Still haven't been to Belfast? Please, fix this grave error immediately. I've been to Belfast more times in the last six months than I have in my entire life for one simple reason: it's better than Dublin.
There, I've said it. #Sorrynotsorry.
Creative restaurants and cocktail bars that look like they've been lifted up from Shoreditch and planted in Belfast city means that a weekend break here has all the cosmopolitan joys of London without the hassle of flying over there.
My most recent trip up north led me to Hadskis, the third restaurant owned by Niall and Joanne McKenna (the other two are James Street South and The Bar + Grill.)
Opened in October 2014, Hadskis was born out of one man’s love for making pots and pans, and another man’s love for cooking great food, combining the two in one of Belfast’s most prominent Commercial Court's entries. While Belfast has some 500 restaurants, Hadskis is a name that's always mentioned in dinner recommendations and has received a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide in honour of its classy cooking at fair prices.
What's the vibes?
Nestled between Hill St. and Donegall St. in the Cathedral Quarter, you'll find an eclectic little dining room with an open kitchen counter, where you can watch the chefs cook up a storm.
I was seated down the other end of the room which offered a more private vibe - despite the tables being close together you'll feel like you're in your own little world.
Hadskis was absolutely buzzing on the Friday night and it was a real mix of customers, from families to gals on a night out and loved-up couples. My boyfriend was doing dry January so although my hopes of a shared bottle of wine were dashed it meant I had no excuse not to try something from their cocktail menu.
So far, so great.
What's on the menu?
Here you'll taste an ever-changing menu of daily specials alongside some classic European dishes. Produce is locally sourced where possible and their wine list offers a great range of European wines by the glass, carafe and bottle (gotta watch that carbon footprint, y'know).
The menu at Hadskis has that beautiful yet annoying problem of having so many delish options it's almost impossible to choose, and you're guaranteed to have food envy.
Consider it a reason to return again and again...
For starters we (eventually) went with the Chicken and Ham Terrine with Foie Gras and Apricot and the Spiced Meatballs with Orecchiette, Harissa and Parmesan
The chicken and ham terrine was a meaty feast with a flavoursome foie gras jewel wedged into the middle, and two crispy slices of bread provided a base to spread the whole thing onto. A watercress salad and the apricot compote were a nice fresh touch.
The meatballs? Oh boy, those meatballs. Almost a dinner in itself, they were tender in a rich passata sauce and smothered in Parmesan cheese. The orecchiette (literally 'little ears' shaped pasta) was slightly overcooked for me but I like my pasta with a bite and the flavour was so divine I wasn't too bothered.
My boyfriend was scooping up every single last bite from the bowl and loved them.
The main event consisted of three dishes - we couldn't choose just two.
I went with the Grilled Monkfish with Harissa, Mussels and Charred Lime, my bf went with the Sirloin Steak, Chips and Pepper Sauce and we shared a Spaghetti Carbonara because it stated it was cooked with guanciale instead of boring ol' pancetta and I just couldn't resist.
The monkfish was chunky and soft and the harissa added a spicy kick to the mussels. This is the kind of dish you'd see in a fishing village in southern Europe, simply cooked and letting the flavour of the fish do the talking.
The steak was juicy and chargrilled, fries were skin on and addictively crispy. What more is there to say about a fantastic steak? When it's done well, you can't beat it.
As for that gluttonous carbonara that we didn't need but desperately wanted... I only wish our bellies were bigger because it was - and I rarely say this about pasta - perfect. The guanciale (a cured meat from the pig cheek with a much bolder flavour than pancetta) was panfried and crispy. Yum.
What's the damage?
We finished with a creamy White Chocolate Creme Brûlée to round off a satisfyingly indulgent meal. With every crack of my spoon shattering the caramelised sugar on top my memories of the gym faded away... Desserts and I will always be BFFs.
For two starters, three mains (please, do not judge our lack of self control), a dessert to share and one Aperol Spritz, dinner came to £86.50, not including tip.
Rolling out of there back into the pretty fairy-light filled laneway, we saw there was space for tables in the lane when the weather gets better.
Looks like a summertime trip is on the cards, although chances are I'll be up well before then for another bite of that dreamy carbonara.