Opened in September 2013, The National Grande Cafe is one of Belfast’s newest eating establishments. It is part of the group behind the popular Merchant Hotel, the Beannchor Group, and is set in the former historic Bank of Ireland building on the High Street in the centre of Belfast.
The National caters for everyone’s preferences, with its early morning openings offering an extensive breakfast/brunch menu (including a take away service which is great for those on their way to work) and trades late into the evening, allowing customers to enjoy Belfast’s largest beer garden.
I visited it with my husband on a Sunday morning in January to avail of their brunch menu after hearing good reports from several friends and reading positive reviews in the local press.
We were struck by the interior of the National from the moment we walked in. It has a contemporary, industrial, ‘new york loft style’ appearance. It boasts an impressive triple height glass ceiling and an exposed concrete floor and brickwork walls. The overall feel is quite dramatic and completely different from any other Belfast restaurant I have visited. The furniture is somewhat minimalistic. There are two long bench tables in the centre of the room and a raised bench seating area along the front window. The rest of the seating consists of individual tables. There is a selection of newspapers available for customers to enjoy, as well as free wi-fi, both of which we availed of during our visit and agreed were definite ‘plus points’.
Whilst we browsed the brunch menu we ordered fresh fruit juices. I enjoyed an apple juice and my husband had an orange juice, both of which were freshly squeezed and very refreshing. Our waiter brought us glasses of ice cold water with lemon whilst we waited for our juices to arrive.
To begin with my husband and I shared a bowl of freshly cut fruit salad which was served with a separate bowl of natural yoghurt and honey. The fruit salad consisted of kiwi, banana, pineapple and papaya. It was very refreshing and the perfect portion size, and the ideal way to begin a leisurely Sunday morning brunch.
The brunch menu (served until 11.30am) offers all the classics such as eggs benedict and florentine, omelettes and a full cooked breakfast. My husband ordered the cooked breakfast with poached eggs. In addition to the eggs, it consisted of white pudding, a large portobello mushroom, a herb-crusted tomato, as well as bacon and sausage. Each element was well cooked and non-greasy and it was quickly devoured. I opted for a slightly smaller dish of bacon, avocado and melted cheddar on malt bread which was scrumptious and fulfilling.
We managed to somehow find room to sample the tempting baked goods which are on display on the counter. We chose both a croissant and a pain au chocolat which were melt-in-your-mouth and very satisfying. All the baked goods on offer are made next door at the newly opened Patisserie Mimi, the first fully fledged artisan bakery and patisserie to open in Northern Ireland in 90 years. It provides all the baked goods for both The National and the Merchant Hotel, including breads, pastries and a wide selections of macaroons.
The National also offers an extensive drinks menu including several speciality coffees and teas. I enjoyed a pot of freshly brewed loose leaf tea during my visit.
Overall the National has a very relaxed atmosphere with friendly staff who were smartly dressed and eager to answer any questions about the menu and the restaurant itself. It is a welcome addition to the Belfast culinary scene and brings a hint of continental Europe to the city. It is the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning and I look forward to returning to sample the lunch and evening menus.