One of the many nice things about living in Belmont is that there are loads of restaurants, cafés and takeaways within walking distance.
Bennett’s has become a favourite. It’s casual enough for the evenings when I don’t feel like cooking, and with its two main courses and bottle of wine for £23 on weekdays, it won’t bankrupt you either, but it’s also smart enough for a proper meal out. We’ve taken a total of six other people to Bennett’s so far, and none has been disappointed by the ambience or the food, and usually the service is also excellent.
However... recently I’ve had a couple of gripes. It’s clearly very popular, and the business needs to manage its success rather than work on attracting more customers. Perhaps this is why they have recently stopped taking bookings for early evening meals. I only have to walk down the street, but don’t like the uncertainty of not knowing whether I can get my dinner at the end of it. If I were travelling from further afield, I wouldn’t bother.
I’m also not happy about the recent removal of a vegetarian option from the evening specials board. They will provide veggie food on demand, and, as we found when eating there with a vegan friend, will also cook a delicious vegan dish. I have absolutely no complaints about the quality of the food, but I do mind having to ask for something different. Vegetarians are not that uncommon nowadays, I would have thought, even in East Belfast, but if Bennett’s is going to restrict itself to local custom then maybe they think they don’t have to bother.
If you do go to Bennett’s and find them fully booked, you could try the Gourmet Burger Bank a few doors up, although you will probably have to queue there as well. GBB is larger and more family-oriented that Bennett’s, but luckily seems to attract the kind of parents who are training their children to eat out with consideration for others, rather than those who are trying to train other diners to cope with their unruly offspring (Pizza Express on the Lisburn Road, take note). It’s also great for vegetarians, with three burger choices. My only problem here was that the portions are huge; a mini-burger option in the evenings would be appreciated, to leave room for what look like delicious puddings.
Finally, we got around to trying Alden's last night. I’d heard good things about this legendary East Belfast high end restaurant, but of course all from carnivores. There were two vegetarian mains, one of which was a curry, which I wouldn’t order in a Western restaurant, and the other a vegetable flan which was nicely done but not that special. Wine, puddings and coffee were exceptional, service and ambience a little chilly. When we were asked how our meal was going, I did mention the lack of choice for veggies and was told they would have cooked us something else if we’d asked – not what you need to hear after you have finished your main course, they should print this on the menu.
Again, as with Bennett’s, it’s putting the onus on the customer that annoys me. When I go out to eat, all I want to do is select from the menu, not feel that I am some kind of odd person for whom special provision has to be made. Again, to me it indicates that the restaurants of East Belfast are just not that geared up to catering for a range of diets. I’m sure Alden’s would be really good for business lunches and dinners involving lots of meat dishes and alcohol, but I don’t think it’s my kind of place. I’ll be sneaking back over to South Belfast’s Cayenne for their vegetarian menu, on special occasions.