Restaurant review: We try Yahi at the Great Northern Mall in Belfast
Northern Mall, Great Victoria Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9023 0333.
Not many restaurants achieve a reputation for their signature dishes, but Barking Dog has managed it with its shin burger.
Food trends are always intriguing. Right now, it's the year of burger battles, last year it was the chicken shacks. This summer? My money's on fast slow food.
By this I mean, stews, slow smokes and barbecued meats, all for takeaway, or fast lunch consumption. Look at Bubbacue. Or, rather, wait until next week when I review it here.
They've changed the look and feel of the experience, ditched the gingham and homey vibe (and generated quite a hostile response as a result), but have stuck to the slow-cooked principles which still lie at the heart of the operation.
And so it is at Yahi. Housed in one of the most inhospitable parts of the planet, the Great Northern Mall, a passageway squeezed in between the Europa and the Millennium Building on Great Victoria Street, Yahi is like a kind of Antarctic research station, an outpost of humanity in a freezing cold and wind swept desert.
Great Northern Mall is a passageway which links the Europa Bus Centre to Great Victoria Street. It is the key entrance point to the heart of the capital, the gateway through which thousands of passengers arrive or leave the city every day.
Other cities celebrate these logistical sites by building fabulously grand edifices to make the point that you've alighted in a very important place. Instead, we have this miserable little tunnel. Even a suburban Tube station in London has more presence and sense of occasion.
Yet, within the thoroughfare, businesses do their best to brighten the place up. Yahi is the star among them. A kind of laboratory cum diner, there is just enough exposed timber and other visual clues to provide a sense of cool, modern informality.
The place is beautifully lit and the faux white brick work creates a bright and cheerful environment for those choosing to take a seat and table. I must at this point declare an interest in that the self-service café-restaurant belongs to a client who does not want to be identified. But, just to be clear, I am not employed by Yahi.
The concept is not much different to most other sit-in/takeaway cafés. There are breakfasts, lunch specials, buns and coffees. The Yahi slogan, "Hunted and Gathered", hints at a natural, raw wholesomeness.
There are Mexican bean stews, Tuscan bean soup, slow cooked pork 'Babi bap' served with Asian vegetables, or today's baguette, which comes with chicken and Korean-style pickled veg.
There are couscous-based salads and loads of fresh things, including those compelling juices made by the local bright young things at Mango Street, the social enterprise which is making a big impact.
But, this being Belfast, and Yahi having its commercial head on, there's a lot besides which could trick any ordinary mortal back into bad dietary habits. Particularly bold are the Portuguese custard tarts and there are also fabulously wide Florentines.
But if Yahi is a quality takeaway, does it also stand up as a proper sit-down?
Well, yes. I noticed various people in deep business discussions, others clearly waiting for a bus, or an arrival.
I had the option of meeting some clients there, but thought they'd be put out by the fact that it's cheap and cheerful. In fact, it's not that cheap and while it's cheerful, it's on a similar level, albeit as a self-service, as the former Deane's Seafood Bar.
Also, if you order your stuff and pay for it they'll bring it to your table, so it is one up on a regular cafeteria.
The food itself is almost entirely locally sourced. Breakfast offers include porridge with a choice of add-ons including Warrenpoint honey, Clandeboye yoghurt with granola, artisan sourdough, or granary toasted and accompanied by house cinnamon butter, or house honey butter.
Bacon is from Sloan's, there's Ballymaloe relish and Clonakilty black pudding, Fivemiletown goat's cheese, Co. Antrim chicken and Irish roast beef: not all together, you understand. I'm just picking out some of the bits and bobs.
The thing about Yahi is its style. It is fashionable and comfortable. It is utterly unexpected in this part of the city.
It is flawed, however.
You order your lunch, pay for it and sit down. It's brought to you, but then you have to get up again if you want one of those Portuguese tarts, which you will, and a coffee for dessert.
Babi bap £4.95
Chicken baguette £5.50
Tuscan soup £2.50
Portuguese tart (x2) £3.50
Flat white coffee £2.50
Bottle water £1.60