Eating Out: Historic Henry's restoration is impressive but I'm not so timeless
4-5 Joys Entry
JOY'S Entry is named after a great family who helped shape Belfast as a city, a family who hit the headlines this week.
The decision to name the regeneration of the Cathedral Quarter area as Tribecca Belfast has been called superficial, with no connection to our city but rather a gentrified area of New York. One caller to a phone-in show discussing the controversy suggested the area be renamed 'Joy's Quarter' after the distinguished family.
Henry Joy McCracken, was a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen; his sister Mary Ann McCracken was a woman with great compassion who dedicated her life to the poor of the city. Their grandfather was paper manufacturing pioneer Francis Joy, founder of the Belfast News Letter, which was at one time printed in Joy's Entry.
The entry for many years was home to McCrackens Bar, which used to be a dead on wee spot but near the end of its life became a bit tired and uninviting.
This brief and not very detailed history lesson is all leading up to my visit to what it has now become, Henry's in Joy's Entry.
On a freezing cold, wet Sunday the middle child and myself decided to have lunch before she travelled back to her new base in Dublin – she's pre-empted Brexit disaster and got out before economic meltdown strikes.
Joy's Entry has never looked so well. Decorated for Christmas, the restoration and expansion of the bar is a credit to all involved. Tasteful and respectfully restored and now over two floors, the place is unrecognisable from what previously stood there. As well as the old bar, they've restored what was thought to be the old jailhouse, where Henry Joy McCracken is believed to have been held before being walked down Joy's Entry to his execution at Corn Market.
With old restored oak beams and exposed brickwork, this is bound to become a tourist attraction for thirsty visitors. I'm pretty much sold on both the bar and the concept and, despite being busy to full, we lucked upon a couple who were just vacating their seat.
So here's where the negatives start.
The middle child had lost her phone – again. I could chastise her carelessness but I'm known as Ally the iPhone slayer, so it's in her genes. She needed to go to the phone shop in CastleCourt to order a replacment, so I said, "Off you go, I'll order drinks and set up base camp."
And that's what I did. And then I waited. I waited so long she walked to CastleCourt, sorted out her phone situation and returned, and I still hadn't been served. That's despite there being numerous staff milling around the place.
We finally got drinks but had to again ask for menus which had been lost down the same black hole as our bar order.
The menu is bar food, all delicious and wholesome sounding, I would have liked a starter, a half pint of prawns or some oysters, so rarely found on any menu. But given the snail's pace of the service I was worried Miss Dilemma would miss her pre-booked train back to Dublin.
We ordered the Sunday lunch as all around us heaped plates were looking very inviting. One chicken with sausage stuffing and one sirloin of beef. They didn't take as long as expected; we ordered more drinks and again they weren't exactly pronto but expectations had diminished at this stage.
The roast dinners were delicious. We asked for more gravy because it was rich and delightful. My beef had lovely crispy crust, soft melt-in-the mouth beef, great mash, a roast potato that could have benefited from some roughing up but was still well done, and well but not overcooked veg.
The chicken wasn't overcooked – still moist, lovely stuffing and, again, great accompaniments.
We checked the time to see if it was worth risking a dessert – chocolate and peanut butter brownie, or stickie toffee pudding, all wintery classics.
Instead we got a cheese board to share and that was the way to go. In fact, if you're calling in for a few drinks after work one of the sharing platters or a cheese board and a glass or (cough) bottle of wine, would be a joy in Joy's Entry.
There are staffing problems: the very young and, I assume, newly hired bar staff, could with a bit or a lot more training, but that should be easily ironed out and should not take away from what's been achieved here.
This is one of the best fitted-out bars in Belfast with bags of character and potential. I will be back, but I'm not getting any younger and haven't time to wait about so the service would need to improve to take it to the perfect 10 it deserves.
Roast beef £14
Roast chicken £13.50
Cheese board £7.95
Bottle beer £4.20 x 2
Beefeater gin £4 x2
Tonic £2 x 2