Priorities have changed in the last 10 years. Once, we wanted the most original Italian pasta, the richest Swiss chocolate, and smelliest French cheese. Now? Well now we’re much more aware of the impact purchasing imported foods has on our local economy and, perhaps more importantly, we know about all the fantastic local producers who can offer us food that is as good, if not better, than those once-coveted imported smoked meats.
So many restaurants are championing local producers on their menus. Some might say this is fancy marketing - and to an extent it is - but it’s also a reflection of what customers want. We want to support our local farmers, and we want to know exactly where the ingredients that go into our food come from. Why ship in salad leaves from France when the restaurant can pick them fresh that day from their own garden? Why order a steak from Argentina when there is a farmer feeding his cattle 30 minutes away on lush green pastures?
One example of a restaurant that brings together the finest ingredients on its doorstep, complementing the food with a friendly atmosphere and fantastic staff, is James Street South in Belfast.
You may think Belfast is a long way to go for some good food, but with 85 per cent of their ingredients being sourced within a 45 mile radius, it’s worth the trip.
Food tourism is a booming business across the island of Ireland. And the food culture in Belfast is spearheading the campaign for restaurants to source local and eat fresh, simple, and delicious foods.
With the coastline offering up mouthwateringly fresh seafood and a bountiful countryside rearing flavoursome meat and poultry, fruit, and vegetables, it’s no wonder Belfast, and in particular James Street South, is standing out from crowd.
So many dishes on offer at JSS are worth mentioning; like their wood pigeon from Rademon Estate, Crossgar (approximately 15 miles from the restaurant ), which is served with beetroot, orange, and granola. An unusual starter for some, but one you won’t regret ordering.
Their meat, including venison and beef, comes from Crossgar Meats and Kettyle Meats with fish being supplied by fishmongers in the city.
The JSS starter plate is a perfect example of the variety of ingredients on offer, showcasing beef, crab, salmon, and scallops.
The menu reflects the season - over the autumn and winter months it serves up delicious venison and pheasant. Venison is finding increasing popularity on restaurant menus and JSS has perfected the art already, serving a haunch with creamed kale, celeriac, and wild mushrooms. It’s one of those melt-in-the-mouth dishes you’ll be dreaming about for weeks afterwards.
The sirloin of Antrim beef with cauliflower, stilton, and port, and the monkfish with wilted gem, chorizo, lemon prawns, and fennel croquettes, are two stand-out dishes that showcase the talent of the kitchen. Bringing simple ingredients together to make a memorable meal without overdoing it is a huge talent. It takes a lot of skill, patience, and understanding to let the quality of your ingredients speak for themselves.
JSS is run by husband-and-wife team Niall and Joanne McKenna and since opening in 2003 they’ve been making a name for themselves in Belfast city centre. They have worked hard to build relationships with local suppliers, they’ve invested in a welcoming and knowledgable team who can create the best Cosmopolitan you’ll ever have, choose the right wine to go with your meal, and fill you in on the restaurant’s herb garden.
This is fine dining, but it’s not stuffy, or intimidating; it’s fun. It’s an exploration of delicious flavours amongst a room of new friends.
There has never been a better time to be a food tourist in Ireland, and especially Northern Ireland. James Street South in Belfast is just one of many must-try eateries in Northern Ireland - but make it your first.