Restaurant review: we take a bite out of Permit Room
The Permit Room. Fountain Street, Belfast. Tel 07967 201209
Finding a place for brunch in Belfast is the closest many of us will come to joining a search and rescue party. This is because the brunch concept is not an easy one for the city to accept and is, therefore, rare.
For years, visitors to Belfast have given off about the lack of brunch facilities. They complain quite bitterly about the situation on Sunday mornings. Things have improved in recent years with the arrival of General Merchants, French Villages' new ventures and Slim's.
But here's the thing. Belfast is the east Kentucky of eating culture. We stick rigidly to tradition, convention and the right things in the right place at the right time.
So, we do good breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Anything in between those meal times is viewed as ungodly and an abomination. If you have something to eat at 11.30am, that's just late breakfast and a sign you are slovenly, lazy and undisciplined.
And because I am all three, I am very pleased to encourage those Belfast restaurateurs who have persevered with the idea, tarting up their brunch offers with jazz, live comedy and cocktails.
The two creators of Howard Street restaurant, chef Marty Murphy and former financial adviser Niall Davis, are the latest recruits to the brunch movement.
Their new Permit Room occupies a site formerly made famous by Pedro Donald during the days of La Boca.
The Permit Room opens for breakfast, brunch and lunch until late afternoon. I love eating mid-morning and would have an appetite for anything ranging from a smoked salmon omelette to a lamb vindaloo.
There's something about your taste buds firing on all cylinders at that time of the day. It's like eating in 3D. Everything is augmented and enhanced. So why settle for eggs and bacon?
Permit Room has understood the brunch thing and is claiming that space as its own. A recent visit at 10am revealed the serious extent to which these people are taking the brunch concept.
There are dozens of dishes which help define brunch as more than a late breakfast or an early lunch. Here you will find shakshuka, a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions. It's a classic Middle Eastern meal eaten as breakfast and often accompanied by other enhancements.
In the Permit Room it's offered alongside parma ham and smoked applewood cheddar or avocado and marinated Greek feta. The last time I had this was in southern Turkey and Permit Room's appeared a quality match.
But I was seduced by the flatbread served with house-made braised beans. The options are to have this with black pudding, sausage, bacon, fried egg and chilli jam (a kind of Belfast fusion of eastern and Ulster), breakfast mushrooms with spinach and feta, or chargrilled Irish bacon with cream cheese and chilli jam.
The flatbread was crisp and light and folded over a treasure of fried egg, open black pudding and the rest. Great texture balance between the bread, meats and jam and those sweet and mildly bitter beans made the dish dribblingly lush.
And it was served both charmingly and quickly. One thing the brunch sector needs to understand is the difference between the weekend and a weekday brunch.
Weekends are slower and lazier but week days require haste. People are more likely to drop in for something to eat mid-morning if they know they can be in and out swiftly.
As it happens, my co-pilot and I are meeting to discuss important affairs of state, but we don't have much time. Without being rushed, we were in and out in 35 minutes.
He had porridge and nuts and told me it was excellent: good consistency, robust flavours and there was plenty of it.
From noon, the Permit Room introduces the lunch menu which features ham hock and pea chowder, salt and chilli beef with Asian slaw, skinny fried and chilli mayo, red Thai curry, burger with mushrooms chicken and fish dishes, all at a tenner, or less.
It's licenced, so you can pimp your lunch into a full-scale culinary treat.
And that's the attraction of the Permit Room: it is a beautiful place, dark wood panelling, orange leather banquette, very conducive lighting and plenty of room despite the small overall size of the place.
It promises to become a key city centre attraction.
Flat white (x2) £5.80
Flatbread full £7.50