Restaurants should carry a British Board of Film Classification-style certificate. This could help prevent embarrassing moments for older people who aren’t used to the protocols of the newer places.
A trip to a fast food joint can be baffling first time round because some of these tend to be so precisely geared towards the savvy young teenager. Take Subway. If you don’t order what you want in the correct sequence (bread type first, content, sauce-type, toasted or not, then drink) you can feel a bit dopey. Or maybe that’s just me.
Once, in Burger King with my daughters I noticed an older couple sitting beside us who didn’t seem to have anything to eat or drink. After a few minutes I realised they were waiting for a server. I explained to them that it was self-service and we laughed. Awkwardly.
The Goat’s Toe in Bangor tries not to be exclusive but it has a distinct whiff of the students’ union about it. This means that at lunchtime it’s not the place for shoppers but more for the shoppers’ teenage sons and daughters.
Hidden up an alley off the Main Street, the first-timer looking for the Goat’s Toe requires perseverance and a strong nerve. Last Friday my friend Tariq and I went searching for it and eventually found ourselves stumbling up a draughty tunnel called Bingham Mall amidst a flurry of broken polystyrene packaging and darkness. And this was lunchtime.
We found the restaurant halfway up it. The two cool young dudes on duty behind the bar were pleasant — no awkward generation gap there, then — and took us through to the dining room at the back where there was a lone diner.
The black leatherette upholstered booth was ripped and shredded and the foam rubber within was spilling out. The black matt paint on the walls looked rough and you could make out the old wallpaper beneath; the collection of obscure and attractive Hispanic movie posters hung this way and that, and, by and large, the whole look was in the popular nouveau style known as Applied Vandalism.
Tariq is a restaurateur and doesn’t do rough. Where I’m from, he sniffed, they’d burn your house down if you showed such disrespect. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the thugs who ripped the seats or the owners who think it’s modern, and told him to get with the programme, that nowadays people like the deconstructed, chaos look; it’s informal and puts diners at ease, I explained. He wasn’t buying it.
The first impressions were shakey, but when the menus arrived stuck to old vinyl records he was impressed. We had just been saying how the Goat’s Toe was definitely a night venue — a hip club with loud music, possibly, maybe not your ideal lunch destination but very much a place to let your hair down after midnight, and the vinyl was well in keeping with such a theme.
But all the talk and speculation was quickly erased when we were presented with our starters of goat’s cheese boilies for me and a spiced tomato soup for him. There before us were two attractive, fresh-looking dishes that were as appetising as the booth was wrecked.
Tariq said his soup was loaded with zingy tomato flavours and tasted clean and healthy. The boilies (they looked like those mini-golf ball goat’s cheeses from Fivemiletown Creameries) were served on top of a moist munchy bed of rocket, sliced beetroot and strawberries. The drizzle of balsamic over the top finished off a well-balanced set of sweet and bitter fruit and leaves that married nicely with the dry soft goat’s cheese.
We both had what was described as ‘smoked collis’ but it looked and tasted like coley. A generous big yellowy brick of a thing on top of a creamy mound of good quality mash, the whole composition surrounded by a small moat of creamy sauce with mustard seeds and chopped scallions, the flavours and textures worked well. The fish was well cooked, flaking in large chunks like cod.
The white chocolate cheesecake was bland but serviceable. The terrible filter coffee was bitter and undrinkable and even asbestos-mouthed Tariq left his behind.
The Goat’s Toe is a decent restaurant, the food is good and value for money, and the two young men working there seem interested and enthused. But, despite the occasional appearance of young students in for a coffee, there was an air of abandonment about it this Friday lunchtime.
When we left, we noticed the tunnel had been swept clean and a string of bright lights lit up the passage. We stepped back out into the brightness of Bangor’s pulsating heart thinking it wouldn’t take much to turn a visit to the Goat’s Toe into a jumping, fun, lunchtime treat. Whatever age you are.
Fish x 2 £15.90
Dessert x 2 £8
Sparkling water x 2 £3.60
Coffees x 2 £3
Address: Bingham Mall, 53 Main Street, Bangor BT20 5AF.
Tel: 028 9145 3959