Restaurant review: Root & Branch Cafe
1B Jameson Street, Belfast. firstname.lastname@example.org
The top end of the Ormeau Road has now stolen a lead on the rest of the city's cool districts (Lisburn Road and Ballyhackamore) by hosting a cafe restaurant which, I hope you're sitting down, has now banned avocados from its kitchen.
This reminds me of Eamon Stinson who owned the Crosskeys Inn on the B52 near Randalstown years ago. The Crosskeys was a thatched country pub straight out of Hollywood central casting. It had a wonderful bar with characters you couldn't make up and this attracted traditional Irish musicians from all over the world, not all of them very good. Those who couldn't play an instrument would bring their bodhrans and soon the building would shake under the "parful blattering" which dominated the music. Eamon had to put a stop to this and in an unprecedented move banned bodhrans for ever. As a result, the Crosskeys Inn regained its reputation as the true home of Irish music.
Now Root & Branch has re-established itself as the hippest of heavenly hipster havens by putting a stop to the avocado. Down with this sort of thing. We've had enough. Although I notice the sourdough still features large.
Some things withstand the test of time and repetition: sausages, bacon, potato bread and eggs, for instance, could be on my plate every day of the week if I wasn't interested in longevity. But a daily dose of avocado doesn't bear thinking about. The only place I know where the avocado works, and I seek it out whenever I visit, is the charming chicken shack Yard Bird in Belfast's Hill Street which offers a huge appetising bowl of avocado salad with a very classy dressing.
But how will the beards survive without their chosen and now critical source of nourishment? Well, Ben Craig, the charismatic coffee supremo and co-owner of Root & Branch, the man who has banished the fruit says there's plenty more for healthy eaters to choose from and a great way of enjoying these is at dinner which is now a regular feature of what once was known for its breakfasts and brunches.
Root & Branch celebrated the summer solstice (naturally) with a two-night Solstice Dinner (£35) last week. I was keen to go but knowing this new demographic grouping for its relaxed approach to conventions, was keen to find out if the dress code would feature actual clothes or would we be required to dance naked around an open fire on the Ormeau Road to welcome the summer's return. Lol.
So successful, in fact, was the venture which actually did feature a wood-fired grill on the pavement outside (regulars from the Errigle across the street kept a close eye on proceedings), that the dinner will become a frequent feature of Root & Branch. This pop-up approach is becoming very common and the relaxed nature of it is attractive and compelling. But when you throw into the mix a chef with the talents of Patrick Hanna, the pop-up concept becomes elevated to a new plain of quality and excellence.
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The five courses, bolstered by optional extra snacks you could buy for a few pounds more, "pork scratchings made from the bacon served inhouse and served with taramasalata, radishes with fermented nori whipped raw milk butter and the most exquisite little mound of coffee salt - yes, seriously - toasted sourdough from Bara Bakehouse) were each carefully and quite beautifully thought out and executed.
Stand-outs included a cucumber salad which looked sculptural and featured cheese made from hanging Clandeboye yoghurt. It was refreshing, oddly paired and puzzling at first but I was completely won over by it.
Crispy lamb strips from the shoulder with beans was one of the best I've enjoyed since an Algerian lamb BBQ back in the 80s set the standard. The advisor is not a fan of lamb and she was offered a chicken alternative. Again, she rated this as one of the highlights of the year.
There were dishes with smoked Dundrum mussels, tomatoes from Helens Bay Organic Gardens and coffee ice cream made by Al Gelato using Root & Branch's own Brazilian Eagle Mogiana and coffee kombucha, the result of a collaboration between R&B, Cultured Club and Boundary Brewery.
It's breath-taking. They need to do another one of these as soon as possible. And you're safe from avocados.
Snacks for two .£12
Dinner for two . £70