all on site. We are ushered into an already buzzing Love Fish, where the decor is seriously fun but rustic slick with white walls, wooden accents with iced mounds of shellfish scattered throughout. Adorning the walls are quotes from Deane himself as well as my favourite And I do love fish, so I was really excited to sample some here!
Don’t get me wrong, I was presented with a roasted bone-in chicken breast drizzled with a deep mushroom jus, which was perfectly cooked and super succulent alongside a delicious bar of dauphinoise, but to be honest I was a little disappointed to see it wasn’t a seafood based dish in Love Fish.
My sister, a pescetarian, was served a plump fillet of cod on rustic Mediterranean tomatoes, which again was perfectly cooked within underneath a crisp, scored skin – just how I like my fish. In fact, I was a little jealous. Our main courses were accompanied by Chez Deaneo house wines with a funky little caricature of the man himself emblazoned on the label, designed by Belfast artist Brian John Spencer – a playful touch on a night where fun was definitely paramount. I enjoyed a rich and full bodied Syrah while Aisling’s cod was well matched with a light and crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Spirit in the sky blared over the speakers on the way to our final stop Deanes Deli Vin Cafe, with everyone in high spirits themselves, singing along and dancing in the bus to dessert. While the group was comprised of everyone from couples on a rare baby-sitter covered night to girls night gangs in their glad rags, there was a very convivial atmosphere throughout, with a communal tables in Deane’s at Queens and Love Fish meaning everyone got to mingle and chat about the food. The group was made up of mostly Northerners delighted to hear we had come from Dublin for a little taste of the Belfast food scene, of which they were very proud.
Arriving to a dimly lit Deli Vin Cafe, we were greeted with a fantastic atmosphere to end the night, with live music and a packed bar to boot . A man on a guitar serenaded us with upbeat tunes and I can definitely see why this Deane’s gem was at capacity on a Friday night, a great find for two girls with no clue where to begin looking for funky spot with good vibes in an unfamiliar city.
Despite being a little bit away from the main Deane’s hub in Howard Street, locals clearly associate the name with quality and flock here in their droves, and after dessert I can see why. A dreamily mousse-like chocolate cheesecake was my idea of a heavenly dessert, with the perfect tart citrus sorbet cutting across the mouth-enveloping cocoa hit. I was very pleased indeed that Aisling isn’t as much of a chocoholic as myself, even if that means admitting I polished *slightly* more than one slice myself…
After our action packed day and a whistle-stop tour of four fabulous Deane’s delights, we were extremely full and entirely spent, unlike many of our fellow tour-takers who were bedding in for a fantastic Friday night on the tiles. With our desserts polished, Kinga kindly drew us a map to get back to the Fitzwilliam – data roaming is expensive people! Only a quick 5 minute stroll past the iconic City Hall saw us back in our luxurious abode, taking in a quick night cap (mine an Old Fashioned, but of course) before sinking into one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve enjoyed in quite some time.
Had we not been offered an ample breakfast at the Fitzwilliam there’s a good chance Aisling and I would have wandered back to one of Deane’s diners for a leisurely brunch (I heard Deane and Decano is the place to be for this) before heading home, safe in the knowledge that we would be served up a treat. Alas, we were stuffed and the M1 was looming so with heavy hearts we left behind lovely Belfast, both agreeing that a return trip to this Northern gem was on the cards as soon as possible.
What I loved most about Dine Around Deanes was the fact that you get to see the many faces of Belfast, the city itself, the lovely locals, the fantastic food scene and the impact Michael Deane has made on it over the years. There are some who would prefer to spend £70 a head on a Michelin-starred evening in Danni Barry’s EIPIC upstairs at Howard Street (and this is on my to-do list) but Dine Around is a different experience altogether and memorable for far more than the food.
This is the beauty of the Michael Deane Empire – he has every angle covered and every appetite, experience and budget catered for. He is a true food hero, in Belfast and beyond. Dine Around Deanes allows you to sample four different restaurants, meet four teams of fantastic front of house and taste the delights of four different kitchens all in one night – more unique dining experiences than most of us would have in a month, with fun and laughs by the bucket load. That’s what you pay for.
To inquire about Dine Around Deanes tickets click here.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!