Joris Minne: Cornish Pasty Trading Company
These modest Cornish delicacies are going down a storm in Belfast, so what’s all the fuss about?
It may be one of the most humble meals but this hasn’t stopped the Cornish pasty from doing a bit of social climbing.
It now rubs shoulders with Champagne, Camembert and Parma ham in the exclusive club of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status holders. (Northern Ireland’s very posh Lough Neagh Eels just secured their PGI earlier this month.)
The new status effectively means you can make all the pasties you want anywhere you want, with whatever you want inside them, but unless you make them in Cornwall, the south western English county, you can’t call them Cornish pasties. Only pasties.
After nine years of bureaucratic wrangling, the Cornish Pasty Association (CPA) secured the naming rights in February so it was only a matter of time before your taster nipped down to the Cornish Pasty Trading Company in Belfast’s Church Lane, to see what the fuss has been about.
Honestly? I don’t get it. Yes, the pasties sold in the charming little pirate’s house of a restaurant are only £2.80 (£3.50 for a large traditional one) and yes they are made by an ancient bakery in Penzance with fresh, unadulterated ingredients and shipped to Belfast, but is it worth protecting or shouting about something so modest? I guess it depends on which pasty you choose from the list of 17 on offer by irrepressibly enthusiastic owner Derek Brum.
He let me taste four different fillings including one of the five vegetarian versions. This prompted the question then, what is an official Cornish pasty?
Brum says a genuine CPA-endorsed Cornish pasty made in Cornwall is D-shaped and crimped on one side alone, while a chunky, lightly seasoned filling comprises uncooked minced or chunks of beef (not less than 12.5 per cent), swede, potato, and onion with a light seasoning. “The casing is golden, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and must retain its shape after being slow baked. No artificial flavourings or additives are allowed.”
Sure enough, the traditional pasty offered by Brum is a reassuring meal. It might have a bit of heaviness about it, what with all that pastry and it certainly constitutes a lunch and a half, but a small one for £2.30, medium for £2.80 or large for £3.50 shows the democratic nature of the pasty has not been lost.
The interesting thing, however, is how Brum’s Cornish pasties are being influenced by his Northern Ireland clientele. You might think Ulster folk might lean towards convention and tradition — but the most popular pasty sold here is filled with Balti chicken. This is either a fair indication of how much we cherish traditional values, authenticity and the importance of Protected Geographical Indication or it’s just that we are plain-speaking folk with a craving for spice, no matter what the delivery mechanism is.
The Penzance bakery, formerly Warren’s and now known as Simply Cornish apparently studies our tastes and eating habits closely and has been refining the pasties it has been sending to Belfast over the last few months. This must be why there are five veggie options including an offensive spinach, feta and pecan (I couldn’t eat it) and more pleasant oddities such as those I did enjoy: beef and stilton, peppered steak and, naturally, the Balti chicken.
So while the pasties have a certain charm — they’re perfect for time-poor office workers and shoppers as they’re fresh and ready to eat and there’s no hanging about while sandwiches are being made — the restaurant itself has great potential. The first floor dining room, decorated in wood panelling, has the mood of a small rural library and the cosiness to go with it. There’s also a pleasant little terrace at the front with a couple of tables and chairs for those sunny moments.
Possibly even more of a draw, however, are Brum’s breakfast baps. He opens at 8am and prepares these giant egg, bacon and sausage baps for £2. There may be nothing Cornish about these but the locals in Belfast have embraced them nonetheless.
The Queen’s Arcade-based Proper Pasty take-away is not connected to the Church Lane operation but it was the place in which Derek Brum started up. He’s convinced the pasty is the future. With two places selling quality pasties in Belfast, he must be right.
Trad large pasty..........................£3.50
Balti chicken pasty.....................£2.80
Bottled water and fruit.............£1.30
20 Church Lane, Belfast BT1 4QN
Tel: 07919 023373