Ballymena is a pleasant small market town. It may often get overlooked by visitors to the heart of Northern Ireland, but there are plenty of reasons to stop off, one of which is the food. From classic regional grub with some decent seafood options too, there are plenty of good fine dining options in Ballymena.
It’s a little-known fact that Northern Irish cuisine is modestly addictive. Locals tend to only realise they crave it once they leave, while visitors are occasionally confronted with curious new tastes (dulse) and some of the best comfort food around (often involving cheese and potatoes). Here are five of the best restaurants in Ballymena that will help win your heart, or at least your stomach, over to the Northern Irish food cause.
An elegant restaurant with the air of a 1920s exclusive country club, the plush leather seating, wooden furnishings and low-key lighting make The Grouse a fine choice for dinner. Neat little touches in the design go all the way down to coat hooks along the wooden bar. The menus present a good range of meals from gourmet burgers to a grill section with a sizable number of fish options. There are also Mexican tortillas with fillings like chilli beef and the left-field hoisin duck. Bear in mind however that this is not the best spot for vegans and vegetarians.
74-76 Ballymoney St, BT43 6AN
Located right on the edge of town, The Countryman is particularly well placed for anybody happening to be passing through Ballymena by car who doesn’t want to head as far in as the centre. The restaurant has plenty of parking space. Cosy interiors, including a fireplace for taking the edge off the winter, are finished in ruby and dark wood tones. There are some firm favourite comfort food options like lasagne along with a good range of chicken dishes, like Maryland or Atlanta style, chili chicken strips or Chinese chicken. There’s a large bar with a wide range of beers, wines and spirits.
120 Grove Rd, BT43 6TJ
With two restaurants in villages just outside Ballymena, Millside is a great upmarket choice with extensive food menus for both lunch and evening meals. All the bases are well covered, with grill, poultry, fish and vegetarian choices on the menu. And the nationality of the dishes is as varied as the choice with piri piri chicken, pork chops, noodle stir-fries and fajitas all making an appearance. Parties are also catered for here, amid the simple, homey interiors.
19A Church Rd, Gracehill, BT42 2NL
The Blackstone Bar
This centrally located gastropub puts great effort into the presentation as much as the quality of the food. Serving up classic Northern Irish fare like rump of venison or locally sourced seafood like hake, Strangford mussels and Portavogie prawns, the small, changing menu aims for quality over quantity in terms of choice. Both are present in the portions. Classic cocktails from strawberry daiquiris to coffee Sicilianos complement the cask beers and bottled wines available. Usually there are better deals for diners from Monday to Thursday each week.
15-17 Hill St, BT43 6BH
Nobel Café combines the reliable quality of a good ol’ working person’s café with the décor of a creative modern eatery, complete with a rose flower wall motif, green floor mats and plush purple seating. Order a classic fried breakfast and pay by the item. For lunch there’s a selection of meaty sandwiches, or dig into something more substantial from their main menu, but be sure to get there before the 5pm closing time. This is a deservedly popular place, although there is not a great deal on the menu for vegetarians.
102-104 Church St, BT43 6DF
By Paul Stafford