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Restaurant review: Cafe One Eighty, Portadown


Café One Eighty produces truly excellent food

Café One Eighty produces truly excellent food

Café One Eighty produces truly excellent food

The impact of the food industry is far-reaching. It employs, entertains, feeds and sustains hundreds of thousands of us in Northern Ireland. More than any other sector, the food business is the one which we all know about, because we have to eat.

What is required to bring food from sea, sky and field to our plates in terms of the variety of trades and professions and the impact this activity has on our environment, how we live and our quality of life, is all breathtakingly impressive.

It's no wonder, therefore, that part of this sector, the restaurant trade, engages a sizeable number of people in socially responsible ventures designed to help those facing greater challenges than most of us to find a trade and to contribute to the economy.

Many charities have spotted the income-generating potential of a good café, but others have created cafés and restaurants as development centres to help people with disabilities engage in the industry.

One such is Cafe One Eighty in Portadown. One Eighty - as locals like to call it - has made the news recently as it heads towards possible closure by the end of April.

Funding is running out for ventures such as One Eighty and with it the lifeline it provides to young people who face particularly hard challenges because of their disabilities.

One Eighty works with young people and adults with learning disabilities to offer them training within a supportive working environment, enabling them to gain qualifications and confidence to enter the world of work. The café operates as a training provider in partnership with the Southern Regional College.

But the café does not only do its best for its trainees, it actually produces excellent food. I went there for a three-course lunch earlier this week and found myself in the hands of some of the most attentive servers in Portadown.

For one thing, the central location of the café is a big advantage to anyone travelling by bus. It is easy to get to and once you're there it is a very pleasant place to be.

Well-designed interiors are important for any restaurant. Owners sometimes forget the importance of a comfortable environment, because they rarely, if ever, sit down in them themselves.

One Eighty is the kind of place in which a table for one provides a moment of relaxation. There's no need for company in a place like this. The atmosphere is already buzzing with friendliness, so you're not alone really.

The menu runs to a number of pages, but all you need to know is three things: the vegetable broth is an Ulster staple which we all know and love and here, everything about it is slightly louder, more defined. The carrots are chunkier and tastier, the barley is pearlier than in others, the broth is deep with bold, round, wintery flavours and the celery just slightly dominates the scene.

It is honestly outstanding and memorable. Here is the simplest of Ulster soups done brilliantly.

Cod and chips are standard and fresh with an exemplary little ramekin of mushy peas, minty and breathy. A little dressed salad and some tartar in a pot (not in a catering pack which you split and spill all over yourself) show class and value.

Closing proceedings is a French-style open apple tart made with almond paste and short crust base. Heavenly with a cup of tea, all the more so when the tea comes free with each dessert.

Cafe One Eighty is a partnership operation with the Southern Regional College. Social enterprises like these are essential to civilisation. Here is a platform on which people with learning difficulties can exceed their own expectations, become economically active and access the dignity most of us at work take for granted. It's what we pay our taxes to support.

In this, the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink, it would be an infinitely small, but extraordinarily significant investment to show what positive and long-term impact the sector can have on those who face far greater barriers to work than most of us.

Every town should have a One Eighty.

The bill:

Soup £3.50

Fish and chips £7.00

Tart £3.50

Total £14.00

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