Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Pierrepoint follows the career of Britain's most prolific hangman, Albert Pierrepoint, from his enrollment in 1932 to his resignation in 1956. He is brilliantly played by Timothy Spall who eloquently deals with internal turmoil and duty to the job.

The film shows that even with the most awful jobs, they can be carried out by normal people but they are ultimately life-changing and soul-destroying.

Albert is credited with having executed an estimated 433 men and 17 women besides over 200 Nazi war criminals.

An interesting part of the film concerns how Albert's profession affects his friends and family. He marries a local girl Anne Fletcher and they have a close relationship although they never discuss his work. The film expertly deals with the subject of capital punishment through the eyes of an executioner who takes no joy in his work but pride in making it quick and efficient.

Following the close of WW2, he became a celebrity being hailed as a sort of war hero, meting out justice to Nazi war criminals. This attracted both support and abuse from the public which made home life untenable. An altercation with the Home Office, forced Albert to hand his resignation.

Pierrepoint is a fantastic film which draws the viewer into the past and into the shoes of Albert and his unenviable position of noose man. The acting and period pieces combine to form a solid movie from start to finish.

I would give this film 8.7 trapdoors out of 10.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Belfast On The Rise

Last year I wrote about the Titanic Quarter which was overlaid with typical Norn Iron pessemism as to whether it could deliver. In recent weeks, further developments have been pushed to the fore and I thought it would be a good idea to have a closer look at what they are and what these developments will accomplish.

The most obvious new development is to be the Aurora Building and is to be located on Great Victoria Street which promises to be Northern Irelands tallest building at 37 storeys, overtaking Windsor House on Bedford Street which standing at 23 storeys tall.
It is to accomodate 300 apartments which will certainly be interesting as to how much they will go for judging by the vast rise in housing prices over the last few years.

Another development is the restoration of Crumlin Road prison to its original 1845 appearance. The jail has been derelict since its closure in 1996, with the last 30 years being used as a remand centre for suspected terrorist and paramilitary prisoners awaiting trial.
The benefit of this project over the Aurora Building is that it will be directly targeted at tourists and therefore generate income for the local community whereas the Aurora Building is targeted at high income earners.

Another building which has caused controversy and debate is the plans for a new Northern Ireland stadium to host international sporting events. However, judging by recent events at Windsor Park, this may not be a bad idea to get this idea up and running. Windsor Park is over 100 years old, a fire-risk and can only hold 14,000 people whereas the stadium planned at the old Maze prison would hold 40,000. This would certainly be of benefit to the local economy as we could finally hold international sporting events akin to those in the UK and Ireland.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tedford's Restaurant

It was our 4 year anniversary on Friday so Lou and I decided to head to Tedford's restaurant for a meal. It's been on our "must go there" list for some time and I have heard nothing but good reviews about it.

We were seated upstairs in a nicely decorated long narrow room. Soft upbeat modern pop music wafted from the speakers and we were presented with the wine menu. I have to say they were all a little pricey for what they were so I settled for a bottle of house red.

We shared the salted chilli squid for our starter and it was the best I have ever tasted. The coating was light and crispy and the inside was perfectly cooked. I highly recommend it.

I had the turbot for main course which was beautiful and one of the best meals I've had in a long time. The service and timing of the dishes were faultless and we really enjoyed ourselves.

Tedford's has long been called a hidden gem of Belfast restaurants and I certainly agree that it is a gem among a lot of rough. Treat yourself and make a booking.


Menu ***1/2

Value ****1/2

Service *****

Decor ****

Disabled *

Parking *


Friday, January 26, 2007

Roasted Fillet Of Monkfish Wrapped In Parma Ham With A Pesto Mash, Fine Beans & Cherry Tomatoes

Last night Colin bammed up a delicious meal of roasted fillet of monkfish wrapped in Parma ham with a pesto mash, fine beans and cherry tomatoes. For dessert we had roasted pineapple chunks infused with star anise's and vanilla pods and covered with natural yoghurt. Here's the low-down:

Roasted Fillet Of Monkfish Wrapped In Parma Ham With A Pesto Mash, Fine Beans & Cherry Tomatoes


[Serves 2]

2 monkfish portions pieces,
Salt and ground pepper,
A little lemon juice,
2 slices Parma ham.


Season the monkfish with salt, pepper and the lemon juice, then wrap a slice of Parma ham around each fillet of monkfish and set aside.

Meanwhile make hot mashed potato and stir in 1 tablespoon green pesto. Boil the beans in salted water, toss in butter and set aside

Place the cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, then roast in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes

To cook the monkfish drizzle the monkfish parcels with olive oil and roast in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove and set aside.

To serve, spoon the pesto mash in the centre of each plate, using a pastry cutter for neatness. Place the monkfish parcel on top of the mash then put the green beans and cherry tomatoes around the plate and drizzle with any juice from the cherry tomato roasting tray.

Roasted Pineapple Chunks Infused with Star Anise's & Vanilla Pods

[Serves 4]

Pineapple, sliced into chunks
Star Anises
Vanilla pods
2 Oranges


Cut the pineapple into chunks and put in a roasting dish and squeeze the juice of two oranges over the top. Mix in a few star anise and two vanilla pods and place in a pre-heated oven at 200C for 30 mins. Serve with greek yoghurt or ice cream.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Out To Lunch: The Songs of Nick Drake

If you're at a loose end in Belfast during lunchtime, check out the Black Box theatre. They're running a series of shows called 'Out To Lunch' at 1pm every day. It's £5 and includes meat or vegetarian lunch and there's a bar too so all your needs are catered to.

I have only been in the Black Box once before when the husband of a friend at work, Tony Bailie, released his first novel 'The Lost Chord' about the hedonistic but perilous world of rock ’n’ roll of which I'll post a review when I finish reading it. It's a great place for cultural events because it's decked out like a drama hall from your high school but with the profesionalism of lighting and a bar.

On Tuesday we went along to see 'The Songs of Nick Drake' which is currently touring the country. Nick Drake is one of my favourite artists releasing only 3 but beautiful albums in his short lifetime.

I was very much interested to see how another artist would cover his songs and if he could evoke similar feelings to listening to Nick's records. I have to say that he could and he did. The guitar playing was amazing and even though his voice was somewhat different, he played each song with passion and dedication.

His normal shows are two 1 hour sessions and I would certainly pay to see him perform should he come back to Belfast.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Smokin' Aces

Review by K.A.

I went out last night to watch Rocky VI, expecting it to be quite popular as it was only released over the weekend. However I did not anticipate the number of people that would also have the same idea and, unfortunately, the movie was booked out. Not wanting to have a wasted journey, Rok and myself decided to watch Smokin' Aces instead.

It was Rok's choice and it was a total surprise to me, as I had never heard of the movie before let alone seen it advertised. I didn't really know what to expect from it except for the quick description Rok gave me of it: "It's kinda like an action cop movie, with comedy and stuff". Well I like action comedies so I was happy to try it out.

Very quickly I was surprised to realise the number of huge Hollywood actors in the film: Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, the list goes on. There were also two very notable roles by rapper Common and singer Alicia Keys, who both acted very well against a cast who were much more experienced.

The movie got off to a shaky start, as the plot became a little confusing to me. I have to admit that, right to the end when it is "tied up" and the movie finishes, I found it hard to understand why some of the things that transpired had actually happened for. Basically a mob boss places a $1 million bounty on Buddy "Aces" Israel (Piven), a dead-beat Vegas magician who has agreed to give evidence against the Vegas mob.

The FBI put Aces into protective custody under the supervision of two agents, played by Reynolds and Liotta, who are quickly rushed to Aces' Lake Tahoe hideout. However news of Aces snitching is already on the streets and every assassin worth their weight (and a few that aren't) all attempt to get to Tahoe before the FBI to off Aces and claim their bounty.

This should have been the main part of the plot and certainly provided the impetus for most of the movie. However boring scenes of dusty FBI rooms and a weak plot twist at the end sometimes mar the action/comedy pace the movie is dominated by. In fact it reminded me of Matrix 2, where a very good action movie was compromised by terrible attempts to give it a strong plot.

Smokin' Aces is best enjoyed as a gritty, in-your-face action with some great comedy moments. Overall it is supposed to be an action movie, but there are some really good sidesplitting moments, such as the assassin who brings a 50 calibre gun ("You bought the 50 cal? Damn bitch!") to the foray, or the psychotic and unstable Nazi trio who enjoy the use of shotguns and chainsaws a la Doom. But possibly the best thing about the film is that they aren't afraid to write off major named actors at any stage in the film. Basically you won't know who is going to survive to the end!

In conclusion, I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone who is looking for a strong plot line. However if you're at home with a few friends, drinking beers and at a loose end for something to watch, this film will certainly keep you all laughing and entertained for the night.

I would give Smokin' Aces 6.5 body bags out of 10.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007


"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within."

And so Apocalypto begins on the premise that we are about to witness the declining days of the Mayan civilisation brought about by its own design.
Except that it's really a chase film about a man eluding capture and attempting to return to his wife and child. A more apt title would have been 'Escape'.

The Mayan setting is essentially only a backdrop for the story as I feel the main element was one mans struggle to escape and return safely to his family. You have no doubt seen these types of films many times before and it is almost a wasted opportunity and a facetious setting of the Mayan civilisation that Apocalypto takes place.

Many people have said that the film is violent and gory and have based their reviews around the fact but I did not find this true at all, certainly in terms of taking centre stage in a visual context. Admittedly a few hearts are cut out [although one does not even see this being done] and heads bashed in but the few blood effects that depict this are so unrealistic they caused me to laugh rather than grimace. Yes, there is violence but it is necessary within such a tribal setting where crude instruments of battle are used.

The film also rolls in at 2 1/2 hours which is 30 minutes too long and a lot of scenes could be removed without affecting the film.

Overall, Apocalypto is a simple chase film dressed up in a facade of historical hullaballoo and theatrical pomposity. There are better films of a similar nature out there which dispense with such an elaborate canopy and stick to the essential components of the genre.

I would give this movie 5.1 sacrifices out of 10.


Monday, January 22, 2007

2 Years Old

Today Adventures in Sigh-Fi is two years old. Nearly 600 posts of recipes, film reviews, general ramblings and random musings. I never would have thought I could have kept this up for so long and that it would be popular, at least amongst my peers, but it's a great tool for keeping friends up-to-date with what I've been up to.

The website has gone through many changes and I can, at least at the minute, say I'm extremely pleased with how it looks and functions so a big thanks to those that helped - you know who you are!

I said the same last year but I'm looking to take a lot more photos this year as a picture paints a thousand words and god knows I don't have the time or morning ability to write a thousand words. It will also be an interesting diary of events as Lou and I make our way over to New Zealand and it will become an online catalogue of touring and eventually settling down in a new country which may spark a new kiwi-related section.

So a big thank you for stopping by every day and leaving comments and suggestions. Here's to working towards another year of tid-bits and treats.


Friday, January 19, 2007


Atomised is based on the book of the same name set in the near future and focuses on the lives of Bruno Clément and Michel Djerzinski, two French half brothers. Michel, raised by his maternal grandmother, becomes an introverted molecular biologist who discovers a method which leads to the elimination of sexual reproduction. Bruno's upbringing is much more tragic. He was shuffled and forgotten from one abusive boarding school to another, and eventually finds himself in a loveless marriage and teaching literature at a school. He grows into a lecherous and insatiable sex addict to the point where he finds himself on disability leave from his job and in a mental hospital after a failed attempt at seducing one of his students.

Having read the book, I was interested to see how the film would side-step some of the more graphic descriptions as a direct translation would probably get itself banned. Indeed its publication caused quite a stir in French literary circles as vivid, almost pornographic sexual descriptions contained within were a frequent target of criticism. Whilst some scenes in the film are indeed graphic and would never be made by Holywood, it is probably a blessing that the movie was made in Germany and is largely untainted in comparison and a loyal adaptation which is both enagaging and enjoyable to watch.

I would give this film 7.4 hippie communes out of 10


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Having read the novel by Patrick Süskind twice and being an avid fan of the book, I have been eagerly awaiting to see this film since I found out it was being made over a year ago. There was a lot of debate as to who should play which character and more importantly, who was right for the main character of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. There was also general dissent as to whether the book was even filmable at all and whether rumour or not, it was said that Stanley Kubrick debated making an attempt but given thought, dismiessd the book as unfilmable. If you have read the book, you will know that it is a huge task to re-enact 18th century Paris within the conext of the book but more importantly, it is a film about smell and cinema is about sound and vision.

Another problem faced by the director is attempting to squeeze a huge amount of plot, description and visceral based material into an acceptable time-frame and this was overcome by using a narrator at key momments in the film to explain passages of time and drive the message home about how smell and the use of perfume was essential to living in Paris during this time.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, concerns Grenouille, whose prodigious gift of an incomparable sense of smell and inexplicable lack of a personal scent isolates him from society. He becomes obsessed with the rich sensory world he alone inhabits and his single objective in life becomes the preservation of the perfect scent, that of young, beautiful virgins whose essence can only become available through murder.

