The Day Off
It isn’t as big as Mr Bueller’s day off, but it’s my day off. I’m using it to wander around and immerse myself in the wonders of Belfast, and trying to boldly go where I’ve previously avoided going, just because it seemed like more effort than it was worth previously. I started my journey the way many start, at Great Victoria station on the 9 o’clock train from Lurgan. My first stop was the Fountain Centre on College road, just to the front of City Hall. This is a place I walk past all the time, but have never considered exploring it. Work was beginning on what I presume was a renovation, but generally the area was well finished and there were a selection of reasonably upmarket stores. Including one art gallery/craft store with a small bowl in the window for £130! Insanity if you ask me, but some people have more money than sense, or have to house some very expensive trinkets, or alternatively have to place something on their rather extravagant display plinth (which at the time seemed over the top, but you never know when a good display plinth will come in handy). It is ambitious at the very least, but I’ve seen worse. My next stop was to be Sawer’s, which is a deli and fancy food place, but I passed on it because they were just opening up at that stage.
The Hunt for Breakfast
One of my fondest memories of going into Belfast years ago was getting an Ulster Fry in the Chalet d’Or, a rather fantastic and quirky café opposite Cash Convertors. They were without doubt the best, and our regular haunt, but unfortunately they closed and were replaced by a not so excellent place. This caused a lot of issues when it came to deciding where to have breakfast, and we wandered aimlessly from fancy café to greasy spoon in search for a good fry-up. This morning involved the usual ritual of wandering between them comparing prices, and the general look of the places. I finally settled for Dr B’s Kitchen, as it was the cheapest at £3 with free tea or filter coffee.
I’ll be the first to say I’m not a fan of the branding and colour scheme of bright green, but the fool that I am, I didn’t realise that this is run by Barnardo’s NI. They train young people with learning difficulties for a career in the catering industry, and have an 80% success rate in placing trainees in full time employment. It is a great idea, and they must be doing something right if they have such a high success rate. The interior was clean and modern, and the staff were very friendly and quick to take my order. Now down to the food itself. I thought to myself, there must be a catch, it can’t be this cheap and taste good too. Apparently I was mistaken. Some of the fries I’ve had in places in and around that area have been dodgy enough, with poor quality ingredients; greasy and cheap. This was the exact opposite, and was properly cooked, and tasted perfect. The fried soda was a little bit too crispy, but everything else was just right, and the right amount too. Not a mountain, but by no means a small portion. It’s worth checking out, and the coffee is pretty good too.
Onwards from Dr B’s, I went wandering up Royal Avenue and ended up in Smithfield market. The market used to excite me as there were all kinds of interesting things when I was younger. Now though, it holds little of interest to me, and I will not go near the computer shop out of principal, though I won’t bore you with that story. Places round here can evoke both a strong positive, and negative reaction in me. After a brief stint in Castlecourt (where nothing good has happened since the gadget shop), I wandered over to the Mourne Seafood Bar to check out the menu. It is one of the top rated places to eat in Belfast according to Trip Advisor, and was an option for lunch. I just got over one meal, and was already thinking about the next! Walking through Castlecourt reminded me of how little I care for shopping centres. I’d much rather support a small independent store with a nice atmosphere, rather than a cold and clinical mega capitalist block. Though, what should I know, I’m a hypocrite. I like shopping in small stores, yet buy the majority of my things online, supporting massive corporations. It’s all part of the strange world we live in. Just walking about Belfast the last few days, I’ve been pleasantly suprised by the number of independent cafés and restaurants dotted around the place. We should be embracing the local businesses and using less of the big chains like Starbucks and Costa (I do like Starbucks mugs, but nothing else). The small places often offer better value for money too, and better quality.
My journey has now brought me through the Linen Hall library and to the front of the City Hall for a seat and space to write. It’s a great space, and it’s nice to see the city still buzzing with people on a weekday morning, even after the close of the World Police and Fire Games. Stay tuned tomorrow for the next installment of my Belfast City Adventure. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life…I consider going on a Hidden Belfast walking tour (but don’t) and almost walk into Sawer’s (but I never quite make it), and the real hunt for lunch begins.