Sometimes an evening out exceeds all expectations.
The banker and I went to Bert's Jazz Bar, in the Merchant Hotel, Belfast for an evening that can be described as my favourite night out in Belfast this decade.
Music - jazz, good food, great service, and a fantastic atmosphere set the scene for a very relaxing evening.
Tinkling piano, soaring sax and clarinet solos and sensual singing and movement are all just part of the deal from Friday night regulars the Fiona Trotter Jazz Band. Performing a mixture of jazz standards from Ella, Duke and Louis, they mix up their set with a little funk and some numbers from the Buena Vista Social Club. At times we find ourselves without conversation lost in the music.
As soon as we sit down a rustic bread box is set down for us, as are glasses of water - the service continues in a faultess manner for the rest of the evening. We are looked after by Luke, Lucy and Richard, all of whom are attentive and friendly without being overbearing.
The slices of bread are sourdough with a chewy crust and soft crumb, served with butter and vegetarian tapenade. The tapenade is especially delicious because of its chunky texture and rich olive taste.
The wine list is easy to navigate with a wide range of choices, the banker goes for a French Sauvigon, which doesn't have that acidic tang, so many bottles of this grape offer at the moment. I make my selection from the Driver's Choice and my cocktail meddles fresh pineapple juice, slices of fresh ginger, and lime, poured over ice with seltzer water. I love how fresh and sharp the flavours are, and instantly vow to make this at home, it would be a perfect pick me up at any time of day.
Bert's is Belfast's only jazz bar. You can dine in plush leather or velvet red chairs or banquets, in front of the stage or sit in the bar area slightly back. The bar glitters with an array of bottles and drinks are made with flair - that is fun to watch - and seved with long elegant grizzini. The room has a New York vibe, reminiscient of the 1930s and the diners and drinkers are mixed - tourists, couples, parties of girls, mixed groups. There is no pretense, instead there are people who want to hear sensational music, and eat delicious food. The space is dark and moody - sensual even in the mix of wood, velvet, leather and painted frieze - creating an intimate and rather romantic atmosphere. We sit in a booth table with studded red leather, and a little gas candlelight with shade. A lot of thought has gone into creating this room so that it is 'just so' and everything melds together bringing a deep ambiance that is only enhanced by the skill of the jazz musicians.
Bert's offers options to dine from a French Bristo style menus - set, A la Carte, Vegetarian - with lots of sharing options including platters of chateaubriand, shellfish and baked cheeses.
We settle for their set menu starting with a twist on a Waldorf Salad, where blue cheese has been balled and breaded and lightly fried, served with apple balls, candied walnuts and salad leaves that include rocket, baby gem and chard. The banker and I both order the same dish, and we like the mix of textures and sweet sour flavours, that come from the cheese and apple.
For my main course I have gratin. Made with layers of butternut squash, spinach, walnuts and guyere cheese, with just a hint of cream served with a sharp rocket based salad, bring a hot sweet, and cool bitter combination, that I have never seen beaten. The banker has Chicken Chasseur which is tangy and succulent.
The pudding choices are simple, showing off the best ingredients cooked well. We share the chocolate pot that is served with lavender ice cream - this one was soft and slightly honeyed, and did not have the flavour of Yardleys soap - and hot chocolate sauce. The combination of sweet cold ice cream, and bitter dark hot chocolate cake that had been well cooked so it had a slightly chewy consistency was remarkable.
Bert's is somewhere I highly recommend you book a table.
That's it for now ...
Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable