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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