Restaurant review: we take a bite out of Kurrito
26 Botanic Avenue, Belfast. Tel: 028 9543 5150
Is Kurrito, the Pakistani-Mexican burrito joint, a world first? Unless anyone makes a counter-claim, I will stake my reputation as a restaurant writer on this breathtaking, cross-continental and cross-discovery being the first of its kind.
In which case, this makes Belfast a leader among Western cities who boast diversity and multiculturalism as their key attractions.
Pakistani and Mexican sounds implausible, yet on closer inspection it's a natural fit. Both cultures share a staple of rice, a passion for chilli and garlic, flat breads and explosive craic.
Samina Kauser opened Kurrito last year after arriving from Nottingham, where she had been a business adviser. She says she spent years egging people on to throw caution to the wind and put all their savings into the business venture of their dreams.
When the time came for her to do the same she took a deep breath, though, not knowing for sure if the idea of a Pakistani burrito bar in Belfast would work.
But, of course, it has worked. It's worked so well that it has created copies, including Slum's on Bruce Street. It is popular, it is simple and it is very good.
I've been in half-a-dozen times, once with the adviser. It's safe to say the place is consistent. If you're familiar with Boojum, or Slum's (Chalco's, I am coming to you very soon), you will recognise the three-step cafeteria process of ordering.
There are various combinations of rice, sauces, vegetables, meats and salads and, unless you're clear as to exactly what you want, you risk being trampled by the queues forming behind you.
Actually, it's not quite as pressured as Boojum, which I frequently visit for take-aways for my teen girls - you really need to know exactly what you are ordering at each of the three stages otherwise you look like a complete loser, my girls tell me. For one thing, it's more of a sit-down kind of place.
Tables and chairs may be simple and sturdy, but they attract a steady flow of clients, who find the place surprisingly comfortable and intimate. It has cachet, a certain ethnic chic which is very street and very mature. It takes us out of ourselves.
And yet Samina is clear that it has to be local. So all the produce is top quality from top suppliers, the same as those delivering to James Street South and Deane's. This means you can eat roughly the same ingredients for just over a fiver.
There are burritos, large flour tortillas filled with anything you want, or tacos, fajitas and beautifully delicate and thin roti flat bread, like Indian chapati, made from stone-ground wholemeal flour, but it's the bowls I go for each time.
This is largely to do with convenience and eating with a fork. Also, there are specials. Last time, she had been marinating cubes of super-tender lamb in a curry which was simultaneously heavenly and sinful.
The lamb is marinated, as are the other meats, in exactly the same way as she learned to do from her mother. This is authentic and as a result it's intense and full of flavour.
For those who do not enjoy heat and fire, there are plenty of very moderately spiced alternatives. A minced lamb stew is warm and soothing, pulled and shredded chicken in dry curry marinade is deep and rich and there is fish, plenty of veggie options and a daal which has the most buttery depth of any I have tasted.
Fresh chopped salad vegetables and a selection of chilli sauces, paneers and raita yoghurt and mint sauces can heat, or cool, accordingly.
The stand-out, though, is the aromatic rice, which tastes like no other. These are flavours only a family secret could produce.
There are samosas and pakoras alongside sweet potato fries and chips. It's so good that when I finish writing this I'm off to Botanic Avenue.