Slums dwellers: We check out Belfast's new fast food joint
Slums: 25 Bruce Street, Belfast, tel: 028 9031 5164
Those who sample the spicy delights at Belfast's new Boojum-style fast food joint will more than likely return and become regular diners.
There are fast food takeaways in Belfast and there is Boojum. The phenomenal success of Boojum's two outlets (one in Botanic Avenue, the other in Chichester Street) which sell Mexican-style burritos composed before your very eyes, is down to quality, price and convenience. It appeals to those who view food as fuel but also to the hedonists who consider eating to be a moment which brings happiness.
Boojum's also very democratic. My younger daughter and I queued one recent lunchtime in the Chichester Street Boojum and had enormous craic watching Rory McIlroy a few people ahead, shuffling along patiently, just like the rest of us.
People are not one bit put off by the Boojum queue. It's part of the deal. Unless you go off-peak (which lasts about ten minutes sometime in the middle of the afternoon between lunch and dinner), you will find yourself doing the Boojum shuffle.
Invariably when in this queue you'll start talking to those around you. This happens with such frequency that the levels of social interaction among complete strangers generated in a Boojum queue should technically qualify it as a dating agency.
Once you reach the counter, the choices are simple but ample. Pork, chicken or beef, spicy or mild, salads, rices, peppers, salsas, sour cream and all the rest of it are options for your burrito, your bowl or tacos. It's spot on for £5.50.
Also, the food is wholesome so I have no bother taking my teenagers there as often as they like.
But now Boojum has a competitor. The contender is clumsily-named Slums, a similarly priced takeaway. It has lean-against bars and high bench tables - the kind of furniture you imagine Michael O'Leary of Ryanair would love to install in his proposed standing room only flights. They are guaranteed to provide just enough comfort to see you through to the end of your wrap or bowl.
Slums reaches for the Indian subcontinent for its inspiration, rather than Mexico, and therefore you will find the words masala, spiced lentils and naga on the large menu board above the servers.
Interestingly, the Boojum mechanics are evident. There is a reader-friendly four-step instruction on how to order your food - just like Boojum's, the sign is large and unmistakeable. There is a choice of three rices including plain, masala and coconut and you can have your meal in a wholemeal roti wrap which looks like a large, soft chapatti. Or you can have it in a plastic bowl. Both will cost you £5.50, the same as you guessed it.
Chicken, lamb or beef at various stages of chilli octane, salad, peppers, chutneys and warm sauces all make up the content of your meal. It may be a copy of a tried and tested model, but it has plenty of originality. The flavours are warm and reassuring, the textures are soft and varied and there's just enough excitement without pain in those sauces to warrant further visits. There are interesting accessories like the poppadom bowl with chutney for £2 and the Lassi shake, a yoghurt based drink flavoured with mango, vanilla, coconut, salted lime and so on for £2.50.
That's where this thing works. The food's good and when you're done, you know you'll come back for more.
Where it still has a few issues is in the process. Boojum has had a couple of years to perfect its production line and the teams of counter staff are slick and entertaining.
Slums needs to put one or two more troops in to make sure the peak moments don't become overwhelming. There are still a few beginners' nerves, but everything seemed to be heading the right way when I visited on a busy weekday lunchtime in the middle of December.
By the time I'd queued, chosen, paid, leant against one of those padded bars and finished eating, I felt pleased. I liked it as much as Boojum.
Fair play to Naz Din, the mastermind behind Slums, although I take issue with the name. The Belfast audience for this operation is sophisticated, culturally aware and politically sensitive. To call this restaurant Slums because of some kind of misguided link with Bengal or Indian street food makes as much sense as calling a German bratwurst take-away Firestorm after Dresden was flattened in the Second World War.
Nonetheless, once the branding is sorted Belfast has a great contender for Boojum's market.
Slums bowl: £5.50
Supplement for lamb: £0.50
Diet Coke: £1