Restaurant review: Freshii - a sin-free new taste
Healthy eating is a concept that many of us pay lip service to, but there can be no excuses for not putting it to the test in this new Belfast outlet
Freshii, the fast health food chain, has popped up on the corner of Donegall Square and Wellington Place, all lush, glowing and green. It was only a matter of time before somebody would take the concept of healthy eating seriously and provide the punter with quick and easy access to fast raw food.
Slim's Healthy Kitchen appeared to offer precisely this, but (thank the stars) they were also wise to the fact that people would always reach for a burger and chips, as long as they were on the menu hidden among the bulgar wheat, kale crisps and vegetarian curry. So while you might look virtuous eating in Slim's it may be that you're not eating that healthily.
Unfortunately, and not a little embarrassingly, as soon as anyone mentions the two words "healthy" and "eating" in one sentence, I cannot prevent the curling of the upper lip or saying rude things. It just seems wrong to present food which belongs in a pharmacy, a trough or a hospital ICU as an enjoyable alternative to the cooked stuff we usually prefer.
I keep away from salad bars and those people who eat wholesome Tupperware lunches they made the night before (I can sense the adviser growling - she does it all the time) because while these meals may provide nutrition and energy they also offer the opposite of comfort and joy.
Call me a hedonist, but eating should always be a joy and we should be grateful for it.
This intolerant position recently slapped me in the face, however, reminding me that I was wrong and that healthy food could be a joy after all. Raw Food Rebellion (now called something else) and Tony and Jen's, both on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, provide outstanding food. In the case of Raw Food Rebellion, the vegan offer was just as enjoyable as any of the more sinful deep-fried things I've eaten out of a newspaper and polystyrene container after a Friday night out.
Now enter Freshii, which has commercialised the genre more than anyone else. Although not strictly vegetarian (there are optional add-ons to dishes including beef, chicken and tuna) the corporate feel of the branding, the glass chill counter and the price lists, all give off a slight whiff of Five Guys and Bubbacue. White tiles and dark wood panelling mix pleasantly with bistro furniture in the surprisingly intimate, higgledy piggledy lay out of the dining areas.
The Belfast outlet seems to attract more office workers than young ones. But it's only a matter of time before parents of teenagers will demand to see Freshii receipts proving that they didn't spend their pocket money on a filthy burger and ate healthily instead.
And eat healthily they will should they ever darken the door of this place. It's all kale, quinoa, corn and carrots and plenty in between. While the aluminium chill trays look not unlike the kind of thing you'd see behind glass in a Subway, they are all filled with brown rice, broccoli, tomatoes, black beans cheese, avocado and the like. These will go into the burrito you order, or the bowls, the salads or wraps. Effectively, kale and quinoa form the foundations of most of their boxed meals. Even the soups will feature kale or quinoa or both.
To the uninitiated, it can be a bit daunting. The screens above the counter keep changing so just when you thought you'd learned off by heart the contents of the Buddha's Satay bowl (rice noodles, crispy lentils, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, green onions and peanut sauce), it switches to another item. But menus are at hand and you can just order pre-determined meals from it.
The ingredients are good quality. A Mediterranean bowl is packed with quinoa, salad greens, Kalamata olives, chopped red onions, feta, cucumbers, roast red peppers, tomatoes, coriander, almonds and a red pepper sauce. Little sign of the sauce meant reaching for the Sriracha bottle poised on each table. Wholesome but a bit bland, crunchy but not hugely tasty, my reliance on the Sriracha ended up with stinging red lips. I can still feel the throbbing.
Nonetheless, it's hard to knock this. The price is good for the freshness and abundance of what you receive. It will take some trial and error before I get the mix right, but on first impressions, it's not bad at all. And you will feel very smug and delighted with yourself for having eaten so healthily. It's like a gym for your mouth.
Mediterranean bowl: £7.95
Added chicken: £1.00
San Pellegrino: £1.35