The Barking Dog is in a useful location in the university area, near the botanic gardens – and the popular ‘Egg and Bot’ pubs (Eglantine and Botanic Inn).
The name is apparently the result of owner Sam Spain’s softness for canine companions, and has led to an appealing theme. You couldn’t miss this Belfast Restaurants exterior – painted black with an illuminated sign in bright red and black pic of a barking dog against a bright red background – and the theme is developed to include black paling, painted with white doggy footprints, marking off an outside area that has tables and brollies, all attractively illuminated at night.
Once inside, there's a bar area and tables lit with candelabra to left and main dining space to right, and the warmth of bare brick, simple wooden furniture and soft lighting make for a cosy and reassuring atmosphere.
Talented executive chef Michael O'Connor offers a range of well-priced, carefully thought out menus for different times and occasions. Saturday brunch, for example, offers an extensive choice (1-3pm), ranging from drinks like freshly squeezed orange juice or bloody mary, eggs various ways including benedict and florentine, a house variation on the classic bacon butty (North Donegal bacon sandwich on toasted sourdough) and more substantial dishes like Cumberland sausage with mustard mash (served with caramelised onions and cider jus) and steak sandwich.
An appealing bar menu offers some tempting choices - a pint/1/2 pint of prawns aioli, for example, and crispy bites of pork belly with apple sauce - and, given the owner’s Gourmet Burger track record, the beef shin burger (with caramelised onions, horseradish mayo, tomato, cheddar, rocket & chips) is sure to be a winner.
Some brunch dishes feature on the weekday lunch menu and a compact version of the brunch is offered on Sunday, followed by an appealing lunch menu that breaks the usual boundaries of the ‘Sunday lunch’ by a long mile – among the starters crayfish & avocado salad with rocket salad jostles for space alongside foie gras & chicken liver parfait with pear & apple chutney, for example, and mains include fish of the day and an imaginative vegetarian dish alongside traditional roasts.
In the evening, the restaurant menu combines many of the best dishes offered at other times, plus a few extra treats – eg fish and seafood such as seared scallops with black pudding & cauliflower purée among the starters, and main course roast cod with white bean cassoulet, confit cherry tomatoes & basil dressing.
Desserts are predictably tempting – who could resist a passion fruit and chocolate tart with cognac ice cream – and a compact well-chosen wine list includes a good numbers of wines by the glass, also a cocktail menu.
Not surprisingly, this is a busy place – but well trained staff are well able to cope. Children are welcome and a special children’s menu is offered.