Last weekend I left London behind for a flying visit to Belfast, and had the pleasure of draining quite a few glasses at Muriel’s. Tucked away down a side street, it’s a petite establishment with a not-so-petite love of gin. Conveniently, this is an interest I also pursue, so I knew we’d get on from the start. The interior is cosy but glamorous, with the snug seating on the first floor looking particularly inviting to sink into with a stiff drink on a cold evening. The glitz managed to radiate forth, though, so even in the crisp night air, the outside tables maintained an air of Continental café comfort for those, myself included, answering the call of the cigarette.
Despite being in a shrine to the juniper nectar, I am just a little set in my ways, so the first order had to be an Old Fashioned. I went with the house recipe – a Maker’s Mark affair which I avidly observed whilst drinking a Maker’s Mark (double, one ice cube). The care and attention I’d expect was there, and the result was solid, if not perfect. The orange peel and maraschino cherry kept me smiling, as did the cheeky dribble of juice from the cherry jar, a technique I’m rather fond of. Alas, the use of a brown sugar syrup instead of a solid lump was a little too liberal, and the overall effect was a touch sweeter than I’d have liked. I still quaffed it with glee, so in light of my very particular standards we can chalk it up as a win.
As one would expect from any self-respecting gin den, the menu had a solid Collins tranche, and a page of Martini variants too. The standard fruit salads and Tiffany lamps had their place, and I’ll confess that even I enjoyed a stolen sip of that fluorescent vulgarity, the Singapore Sling.
But turning the page, I found proudly featured both the Aviation and the Vesper. We’re fans of the Aviation here at IGT, and it doesn’t get nearly enough column inches on cocktail menus. Evidently eschewing lurid artificial colourings in the ingredients, the finished drink drew a few sceptical glances from neighbouring Aviation-naïve punters, but the blend was top-notch. The gentle fragrance of the violets was surgically pierced with citrus; sharp, but exactly right, like a pin through a boutonnière. The furrowed brows faded as I offered sips all round. A strong showing for the Aviation to climb once more.
The final task was to reach up for that bottle of Tanqueray No. Ten and give me my off-menu glass of gin, so dry as to have only been exposed to perhaps a couple Italian witticisms. Unfortunately, the quantity I require in a single glass falls foul of licensing laws, apparently crossing the blurry line into irresponsible inebriation. Thwarted, we nonetheless made an excellent compromise, and at a price not far from the very reasonable sums charged for the menu’s prescribed potions.
To round it all off, the staff were not only on top of their mixology, but great fun too. I’ve written nothing here the Belfast cocktail enthusiast doesn’t already know – the roaring trade was a clear sign that Muriel’s rocks a fanbase – but any visiting cocktail aficionado would be mad to miss it.
Muriel's Café-Bar, 12-14 Church Lane, Belfast 028 9033 2445