“Belfast has beautiful buildings, the people are so friendly and the food is unreal”

Updated: about 8 hours ago

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Louise White: “The people that run the tour have a really positive relationship with the city council, which sees street art as part of the regeneration of Belfast and are aware of the benefits of it.” Photographs: Declan Devlin

If you haven’t been to Belfast in a while, you haven’t been to Belfast. For cool, culture and cuisine, it’s hard to beat. That’s why we asked Belfast choreographer Eileen McClory to draw up an itinerary custom made to please Dublin theatre director Louise White. Here’s how they got on.

How would you describe yourselves?

Louise: I’m a theatre director who works with real people, stories and events to make alternative and playful performances.

Eileen: I’m a choreographer and dance artist born and bred in West Belfast.

Street art walking tour

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Left to right: Eileen McClory and Louise White at Sashay Away, on Union Street, Belfast

Eileen, why did you choose it?

Louise is an artist so I wanted an itinerary of things that are cool and interesting to do. Belfast has loads of street art at the moment which is really nice.  I didn’t even know the street art in Belfast is curated – I thought people just picked a wall! Our guide Tim is an artist himself and was so knowledgeable and generous with his time. Both he and Adam, who runs it, are locals and the tour made me think of how far we have come. There’s always a sense of the past in Belfast but it’s just so vibrant now, with a real hipster vibe to it.

Louise, what did you think?

It was really interesting to see that these were not political artworks but the work of international artists. The people that run the tour have a really positive relationship with the city council, which sees street art as part of the regeneration of Belfast and are aware of the benefits of it. Because of the history of paramilitary art and murals, international artists want to come and be a part of the legacy of that conversation. Tim has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject and seemed really excited to tell the story of it. Some of it was incredibly detailed and artistic, like the one on the side of a building of the chef holding a lobster.

Find out more about the Street Art Tour

Belfast food tour

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The Mac (Metropolitan Arts Centre) Café Bar

Eileen, why did you choose it?

I was thinking a good tour is one that feeds you!  We’re both foodies and the tour stopped in places such as Buba, a Middle Eastern fusion style restaurant that I love and Jumon, an Asian fusion plant-based restaurant which is just amazing. We went to an artisan cheese shop that is so sustainable that pig farmers come and take away its whey and to MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre), which is my home, and which has a lovely restaurant. We finished at Cave for some dessert and a dessert wine.

Louise, what did you think?

The tour we did was called Belfast Bites and it brought us to 5 different places, with a drink in each, as well as a chance to hear about the stories behind each. At the cheese shop for example, the owner told us how he pairs cheese with craft beers and how he has artists create his labels.  When we went into Jumon, the plant-based restaurant, there were loads of ‘I only eat meat’ guys loving their deep fried cauliflower. There were around 22 people on the tour with us so it was as social as you like.

Find out more about the food tour

Dinner at Ox Belfast

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The Michelin-starred restaurant OX, overlooking the River Lagan

Eileen, why did you choose it?

I had hoped to do the food tour for breakfast, which starts at St George’s Market, but it was full. Instead we ended up finishing the food tour in Cave, and getting changed in its loos to go eat dinner at Ox, next door! It is a Michelin-starred restaurant and we opted for the tasting menu. I had never been before and the whole service was just incredible. I was a waitress years ago in New York and it made me realise just what a bad waitress I was!

Louise, what did you think?

I’d go up to Belfast again just to visit Ox.  The staff were so enthusiastic and attentive, the space was cool and funky, and the whole energy so vibrant. I’m a real foodie and Ox was just unreal. My favourite dish was definitely the celeriac velouté, I keep thinking about it. It was a small dish with celeriac, chestnut, a beautiful foam and a whopper truffle shaving! There was so much flavour in it and it was vegetarian. There was such a lightness of touch for every dish. I thought it was exciting and unusual to have pink peppercorn in our desert; there was rhubarb gin, white chocolate and pink peppercorns. It was plated up exquisitely. There was a dish with halibut squash burnt lemon and curry powder (I think), and it was the perfect balance of soft flaky fish and a warm spice flavour. 

Find out more about Ox Belfast

Kiss Me Kate at the Lyric

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The Metropolitan Arts Centre (the Mac), in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter

Eileen, why did you choose it?

It was a co-pro with Northern Ireland Opera, something we are seeing a lot of here now, which is great. I go to all sorts of performances. The Lyric would be our Abbey while the MAC is more like our Project, a more contemporary theatre and a lot more experimental.

Louise, what did you think?

It was the last performance of Kiss Me Kate and I’m making a musical at the moment so it was really interesting. I’d never been to the Lyric before but it has had a huge amount of investment put into it and the building is incredible. It’s gorgeous and such a nice, welcoming space. It’s also well equipped and resourced, with a very good system for ordering drinks.

Find out what’s on at Lyric Theatre Belfast

Late night drinks

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The Duke of York alleyway, in the Cathedral Quarter 

Eileen, why did you choose it?

Belfast used to be such an early city but now there are bar licences until 1am and night clubs open until 3am and you get lots of live music for free in the bars. I tend to stay around the Cathedral Quarter, but up around Queens University is a student area with another vibe. We had met earlier that day at the Duke of York, which is one of the oldest bars in the city and really cool, with lots of posters and pictures, a very traditional Irish pub but quirky. It’s a fun bar. It’s in a wee alley with loads of benches and in summer people sit out. After the show we went to The Spaniard, which is a really hip bar with an upstairs part with lots of velvet, wood and candles and amazing cocktails.

Louise, what did you think?

It was great craic and filled with people out having good fun. Belfast on a Saturday night is a really thriving city. After that I stayed over at the Ten Square Hotel, which was lovely. The staff were so nice and in the morning it was just a short walk to the train station for the 11.05 back to Dublin. Right beside it I found St George’s Market, which opens at weekends, which was a bonus. It’s a huge indoor and outdoor market at weekends that is filled with music and people making amazing things. I bought great coffee and cupcakes for my kids – just GBP 1 each!

The verdict

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Mike’s Fancy Cheese Shop, Belfast Bites Food Tour

All in all, Eileen, why did you do it?

There’s just so much going on here and so much new development. It’s a far cry from the city I grew up with, and I’m 37. With the Waterfront, the Titanic Centre and Game of Thrones and all the productions being made here by Northern Ireland Screen, we have seen a massive growth in tourism and that’s what we want. Belfast is such a fun city – we are only dying to have visitors so we can show it off!

And Louise, what did you think?

Up until about two years ago I had never even been to Belfast. I don’t know why I hadn’t been before but I’m nearly 40 and it just wasn’t in our psyche.  Now I feel like Belfast is just so well served in terms of foodie places, super cool restaurants and coffee shops. It has all these beautiful buildings, the people are so chatty and friendly, and the food is just unreal.

To find out more about Belfast, visit discovernorthernireland.com

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