Restaurant review Freight: Democratic dining that goes beyond the wacky venue
Review: Freight, 402 Newtownards Road (CS Lewis Square), Belfast. Tel: 028 9046 3828
The bish bash bosh of happy men and women cooking in bright steamy kitchens and serving big plates of dirty food in a couple of refurbished 40-foot containers is a uniquely life-affirming and joyful thing. It's a rare sight yet it's going on right under our noses in east Belfast every day.
Noisy, merry and compellingly infectious, entering through the sliding door of Freight in CS Lewis Square is like walking into a bar on a Friday night where all your favourite friends, entertainers, comedians, musicians and other life-enhancing bad company were waiting for you. Even on a wet Sunday afternoon, Freight - the recently rebranded restaurant opened by brothers Gerry and Christy McQuillan - has all the party vibes and a soundtrack to tap to, and to reinvigorate those endorphins and dopamine.
Front of house is Marc Salley, recently returned from a winter in the ski resorts of the Alps and suitably bronzed and buffed. But Marc's not just about the good looks. He's got form. Years at Deanes and later at Noble, he knows a thing or two about a thing or two including service, mood judgment and wines. You might think he's wasted in a place that's BYO but this is a temporary situation which Marc and the McQuillans hope to rectify in the coming days. After which, expect to be treated to some of the more exciting wines available in Belfast at affordable prices.
Freight is all about democracy. It is a celebration of great food and service at prices most of us can afford. It was a combination of the two inspirations in my life: the adviser, and writer and philosopher Joe Nawaz, both of whom share an alarmingly obsessive love and encyclopaedic knowledge of David Bowie and who frequently swap Bowie information via Instagram.
Joe posted a picture of a meal he was about to eat in Freight and this was so unlike him; everything stopped in our house for a minute while his post was checked out. Turns out he meant it. So off we went on Sunday for brunch, mother-in-law and teen in tow, just to see if he was right.
The container as wacky venue has become more mainstream; it's the restaurant, the food and service, comfort and light which seduce you and demand you come back again and again. Here is food which is big and bold by Belfast standards, at the very edge of the boundary where street food meets classy compositions and where Korean kimchi is as welcome and mainstream as a gherkin in McDonald's just across the street from here.
There are waffles and bao buns, pancakes, pulled beef bennies, meatball sandwiches and a rich vegetarian and vegan board of choice. The dishes match the mood perfectly. Big beardy Michael Hinds provides more entertainment and knowledge in his unique style of hospitality and the recommendations are laid down clearly and assertively. Don't go past the Korean chicken and, ooh, you should seriously consider the n'duja meatball sandwich.
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These are duly ordered; a piri chickpea ragout with tomato, spinach and capers for the vegetarian, and confit pork belly on a buttermilk pancake with honey chilli and a poached egg for the senior.
The sandwich and the Korean chicken are splendid things to behold. The first is a cartoon rendition where every proportion is exaggerated and volumised, the doorstep slices of toasted sourdough enclosing the meatballs and cheese within, covered by a snowfall of small-bore grated Emmental resulting in the most unusually attractive composition I've seen since Stevie Toman's lobster and pea creation in Ox. Seriously.
The Korean chicken is a battered wonder of spice and texture, the kimchi providing tang and bite and the waffle foundation warmth and volume.
Freight is a delight. All generations will love the happy mood, the dance music (loud but not conversation-stopping), the brightness and the sheer enthusiasm and zest. This is hospitality as showbiz. It's also very clever and I can't wait to get back.
Meatball sandwich ........................... £10
Korean chicken ................................. £11
Piri chickpea ................................ £11.50
Confit pork belly ......................... £11.50
Total ................................................... £44