Restaurant review: Sawers deli a feast as visual as it is culinary
5-6 Fountain Centre, College Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9032 2021
If you fancy lunch with a difference, head over to the Fountain Centre and get a taste for the exotic at this truly fabulous food bazaar.
Is Kieran Sloan the most hospitable man in Belfast? Take a look at his shop, Sawers, in the Fountain Centre close to City Hall and you can immediately tell that he is more than a bit passionate about food. On closer analysis, Sawers defies all the laws of space and dimension by packing in what appears to be enough locally sourced, tinned, conserved, smoked, freshly squeezed, just-picked, just-gathered, just-caught, dolphin-friendly, fair-trade, organic, expensive, cheap, imported and always exotic foods to fill Harrods' food hall.
In so many ways, Sawers is even better than Harrods because of the compactness and cheeriness of the place. Where else in the world would you get fresh pollan and smoked eel from Lough Neagh, an array of Middle Eastern baclavas and a selection of meats including zebra, rattlesnake and bison?
Sloan has effectively managed to turn an obsessive passion for food into a full-time occupation and, as is the case for all obsessives, too much is never enough. Not only can you buy all this wonderful produce and take it home, you can eat it here, too.
A recent visit with the brother saw us standing in a short and fast-moving queue at the back of the food bazaar among the glorious smells of cheeses and where a choice of salads, cheese melts, pizzas and various other offerings were on sale for £4.95 a pop.
Do not be discouraged by the sheer blinding volumes of choice and little hand-painted blackboards promoting meal deals. Kieran himself said you have to get used to the ordering process. The staff are so smiley and helpful that even slow learners like me are made to feel comfortable.
You choose, pay your money and then find yourself a seat out at the tables on the street and wait a few minutes for the delivery.
The food here is everything you've ever had from decent quality take-away lunch counters, but done brilliantly. There are salads featuring pasta, artichokes, coleslaw, lettuce, noodles, scallions and chilli brie. Yes, that's right, brie cheese covered in high-octane chilli flakes, enough to wake up an army.
The salad may be a random mix of components, but the flavours and textures are all so distinct that it works. It's a salad for bored people. But there are many other types of salad, cold cuts and fully veggie alternatives.
A cheese melt with salami is lush and salty, with an added hit of Sawers' own Cajun sauce. The American melt is made with pastrami, dill pickle, Monterey Jack cheese, Jack Daniels BBQ sauce and comes in a chargrilled baguette. (Not all the melts are the same: some come on Italian flatbread, others in pannini-type rolls.)
The strength of Sawers' lunches, whether you choose to sit out on the street, or take them back to the office, is the sheer variety. Chargrilled Mexican wraps hold piri piri chicken, jalapenos, roast peppers and smoked cheese, a veggie wrap consists of Italian butter beans and artichokes, goats cheese, sunblush tomatoes, fresh pesto and wild rocket salad and the chill beef wrap has sliced Irish roast beef, sweet chilli noodles and roast peppers.
Chargrilled bagel anyone? The list goes on and the ingredients list seems endless.
Sawers has been on the go since the 19th century: this is its third century in operation. In this time it has established itself as the go-to place for those weird and wonderful bits and pieces you found on holidays in distant parts. It's big strength is Mediterranean ranges of olives and seafoods, cheeses and sauces.
The extraordinary range of stuff in here is what has prompted much love and admiration from the very fussy Observer newspaper, Guild of Fine Food, Best Taste awards and the McKenna Guide.
The feast is as visual as it is culinary. If you're feeling in need of a little pick-me-up and routine-busting activity, you really ought to dig that fiver out of the purse and take a trip down here.
You'll be well fed and, if Kieran's about, you'll feel that wave of hospitality and craic warm your heart.
Italian melt and bottle water......£4.95
Mixed salad and water...............£4.95