Although enjoyable, the movie was slightly farcical at times, which, although entirely plausable within a long narrative description in a book, was difficult to bring across to the audience within the context of film. Nevertheless, it is a loyal adaptation given the aforementioned constraints and a worthy film to see in its own right. However, it is no patch on the book and I recommend picking up a copy as it is an engrossing and fascinating read worthy of being a modern classic.

I would give Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 6.2 vials out of 10.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Gamespot #54

M&M Dark Film Quiz

Test your movie trivia with this confectionary sponsored flash game.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Trials & Tribulations

Last night I attempted to watch Channel 4's dramatisation, 'The Trial of Tony Blair', but couldn't stand to bear more than 20 minutes of it. The writer, Alistair Beaton, used to be writer for Spitting Image back in 1984 so perhaps he's ran out of vitriolic steam as a political satirist because there is much more comedy in 5 minutes of a Rory Bremner sketch than this feature-length snore-fest.
It was set in the year 2010 when Gordon Brown is moving into Number 10 and Tony becomes an MP again although he attempts to keep up the façade of being a VIP in the political world. However, the characters are satirised to the point beyond comedy value, each character a shadow mockery of the actual person and thus it is like watching a run of the mill drama of a bitchy housewife and and incompetent leader which is far removed from the real life personas and therefore removes any of the programmes impact.

Another programme that was worth watching is The Lost Room, starring Peter Krause of Six Feet Under fame. It is a mini-series from the Sci-Fi channel which revolves around the titular room and roughly 100 everyday items from that room that possess unusual powers, such as a bus ticket that can instantaneously transport a person to a particular location or a comb that can temporarily freeze time around a person. Peter's character, a detective named Joe Miller, falls into posession of a key which allows him access to the room wherein his daughter becomes trapped inside and he must find other objects to allow him to get her back.

In other news, we recently aquired a fantastic coffee maker [sic] in work which makes 12 cups of Joe and elimates frantic gesturing at break-time for the existing cafetière from the holder before it runs out and has to be washed out, refilled and remade, wasting vital time away from the desk. The bonus is that it can be programmed to brew just in time for 11 o'clock so you just have to turn up and pour a hot refreshing mug full of caffine. Beautiful.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Lounge Act

It was a fairly relaxed weekend spent lounging on the sofa reading newspapers and watching TV. I've become strangely addicted to watching Malcom in the Middle as Sky Two seems to be running it non-stop and I've always missed it when it was on its normal run and since the invention of downloads, I've become quite used to watching episode after episode of a programe on tap.

I also received a few things I ordered from Amazon including a book was recommended called 'The Time Traveller's Wife' by Audrey Niffennegger that centers on a man with a strange genetic disorder that causes him to unpredictably time-travel and his wife has to cope with his constant absence. It certainly sounds interesting so I'll let you know how it goes. I have built up quite a few books to work through including a return to Chinese history with 'Mao: The Unknown Story' by Jung Chang who wrote the amazing 'Wild Swans'.

Another purchased item was Monopoly which I've been meaning to buy for a while. I haven't played in years and it was one of my favourite childhood boardgames. I remember that Keith and I used to play it into the ground, modifying the rules here and there to make it more interesting and as age allowed, introducing drinking aspects to the proceedings. One Xmas we recieved a variation of the game called Tower Power which was based on the Ards peninsula which is still kicking around.

Finally there's Dark Messiah which is a first person RPG and a game type I've been looking to getting my teeth into since completing Oblivion. It promises lots of blood curdling action and the trailer looks awsome. I'm still working through Neverwinter Nights 2 which I bought for the xmas holidays and can highly recommend it if you're into that sort of thing.

Let me know if there's any good books I should be on the look out for and I'll catch you tomorrow. Trust you had a good weekend. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Spinach Soup, Stilton & Walnut Tartlets, Sticky Toffee Pudding

Last night I bammed up some spinach soup, stilton & walnut tartlets and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. The spinach soup was tasty after some seasoning and accompanied by crusty bread. It could have been a little more creamy but for a starter, it did the job. Next up were the stilton and walnut tartlets which didn't turn out as I wanted because the muffin tins were not as big as I'd hoped so if you're going to make this, check the size of your tin. Therefore they were a tad pastry heavy but erstwhile totally edible and was served alongside a salad. Finally there was the sticky toffee pudding which, modesty aside, was faultlessly delicious and the favourite of the 3 dishes.

