Frugal Fine Dining at Stormont

In my many years of blogging, I don’t think I have ever mentioned the 4 years that I wore a suit and worked up at Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings. Why? Because it never has been relevant to my writing, and it was just so tediously boring. As the highlight of any day was perusing the canteen lunch list and rereading the menu for the Member’s Dining Room.

But, at the time, I was also fortunate enough to occasionally indulge in the Member’s Dining Room, which was kind of exclusive back then, given reservations could only be made by a Member of the Assembly. However, this changed not so long ago, with the collapse of the Assembly, when the Member’s Dining Room became open to any old pleb from the public. And this gave the ideal opportunity to share a glimpse of my former life with Fanfan.

Member’s Dining Room

So the Member’s Dining Room is named simply because it was the dining room for the Member’s of the Legislative Assembly (Northern Ireland’s Parliament). And following the collapse of the Executive in 2017, the buildings and restaurant were instead made open to the public (although the restaurant allowed reservations 2 years prior).

Anyway, the Member’s Dining Room offers probably the best value eating experience in Northern Ireland (£18.40 for 3 courses), partly because they’re not out to make a profit, but because you’ve already kind of paid for it. Because Parliament Buildings, along with the catering, is, and always has, been subsidized by taxpayers money. So now is as good a time as any to get your money’s worth.

Opening Times

With events and the unpredictability of the political situation at Stormont, it is best to double-check times before any visit to the Member’s Dining Room (up-to-date info on the Parliament Buildings Website). And booking is also advised (reservations: 02890 521 041). Otherwise, the Members’ Dining Room should be open year-round to the public. And it’s no so hard to reach from Belfast City Centre:

Monday – Friday, 12.00pm-2:00pm (except Public Holidays)

I also recommend pairing a visit with the free guided tours of Parliament Buildings which take place twice daily at 11.00am and 2.00pm. And then there is also the option of afternoon tea between 2:00pm3:30pm.

The Menu

The menu changes every couple of months, and you’ll probably need to read everything thrice, as there are lots of seemingly superfluous words through the menu. Although many are necessary in this case, where the restaurant aims to promote local products, like Keenan’s Smoked Salmon, Young Buck panna cotta, and Fivemiletown Ballybrie etc, on our visit. So they really should cut down on other wording like “Homemade”, “Warm” and why not just call “Creme Anglaise” custard. Anyway, it is possible to check the menu beforehand through their website (here). And there’s always printouts found in the downstairs hall to peruse along with the tour.

Mixed seed and honey crispbread served with Keenan’s Smoked Salmon on watercress cream cheese, chilli beetroot jam, and a rocket pesto.

Young Buck Panna Cotta with Crispy Smoked Bacon, Pear & Sultana Relish and Sourdough Croutons.

Warm Satay Chicken with Oriental Greens, Chilli, Lime and Cucumber.

The Food

I’m more of a street food specialist, in Asia, so I’m not really used to this type of fine dining. Although we did go with a satay starter, which was Malaysian-inspired I guess, quite sweet and not overly spicy, with a bunch of fresh Asian greens on top. I’d happily eat it.

Otherwise we are a family of simple tastes, and, from a table of five, 1 forgoed the starter, there were 4 main orders of “burger please”, and 3 for ice-cream for dessert. Then I plumped for the (slow) braised leg of lamb. So we may have not made the most of an otherwise adventurous list of grub, but everyone was more than happy, and Fanfan is still talking about the truffle and parmesan french fries.

Homemade steakburger topped with Fivemiletown Ballybrie, roasted red pepper and caramelised onions, truffle & parmesan fries.

Slow Braised Leg of Lamb Served with Rosemary and Butternut Squash Mash, Mint & Apricot Jus.

Baked Vanilla Rice Pudding with Amarena Cherries

The Fine Dining Experience

The dress code is more casual these days, yet the service and old school etiquette is still the same. And the waiters will be somewhat over attentive, placing the napkins on your lap for example, and then there are the silver cloches brought out with the main meal. Before a ceremonial synchronised reveal of all the plates at the same time. In short, there’s a bit of traditional prestige about it all.

Otherwise the setting is relatively simple, running parallel to the front balcony of the Parliament Buildings, although, I only once remember seeing the balcony doors open to eaters. And I did ask once about opening them, which just ended in convoluted inconvenience where the staff had to contact security, and security would have to send someone up… in case some IRA man parachuted through the windows. Although I’m guessing security is more lenient now while the Assembly is suspended. 

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