Eating Out: Northern Lights dim a bit when it comes to craft beer pub grub
451 Ormeau Road,
028 9029 0291
LAST summer I had lunch at Jack Straws, a cafe where the food was a distraction to a well-played game of Buckaroo. Board games were its raison d’etre, with hundreds of them lining the walls and devotees packing it out on a Saturday afternoon.
The lunch was perfectly fine, but instantly forgettable, and I wondered in the subsequent review whether or not it's fair to judge a place by something people aren’t really going there for in the first place. I can’t remember if I ever made my mind up.
They have board games – though I didn’t notice Buckaroo – at Northern Lights on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, but that’s not what it’s there for. It’s there for beer, lots and lots of beer.
The glass-fronted building has been through numerous incarnations of bar over the years and was most recently Brewbot, a bricks-and-mortar offshoot of the brewing technology company which entered an agreement last October to pay creditors after the taxman filed a winding-up order against the business.
Galway Bay Brewery, which operates 10 bars in Galway, Dublin and Limerick, took over the place and rebranded it but anyone who was there when it was Brewbot won’t notice much of a difference.
A long wooden table runs parallel to the bar, with smaller ones along the adjacent wall. There’s a sofa and some armchairs down the back. Brushed metal lampshades and the grey concrete ceiling give it all an industrial chic sort of vibe. Vintage metal signs bearing the names of beers that were invented the week before last tell you what Northern Lights is all about.
They stock a huge selection of craft beers, not just Galway Bay brands, while there’s also wine, gin, rum and whisk(e)y.
And there’s stuff to eat as well, the sort of stuff you want to eat after, or during a few – chicken wings, nachos, Scotch eggs, burgers, fish and chips.
So far, so feed me. But everything that arrives is just a little off, just enough to make you wonder if it’s fair to judge a craft beer bar by how well it cooks a plate of chips.
The chips came with a slider – a mini burger that was packed full of flavour and suggested it was a mistake not to order its big brother. But the chips weren’t hot, they were warm at best and although they still had a bit of crunch and plenty of flavour themselves, if they’re not hot, what’s the point?
The buttermilk southern fried chicken was asking to be judged because the menu claimed it was “world famous”. Nope.
Boneless pieces of breast needed a lot more bone and a bit more juiciness for any claim to fame, while the coating was pleasingly crunchy but woefully under-seasoned.
The Scotch egg was better, crisp and filled with good sausage meat around a hard-boiled egg. Personally I’d rather the yolk had some run to it, but am happy to give the kitchen the benefit of the doubt – something they’re not getting on the chicken wings.
First, the good – the hot sauce was rich and tangy with a balanced kick and for £6 you get plenty of bird for your buck.
But then there’s the bad, the worst, the cardinal sin, the unforgivable curse (I watched a lot of Harry Potter over Christmas). Chicken wings should be divided into the flat part and drumette part for a reason. For a start, it makes them easier to eat but, more importantly, it means the smaller pieces will cook through and get crisp at the same time. A flabby chicken wing does nobody any good.
Northern Lights isn’t alone in committing this crime and, like the rest of menu missteps, it’s easily fixed. Hopefully it will be, because they seem to be doing everything else right, with knowledgeable, friendly staff and enough liquid interest to have anyone coming back again and again. Just tread carefully if you’re feeling hungry.
Chicken wings £6
Fried chicken £6
Scotch egg £5
Beef slider and chips £4
Timmermans beer x4 £18