Here's the science:

Spinach Soup

Serves 6-8


1 Large Onion, peeled and chopped
5 Garlic Cloves, peeled and chopped
2 Medium Potatoes, peeled and chopped
750ml cold water
450g Spinach, stems removed
50g Butter
3 tbsp Flour
750ml Milk
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
8 tbsp Creme Fraiche
Warm Foccacia Bread


Place the onion, garlic and potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with the cold water. Add half the salt and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Remove from the heat and add the spinach. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

Slowly melt the butter in saucepan, add the flour and cook over a low heat for about 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the milk, a little at a time, stirring continuously. Return to the heat and cook, stirring continuously, for 5-8 minutes, or until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened. Add the freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste.

Blend the cooled potato and spinach mixture in a food processor or blender to a smooth purée, then return to the saucepan and gradually stir in the white sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and gently reheat, taking care not to allow the soup to boil. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with spoonfuls of creme fraiche or soured cream. Serve with foccacia bread.

Stilton & Walnut Tartlets

Makes 12 tartlets


Walnut Pastry:

225g plain flour
Celery salt
100g butter
25g walnut halves, chopped


25g Butter
2 Celery Sticks
1 Leek
200ml Double Cream
200g Stilton Cheese
3 Egg Yolks
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Parsley


Grease the 12 hole muffin tin. Sift the flour with celery salt into a food processoe, add the butter and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Tip into a large bowl and add the walnuts and a little cold water, just enough to bring the dough together.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut the dough in half. Roll out the first piece and cut out 3 1/2 inch rounds. Roll out each to 4 1/2 inches in diameter and use to line the muffin holes. Repeat with the remaining dough. Line each hole with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Bake the tartlet cases for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the paper and beans.

To make the filling, melt the butter in frying pan over a medium heat and add the celery and leek and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes until very soft. Add the 2 tablespoons of cream, crumble in the cheese and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Put the remaining cream in a saucepan and bring to simmering point. Pour onto the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl, stirring constantly. Mix in the cheese mixture and spoon into the tartlet cases. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the tin around in the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Serves 4



75g sultans
75g currants
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp butter
200g brown sugar
2 eggs
200g self-raising flour

Sticky Toffee Sauce:

2 tbsp butter
175ml double cream
200g brown sugar
zested orange rind
whipped cream to serve


First place the fruits and bicarbonate of soda into a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water and leave to soak.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a round cake tin, 8 inches in diameter with butter. Put the butter in a separate bowl, add the sugar and mix well. Beat in the eggs, then fold in the flour. Drain the soaked fruits, add to the bowl and mix. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin. Transfer to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. The pudding is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

About 5 minutes before the end, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir in the cream and sugar and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Turn out the pudding on to a serving plate and pour over the sauce. Decorate with zested orange and serve with whipped cream.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Links #30

Bruce Campbell Old Spice Commercial

Hilarious Old Spice commercial starring Bruce Campbell.

Wikipedia - Old Spice

Wikipedia - Bruce Campbell

History of Religion in 90 Seconds

An interesting flash animation showing where the major world religions started and how they spread.

Wikipedia - Religion

Octopus Escapes One Inch Hole

Octopuses are highly intelligent, probably more intelligent than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they do have both short- and long-term memory.

Wikipedia - Octopus

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Gamespot #53

PP's Park Race

Simple but fun game.

Press the mouse button to jump and collect the icons and avoid the killer bees!

Wikipedia - Killer Bees

Monday, January 08, 2007

Zen Restaurant

A group of us headed out to Zen last month in between Xmas and NYE as Lou's Scottish friends were over on a visit and it's one of our favourite restaurants which serves Japanese and Asian cuisine with a Western fusion.

We were seated upstairs in a secluded wooden booth which is perfect for an intimate private meal amongst friends and it would be great if other restaurants adopted this seating style. The room layout is also well designed with a mirrored glass catwalk running the length of the room in between the booths although I would imagine it might cause a bit of a headspin if you had to traverse the length after too many drinks!

I ordered the Japanese dumplings [gyoza] for starters and they were delicious. Everyone was happy with their first dish and I was on my last dumpling when the waiter began taking everyones dishes away which I found quite rude and incompehensible as the main course was not served for another ten or fifteen minutes.

I had the squid with green chillis for my main course which was also delicious although there was no dipping sauce which could have complimented it alongside the boiled rice. This time none of us were hurried along despite being told that the next party was due at 9pm.

