Restaurant review: We take a bite out of Dina Dina
53 Upper Arthur Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9543 4110
All it takes is a couple of bites to determine whether or not you think a restaurant is worth a return visit. We are remarkably unfussy as to where those bites might have been taken, or how much or little consumed. But you know when you know, whether it's a £40 lunch in Eipic or a blue cheese 'n' bacon burger from Rocket & Relish.
This is now the case with one of the most modest lunch counters in Belfast. The new Dina Dina is so small, unobtrusive and modest, you might have walked past it many times already without noticing.
The brainchild of a tall, tattooed Italian called Alex, the takeaway and sit-in Dina Dina is as authentic an Italian restaurant as we are going to get here.
Alex keeps it dead simple. There are piadinas and small pizzas and chocolate salami. And that's it. Oh, and some pasta, but only on Thursdays and Fridays and its served up with Alex's secret weapon: a pesto so good he can barely bring himself to tell me it's from, er, Coleraine.
Piadinas are the central platform of Dina Dina's success. A seemingly ancient idea involving fresh cooked flat bread, not unlike that used in a Mexican burrito, can come in three different guises including vegetarian, chicken, or home-made sausage. Smoked cheese and cooked peppers feature in this, as well as a spicy tomato sauce.
Doesn't sound like much, but when things are this simple it's essential that every single component is world-class. And it is.
For Alex, it's a matter of life or death. And his mother's honour. She is the one who inspired the piadina he serves up and he swears it's as good and as authentic as any you'll get in Rimini, where these things originate.
For £5.25, it's hard to be critical, but when you put the thing in your mouth you realise that great food doesn't have to cost the earth.
The humble-looking folded piadina comes in a little plastic basket divided into four so that you can eat it without slobbering it all over the place. The sausage makes a bold appearance. It's burger-sized and solid. But the flavours are as delicate as the finest pork loin. There is a hint of cumin and chilli and the texture is light and crumbly. Peter Hannan would approve.
The smoked cheese maintains a back seat and doesn't overwhelm the way some smoked ingredients can and sweet peppers balance out the salty, spicy meat all brought together by a light and almost imperceptible tomato sauce. I had it with an ice cold can of Diet Coke, but the next time I might try to sneak in a glass of Barolo.
There are two desserts: tiramisu and chocolate salami. The salami consists of three thick slices of soft, dark chocolate into which has been mixed chip-sized crumbs of some kind of almond, or perhaps sponge, cake to create a similar effect to the famous Milano sausage.
But this is no gimmick: the chocolate is fine and deep without being too sweet and the moist cakey bits inside provide just the right lightness to make it far less daunting and rich.
Dina Dina has a tiny coffee maker, which uses Lavazza capsules. If you thought those George Clooney ones were pretty good, you have a pleasant surprise in store. A Lavazza espresso for a quid.
I'm back soon to try the mini pizzas, which are also a pound each, or £2.50 for three of them. The tiny place and its blackboards displaying a choice of no more than half-a-dozen meals is the real deal. It's what Belfast has been waiting for: real Italian food to take away, or gulp down swiftly during a lunch break for a pocket full of change.
It's a wonder and you should give it a shout. You're bound to see me in there over the summer, as I have every intention of trying every little item Alex and his helpers are making.
Piadina with hot stuff £5.25
Chocolate salami £1.50