Restaurant review: We take a bite from Arthur Street Café
Arthur Street Restaurant, Avoca, Belfast. Tel: 028 9027 9955
Restaurant manager Kathy Toye has managed to pull it off again, by raising standards at the Avoca cafe with a truly memorable crab salad.
Leadership is a concept which people across the world acknowledge and recognise in all sectors. There are courses in it and the business community loves to celebrate it. In any given year there are probably more awards events celebrating leadership than there are Gaelic, soccer, or cricket championships.
Northern Ireland has a touch of this and the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards are the most prestigious of them all. A business leader who wins a Belfast Telegraph award has made it. There is nothing more to achieve.
But still, nobody here likes anybody to get too uppity. We like our people to be good craic, modest, soul of the party and all. But the first sign of uppitiness and you're out. Which is probably why, as an economy and a society, we are doomed to mediocrity. Except, of course, that real leaders thrive in adversity and there is nowhere more adverse than here.
Which brings me to Kathy Toye, one of the great leaders in the culinary sector. In her time, Kathy Toye has managed restaurants that were not great. But her ability, charm, hospitality, organisational and managerial skills made these places work.
Talk about adversity? I remember going back four times to a restaurant she managed at her request before eventually putting my foot down and reviewing it for what it was rather than what she wanted it to be.
Now she's running the Arthur Street Restaurant in the Avoca store. It was always good, but you couldn't help double-checking the bill when you were walking down those stairs heading for the door, wondering how on earth you'd managed to spend that much on lunch.
But now it's a different story. It's not cheap, but the food is a notch above. This is a quality operation and some of the offers are on a par with the city's top restaurants.
A crab salad, for instance, which was more than just a dish of shredded fresh crab meat and a few leaves, turned out to be unforgettable.
The dish is £11.50, making it the most expensive crab salad in Belfast. But this is no girly starter. This is a full-on main, a meal consisting of a huge heap of lush Dundrum Bay crab meat (there must be the contents of four large crabs in there), which comes with a salad of fennel, radish, pickled cucumber, tom berry and caper salsa with their own home-baked wheaten.
If you can't get away this summer to the seaside, just nip into Avoca and order this. It is everything you want a fresh crab salad eaten in a beach shack to be. They even have ice-cold Hilden Belfast Blonde ale, which goes with it beautifully.
Everything, including the cucumber and the tom berries (like minute, but perfectly formed tomatoes) and the salsa, are perfect partners, heightening the tangy saltiness, the chilled freshness and the alternate soft and firm textures.
I had a soup earlier which was also a quality item. A vegetable broth with plenty of earthiness and a bit of heat from parsnips, it provided all the comfort and fortitude necessary to confront the uncertain weather conditions outside.
Avoca's restaurant is well-lit. I sat alone in a corner and looked around the large, square-shaped dining room. A busy lunchtime was prolonged by the environment's comfort and great lighting.
It's not a place you want to rush away from. The service is fast, but not frantic and Toye's ability to keep all the plates spinning and her team working to high standards is an asset to the city centre.
It may all be a bit Dublin 4, but don't let this stop you from enjoying one of the best lunch experiences in Belfast.
Crab salad: £11.50
Belfast Blonde: £4.85