Restaurant review: We try out Loaf Cafe and Bakery
307 Grosvenor Road, Belfast. Tel 07823 881739
There was a brief and intense moment of sausage roll searching in Belfast during the month of June on the social network site Twitter. This involved Stephen Clements and Cate Conway off the radio, a battalion of committed tweeters and me indulging in our collective guilty pleasure.
It meant that, everywhere we went on our separate paths through life during the month, if a sausage roll moment presented itself, we photographed the life out of it, ate it and then reported about it on Twitter.
This caught the attention of a number of cafe owners in Belfast. So proud were they of their wares, it would have been churlish not to pay attention and visit them where possible.
And, so, I found myself eating a decent sausage roll in the Ulster University's York Street campus Streat cafe with former economy minister and lover of all things Northern Ireland (especially baked and savoury), Sir Richard Needham. Interestingly, the sausage roll was heated in a vector oven for a minute or two and was presented with super-flaky pastry and moist, porky interior in perfect condition.
This received approving nods, unlike that which was served by Barry from his Cafe 2 U van. His coffee may be very good, but the sausage roll was greasy and limp.
By the way, if this is the kind of thing you take seriously, you really ought to turn to the blog site RollPatrol.tumblr, where sausage rolls are analysed in forensic detail.
Roll Patrol analysts are thorough and mark down details most of us would overlook: such details include a sausage roll's girth and structure, flakiness index, filling-to-pastry ratio and even commentary on the condiment delivery method (usually a frowned-upon sachet). Not even a Russian weapons inspector would show such attention to detail, but if you're a sausage roll aficionado, it's the place for you.
In this fiercely competitive field, a few providers stand out. Ground Espresso cafe in the Sprucefield Next store upstairs is a surprise contender. It offers a choice of three, including the Bang Bang, the chorizo and the regular sausage roll. Naturally, all three were tested and all three delivered very high scores.
The Bang Bang, unusual in that the Asian spice flavours seemed very comfortable in the surroundings of pastry, as did the chorizo. Another unexpected finalist was the Mess Cafe on board the newly opened HMS Caroline, whose choice of two (classic and chorizo) is supplied by French Village.
However, the sausage roll crown is placed firmly on the head of Cathy Moore at Loaf Cafe and Bakery on the Grosvenor Road facing the Royal Victoria Hospital's main entrance.
Baked by Loaf (they also supply their sister operation the Bobbin Cafe in the City Hall), using local produce, the choice of three includes a chicken, basil and sundried tomato affair, which is voluminous and filling. The ratio of filling to pastry is heavily weighted towards the meat, which is moist, firm and delivers all the flavours listed.
The pastry is light, flaky and minimal, for which you will be grateful as the whole thing is so large. Of the three, this was my favourite.
The vegetarian sausage roll uses sweet potato for bulk and peppers for flavour. It was a bit soft and too squidgy. The relationship with the flaky pastry is less happy and the structure is too soft. The pastry needs a more solid interior.
The classic pork sausage roll (£2) is, like the chicken one, a lunch in itself. It has all the salty welly of the perfect roll, yet the chicken one beats it in terms of flavours and consistency.
What makes Loaf all the more remarkable is that it is a social enterprise, employing people who face more barriers to working than most of us. It also runs on the principles of local first - even the herbs come from an urban garden just down the street.
Cathy Moore grew up on a farm in deepest Armagh and understands good food. As the supervisor, she maintains the quality standards you would associate with a top-flight, city-centre restaurant.
In Michelin Star, or Bib Gourmand, terms, a restaurant should be good enough to stop for, or even to make a detour to visit. The same applies to Loaf. It's not only worth visiting. It's worth going out of your way to visit.
Chicken sausage roll £3.00
Veggie roll £2.00
Classic pork sausage roll with salad £3.00