Despite the rude service of which I have read about in other reviews, the dining experience and quality of food is of a high standard and it remains one of my favourite restaurants in Belfast.


Menu *****

Value ****1/2

Service ***1/2

Decor *****

Disabled *

Parking ***


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Christmas Party

By now all of you will have returned to work and suffered through the first few agonising days of re-adjustment. The night before I returned to work I couldn't sleep because I was attempting to go to bed at a reasonable hour when I had spent the last fortnight staying up until the small hours. Luckily after a few Nytols after watching the clock roll around to 2.30am helped and I was out like a light. But let's rewind and re-cap on the holidays.

For the second year running, the last day in work was spent watching a film in the training room on a big projector and after being refused permission to show Borat, I decided to go for the black comedy post-noir thriller of Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang starring Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. which I have never reviewed for some reason but I'll attach an 8.7 score to it.

The credits rolled just in time to meet everyone for our xmas lunch which was booked for Nick's Warehouse. I'm really beginning to enjoy the Cathedral Quarter now and it can only improve over the coming years and I look forward to coming back to Belfast from New Zealand at some point and checking out all the new buildings and bars.

Nick's Warehouse was originally owned by Bushmills whiskey as a Bonded store back in 1832 when the area was buzzing with activity. Fast-forward 150 years and it was in a run-down area of Belfast in a sorry state of dis-repair. It opened in 1989 and I am (almost) ashamed to admit that this was the first time I have dined here.

First impressions were favourable with what seems like a downstairs café and waiting area where everyone chilled out with some drinks. There was a great atmosphere because it was our last day in work and we were all looking forward to a good meal, some drinks, a fair bit of craic and a nice vacation.

After five or ten minutes we ushered upstairs to our tables.

A quick glance around reveals a cosy setting with bay windows maximising the light making its way down into the cobbled streets without compromising design although I felt additional lighting at this time of year would have been beneficial to drown out that dull grey December day.

Nevertheless, a true dining experience is mainly about your own table, the people around you and of course the food. I quickly perused the wine list and picked out a couple of bottles of the Rjoca for the red wine posse and Yvonne picking out some Sauvignon Blanc for those dabbling in white.

To kick things off I choose the Provolone Dolce cheese with red onion marmalade on a pastry tartlet which was entirely hidden under a bed of rocket leaves and eaten in two bites. I felt like we had stepped back a year and I was sitting in St James South eating a nouvelle cuisine starter that would feed a supermodel party. Luckily I had filled up on the bizarre bread rolls with sweetcorn and a pint of Guinness beforehand so my stomach wasn't crying out for anything more substantial.

The main course was a dramatic improvement. I had the grilled fillet of Seabass with a sun blushed tomato, rocket and roast red onion salad and a basil & lemon mayonnaise which was delicious. It was a toss up between that and the spiced braised leg of lamb which looked equally mouth watering and with the general conversation it was thumbs up for the lunch so far.

When it came to choosing dessert, I had developed a hankering for cheese and opted for one of two boards on offer high-lighting soft cheeses from Ireland over the continental style option. Despite ordering at the same time, our colleagues on another table received their final course a good 10-15 minutes ahead of ourselves and had it eaten when our food arrived.

Most people opted for a dish involving chocolate which looked great and was consumed with fervour. However, my cheese had hardened considerably around the edges and had developed that sheen which meant it had been sitting out for too long and I had to carve wedges of it away before I could manage anything inside.

It was a somewhat disappointing meal from my perspective and St James South is still the benchmark to beat but I would certainly return for a second chance as I have heard nothing but good things and unless a meal is a disaster, I would be silly write-off such a restaurant on a small starter and hard cheese.

From the restaurant to the bar, we tried several places before we ended up in McHughs. The Spaniard was understandably packed but then a small school outing would make any living room crowded. The Cloth Ear was invite only and my name wasn't on the door. Only a short week later my good friends sister fell off a bar stool there and broke her nose. Then again she was "very tired" so it's excusable. The Northern Whig was packed to the rafters with fellow xmas parties and even McCrackens was standing room only.

There was a good few of us and we muscled out a few chairs and evenutally most of a long table to ourselves over the next hour or so and we would remain there until late evening getting slowly drunk and conversing over many topics of interest hardly any that I can recall now. By the time I left at 10pm it was ready to call it a night. It was a great day spent with colleagues and a perfect wind-down to the holidays.

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