The latest welcome addition to the food scene in Strandtown is funky, friendly and serves a breakfast hash to die for
Strandtown in east Belfast is the shy twin sister of Ballyhackamore. It is the St Paul to Minneapolis, the Pest to Buda and the Gateshead to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is the less brash of the two neighbourhoods, which between them accommodate half-a-dozen of the best bistros in Belfast. These include Graze, Il Pirata, Neill’s Hill and Bistro Este.
The latest member to join this happy club is Bank Café and Bar. Regular readers will be familiar with the restaurant’s Belmont Road site as it has been home over the last decade to a series of tenants including Gourmet Burger Bank, Ace, Happy Angel and, latterly, Pastificcio.
Bank Café and Bar has maintained continuity. Its predecessors were cool and edgy, the fruits of restaurateur Sam Spain’s experimentations with ideas he collects from his travels. So you will find a similarly funky décor. Furniture has been sensitively destroyed, artistically distressed and forensically vandalised before being brought back to life as a tough-looking, yet very pretty anti-furniture statement.
The staff is as savvy as a place like this merits and the general comfort and relaxed ambience makes for a pleasant lunch break or breakfast. Dinner remains unexplored so far but my sources say it’s consistently good for evening meals.
Bank has a daytime advantage in the summer with its sunny-side frontage allowing for a few tables outside when it’s not snowing. The light which pours into the restaurant through the vast windows is tempered by awnings and this also has a positive mood effect.
Dishes are interesting and cheap. Morning menus include filled croissant with ham and emmental for £3, a Bank breakfast bap for £4.50 (choose bacon, sausage or egg) and French toast made from their own bread for £3.50.
But what you really ought to do is go for the Bank breakfast hash which comes in two guises, veggie or with chorizo.
This is a fine breakfast for those of stout heart and possibly in need of fortification. The hash is composed of new potatoes, scallions, roast red peppers and poached egg and comes with toast. With a couple of drops of Tabasco, this is the nutrition of champions. The generous mound of hash has enough carbs and protein to take any Mexican truck driver across four states without stopping. The flavours and mix of textures are immediately addictive and you will not be able to speak to anyone while you eat this. It’s not for a romantic morning-after, it’s for base, bronze-age, non-stop guzzling.
Take the chorizo option and you’ll find yourself wondering if you could come back at lunchtime for another one. It’s so addictive, it should come with a government health warning.
But should you come back at lunchtime then there’s a whole other set of dangers: fishcakes of hake and salmon with lemon and parsley butter, slow braised pork shoulder with handmade flat bread and crunchy Asian slaw with fries, a BLT, a burger, a burger for vegetarians and a few other hard-to-resist stomach packers.
Bank has taken on the mantle of dude food culture and made it its own. It’s not as experimental as its predecessors but it is as interesting and as satisfying. The staff are top class and there’s a slickness to the operation.
The site of the restaurant, which became an east Belfast landmark as the Gourmet Burger Bank, has retained that trendy vibe which drew us all there in the first place. This vibe is repeated a few doors down at Bennett’s and a few doors up at Café Smart. Between them, Strandtown has established itself as a very pleasant enclave and the village centre with its post office, chippie, craft shops, art gallery, chemist’s and mini supermarket is alive and well.
Bank fits right in, and even if you aren’t from there, make a point of going there.
Breakfast hash with chorizo £6.50
Lemon Pellegrino £2.25