Oriental cafe in the heart of Belfast is perfect for the shy and those who want to be alone
We all have little addictions we would prefer others not to know about. Some take exaggerated enjoyment from the smell of petrol when filling the car, others like a drink before breakfast (and I don't mean coffee) while there are quite a few who obsess on an hourly basis about their body mass index and fat-to-muscle ratios.
Some of us have habits about which we are unconscious. For instance, nail-biters rarely realise they are making an a*se of themselves in a meeting chewing on their finger tips.
Drivers parked at traffic lights who pick their noses must surely be unaware of their profound repulsiveness, so they can't possibly be conscious of their actions. And what about teachers who won't finish their sentences in a bid to encourage the children to fill in the blanks and then forget they are in adult company and still do it?
My own bad habit is one I am very conscious of and one that I have very few opportunities to indulge.
I love to eat a meal while watching the telly with the sound down and reading a newspaper and listening to the radio at the same time. Our kitchen is perfectly set up for this but only rarely — perhaps early on a Sunday morning while everyone is still asleep — does the opportunity arise.
Our office dining area is similarly set up to satisfy this indulgence with a wall-mounted flat screen and all the papers of the day. It's not that I am antisocial, but there are times when you just want to be alone for half an hour to stew in nothingness, to listen to background TV and radio noises and to see what the Jackson family's next moves will be as they battle with each other to be the one most saddened by the death in the family.
There is a restaurant in Belfast that is perfectly geared for this unattractive habit.
Tao Noodle Bar in the University of Ulster complex by Belfast's St Anne's Cathedral has TV screens, comfortable leather banquettes and funky, modern anonymity — all the right ingredients to make the guiltiest indulger of his or her own private me-time, a bit more comfortable.
Imagine a designed-up bookie's with stools, elbow-height tables and shelves and lots of screens about, that's a bit like Tao. Except that Tao is blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows and bright lights, as well as wide-screen flat tellies. It's all MTV stuff so it's not exactly David Attenborough, Mastermind or Newsnight, but it's just the thing for a lunchtime solo bite.
Some people, understandably, are self-conscious about going into a restaurant on their own. A table for one sounds so pathetic. But here in modern, orangey, cheerful TAO, you could be in some downtown Shanghai alley among utter strangers who are here just to eat a bowl of noodles and bathe their eyes on the telly.
It doesn't matter what's on anyway, the telly is your companion. The telly means others like you are just looking at it rather than getting all nervous and uncomfortable about being alone or looking at you.
It's a bit film noir, a bit Wim Wenders and his movie Paris Texas and very, very moody.
You can almost imagine you are in a huge metropolis where the friendless and companionless are common and where the cult of the individual means it's ok to be on your own.
In fact, being on your own is a sign of strength. No family or friends to hold you back from your inevitable trajectory to career glory and the fulfilment of your ambitions. This is definitely a very urban experience where the individual is all that matters. Society only works as a machine and the need for human contact is gone.
Except, of course, that Belfast is not huge and chances are that you can walk into a pub, restaurant club or gym and you'll know somebody there and they'll know you. We are still very rural, really. In fact, it's unheard of to go out on your own, even for lunch.
Nonetheless, Tao offers the loner a friend for the duration of their meal. And this is a good thing because in Northern Ireland there are far too many people out there who frankly should be on their own.
Take shy people. Shy people are a burden on the rest of us. They stand there like tubes at parties or dinner parties not saying a word. How many times have you been out and got stuck with the shy one and then spent three hours trying to include them in conversation and introducing them to others and generally going far and beyond the call of duty just because you felt sorry for them?
Worse still, have you been to parties were everyone except you and the host is shy and you end up working for your supper and making all conversation because the numpties in the room can't actually speak?
You have to become the “entertaining one” because you simply can't stand silence at a party and you end up feeling a bit of a prat but nonetheless carry on because anything, anything is better than silence.
Tao is the place for these people. Shy people should never leave the house but if they do, here is where they should go. There's the telly to watch, simple Chinese food that is cheap and cheerful and a disinterested server who will barely notice they are there. They can remain silent to their hearts' content and annoy nobody but themselves.
So whether you are a moody Harry Dean Stanton who played Travis in Paris Texas and want to live that dark mood lifestyle for half an hour, or whether you are just a shy person with nothing to say for yourself, you will find comfort and solace in Tao.
And what could be easier to eat while glued to the TV than a bowl of noodles? No need to cut, slice or use two utensils. Just a fork or chopsticks will do. So you can use one hand to eat with and another to check your phone for texts that never come.
Incidentally, the noodles are good, in plain or spicy guise, the sauces are as you'd expect from a regular Chinese and there's very little else to say on the subject because you don't go to Tao for the food — just the company.
See which restaurant is being reviewed next in Weekend on twitter.com/jorisminne
Mini pork dumpling: £4.80
Won ton: £4.50
Spicy beef noodles: £5.99
Singapore noodles: £5.99
Coffees X 2: £3.00