Joris' restaurant review: We take a bite out of Kitch
Kitch 61-63 Dublin Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9033 3353
Belfast's circle of restaurant life continues to revolve, reinvent and reincarnate. The recent opening of Kitch on the Dublin Road is evidence of a sector showing strong vital signs. A thousand years ago the space now occupied by Kitch was the home of La Belle Epoque, famed for its matchstick chips and rustic, clay-tiled floors.
The tiles are still there, but that's where the similarities end. Kitch's dining room may be low budget: those school assembly chairs, low-slung banquettes and white-washed brick walls aren't just cool and trendy - they're cheap and cheerful; but clearly much thought has gone into the layout and lighting.
James Connolly, in full managerial outfit of stiff collar, silk tie, waistcoat and matching trousers, is the host with the most. Belfast needs a few more assertive maitre d's like Connolly, guys who know how to greet you at the door and take you inside. Saul McConnell at Deane's Deli, current super-welterweight title holder of best maitre d' in Belfast, would approve.
Formally in the retail trade, James Connolly went into business with the owners of the successful Archana a couple of doors down and opened Kitch last October.
There's a buzz of office workers at lunchtime making the most of the very reasonably priced menu and the slick service. The priority of a lunchtime restaurant should be to let people know they will be served quickly.
Nobody wants to under-chew their food, gulp down their sparkling water and have a heart attack trying to get back to work within 10 minutes, but too few restaurants understand the need to be quick at lunchtime. So when I saw the Irish stew with pearl barley on the menu, James explained it would take 10 minutes, as each plate of stew was freshly composed (not lying in the bottom of a pot slowly solidifying like in some places I know).
Nine minutes later, the stew was on the table. A large, deep and wide white bowl contained a composed assortment of centimetre-cubed potatoes, carrots and shredded lamb in a deep and meaty, stewy sauce, made all the slightly denser by the barley.
A light sprinkling of chopped parsley on top completed the picture. A small building of thick wheaten bread slices stood on a wooden bread board with a pot of butter.
This with a glass of house red (Chilean Cono Sur) turned out to be one of the most memorable lunches I've had this year. The stew was as comforting as a roaring turf fire, the rich and deep lamb flavours providing sanctuary from the day's troubles and fortification for the rest of the week.
There are times when you are alone and a dish like this pops up and you realise, slightly guiltily, that you are delighted not to be sharing the moment with anyone else.
But even if I had been with the adviser, or a friend, or client, this stew would have demanded full attention. And, thankfully, as with any dish you wish would never end, Kitch's stew comes in industrial size.
But Kitch is not a one-trick pony. There are small plates at £3.50 of patatas bravas with chorizo chips, parma ham with marinated artichoke and bruschetta, spiced meatballs with rocket and parmesan and other miniature delights.
For the luncher in a hurry, there's a selection of flatbreads served with a side of fries, or salad, within which you might have shredded spiced lamb, roast red peppers, harissa and fresh parsley, or piri piri chicken, chorizo and roast corn, or various other combinations.
There's also the soup and blaa combo. Not all of you will be familiar with Wexford's soft roll, as much a part of the ancient city as the stoddie is to Geordies and the bap is to Belfast.
But if you're serious about using your lunch-hour as a mini singles holiday, then you should choose to have that fling with the shredded lamb stew, the BBQ pulled pork sliders, lemon and black pepper scampi, or the hot salt beef on sourdough with cheese, pickle and mustard mayo.
Kitch will not appeal to those in search of poshness, silence, or enveloping comfort. There is a very interesting soundtrack which embraces everything from quality Seventies disco to obscure, but calming trance; it is not played so loudly as to interfere with the mood.
That mood is bright, enthusiastic and charming. And so is the food.
Lamb stew £8.00
Sparkling water £2.00
Glass red wine £3.95