Eating In: Lebanese restaurant Nora's Palace delivers everything but its restaurant ambience in takeaway form
8-10 Amelia Street, Belfast,
028 9031 0888
THE way a restaurant finds its way on to this page is such an unscientific process that I'm waiting for Donald Trump to take out a campaign ad on it every week.
Sometimes it'll be stumbling across something on social media, sometimes it'll be simply passing a place under construction or somewhere you hadn't noticed before. And sometimes, it's a good old-fashioned recommendation from a real, live person.
These can come via the features editor who, being the boss and all, carries a bit of weight – though he carries it lightly and doesn't wield it indiscriminately. So, when he does make a recommendation, it's only manners to follow it – even if it takes a while.
I can't remember when he mentioned Nora's Palace, a Lebanese restaurant in Belfast city centre. It was a while ago anyway, lockdown.
At the time, as part of something approaching reconnaissance, I had a look at the menu and a snoop of their Facebook page. Every other picture was packed with smiling faces, dancing, music, heaving tables, occasions – life and lots of it.
It's this sort of thing that deliveries and collections and meal boxes and cook-alongs can never replicate. But the food can come close and Nora's Palace gives it a pretty good stab, with their full menu available to be couriered to you door.
The choice is dizzying and, going by every other picture on their Facebook page, it all screamed to be ordered; the kitchen table was soon heaving with whole grilled sea bream and lamb tagine, pickles and sweets, bread, salad, pastries. Everything bar the dancing.
The bream comes off in great chunks from beneath a burnished, smoky skin, that still carries a bit a crackle and crunch. The lamb in the tagine is a whole shank on top a sticky stew of sweet tomato and stubby thumbs of okra. Both are generous, shareable main courses – the bream on a fresh salad of cucumbers, peppers and a motherload of parsley, and the tagine with rice – and £12.99 worth of quality.
As good as those starring players are, it's the bits and pieces, the support acts, that make you feel spoiled. Labneh, thick strained yogurty cheese is sharp but rich, sitting under a puddle of gleaming golden olive oil and begging to be scooped up with the blistered flatbread, dusted with the citrus flourish of za'atar. It's the next day's lunch, all by itself.
Kalaj – layered filo pastry crammed with flakes of smoked beef, olives and onions – is really just a cheese delivery mechanism and everything has solidified a bit in transit, but it just makes it a chewy treat rather than a crispy one. The sambousa, filo cigars full of spinach and onion, fare better in holding onto their crunch. Cauliflower fritters also suffered for the trip, but it was wishful ordering. The flavour was there but the crackle and bite of a just-out-of-the-frier batter weren't. That one's on me.
A lamb's liver sandwich was a wrap stuffed with the char-edged liver, onion and peppers, as well as a heavyweight fresh garlic sauce to cleave through the richness. It's completely unnecessary but too good to pass by, and means more of the rest can be kept for the next day.
By this stage, the selection of desserts had to fall into that category too – a syrup soaked semolina cake that remained as moist as you'd like and, best of all, tooth-chatteringly sweet – so, just right – baklava.
The umali, a fragrant bread and butter pudding-style pudding made with puff pastry, gave the look of something not used to being waited on. So it wasn't.
When diners can be waited on at Nora's Palace, and when the smiling and dancing can return, is still a work in progress – but until then, there's the still the food. I highly recommend it.
Grilled sea bream £12.99
Lamb and okra tagine £12.99
Cauliflower zahra £4.99
Nora's Kalaj £5.99
Spinach sambousa £4.99
Lamb's liver sandwich £6.99
Mixed dessert £6.99
Delivery fee £3.99
Deliveroo service fee £0.49