Eating Out: The Berliner a place where a hack like me can feel right at home
1-3 Lower Garfield Street
028 9023 9163
A BERLINER, for those of you who don't know, is a newspaper size – slightly larger than a tabloid, smaller than a broadsheet; it's also the name of a bar in Lower Garfield Street in Belfast.
As long as I can remember there's been a bar at that spot, in the still slightly run-down but characterful part of town. For a while it was the Aether and Echo, which started off painfully hipster but ended up full of Smicky young people with Caesar haircuts.
Before that it was the Deer's Head which attracted a clientele that in my day job as a security journalist I would refer to simply as 'contacts' – and, given I have a duty to protect my sources, I'll say no more about that.
The shape and style of the bar hasn't changed but the interior is now full of newspaper-themed memorabilia, which naturally appealed to me. I love print news, the feel and smell of a newspaper. It may not be the popular medium it once was but that doesn't dampen my passion for my profession.
The Berliner is the type of place hacks would have happily occupied in the halcyon days of newspapers. Back then they were all men with questionable dress sense. Now we have gender equality but also have to account for our time – daytime drinking is no longer an acceptable working hours pastime, so it's just as well I'd booked a day off.
There were meant to be three of us having lunch but the date had been arranged on what turned out to be the coldest day of the year and we were a woman down due to snow and an inaccessible hill.
With just two of us and the Siberian chill making my face hurt, I was glad to get indoors and into a booth. Both of us off work and so both straight on the beer, a Hop House and a Coors. I'm a Millie so no surprise the Coors was mine.
The bar wasn't busy but it would have been too chilly for polar bears outside so that was hardly surprising. A wee guy I'll call Mano, because he looked like a Mano, was told he couldn't be served because he was in a full trackie, which would indicate the new management are going for an older, less likely to wreck the place crowd.
The menu is really interesting and varied for what is essentially pub grub. There are bar snacks such as duck spring rolls, chipolatas and pork bon bons.
We started with some small plates to see how far they'd stretch. Buffalo wings, potted brown crab and goats cheese fritters. The wings were the best you're ever like to taste, with a kick that caught the back of your throat. I love a good hot wing and these were really good hot wings.
The potted crab was served on paper-thin little crusty toasts. There was a generous portion but it needed something else – lime a bit of chilli maybe? The goats cheese fritters were like little bon bons, pretty as a picture, served with candied walnuts and beetroot. There was lots to share, more than enough for two thirsty patrons seeking shelter from the cold.
While the food element of that pursuit was a delicious success, the shelter from the cold thing not so much: the Berliner occupies an old building and it was cold in the booth by the window. In fairness it was Baltic outside but it got a bit much so we moved to a warmer seat elsewhere.
Service was perfectly pitched; there was good banter from the barman and waiter.
Rather than go for two mighty main courses, which were comforting chicken pot pie, steaks, smoked haddock and delicious-sounding braised short rib with champ and Guinness gravy, we ordered the short rib sliders with bacon jam to share.
It was a dish that made me want to go back for the full short rib – the shredded beef inside those mini soft burger buns was the stuff of legends. I don't really know what bacon jam is but, trust me, you'll love it.
We had more beer and then the political nerd I was lunching with ordered an apple crumble and custard. It was all right – I tasted it. Wouldn't rush back for it but then pudding isn't my thing.
The Berliner is everything you want from a bar – cold beer, friendly staff, delicious. satisfying food but they need to turn the heating up a notch or two.
Potted crab £6.50
Goats cheese £7.50
Hot wings £5.95
Short rib slider £9.95
Apple crumble £5.50
Hop House £4.40 x 3
Coors Light £3.80 x3