Restaurant Review: Sagart - 'Be of good faith, this bistro is heading in right direction'
There were a couple of disappointments in this religiously-themed establishment in central Belfast but it won't take a miracle to get it right
The reason for banging on relentlessly about the restaurants of the cordon in recent weeks is because some of the very good ones merit the extra effort by customers to support them. So far, we have visited Pizza Boutique in Castle Street and Mourne Seafood Bar. This week it's the Sagart on Bank Square, next to and part of the popular Havana restaurant.
Starting out life as a kind of cosy little annex for cocktail enthusiasts who had to wait a short while for a table in Havana, the Sagart has developed its own identity in recent years. It is now a small and perfectly formed bistro with a bar and half a dozen tables, each big enough for three people. If there are any more of you, they can join these tables up.
Despite its tiny proportions, it is elegant and comfortable and the feature window allows you to watch the world go by as people pass to and from CastleCourt and Castle Street along Chapel Lane.
There is a religious theme to the place - 'Sagart' is Irish for 'priest' - and next door is the complex of St Mary, which consists of the prettiest chapel in Belfast, a grotto and a garden of contemplation. Inside are pictures of saints and other references.
Across the lane is Centre Church, which looks like a Fifties council house, incongruous and temporary and as out of place as a curve-screen telly on a football pitch.
I really wanted to like the Sagart. The server is charming and knows her cheeses. I was waiting for friends to join me and asked for something small to eat while waiting.
Out she came 10 minutes later with a big cheeseboard laden with oat crackers and four chunks of gubbeen, Cashel Blue, durrus and secrets du couvent. A bit on the fresh side, but nonetheless an impressive array.
I was soon joined by my friends (they asked for their names to be withheld: they are Anne McReynolds and Aine McVerry, the senior management team which gives us the amazing programme of theatre, music and visual art shows at the MAC every week. We were there to discuss the Mac's new restaurant, opening at the end of November).
Menus were distributed, and the jokey black and white halves, split down the middle to keep sinful meat and saintly vegan apart, say: "We don't judge nor do we discriminate. Saint and Sinner Meals: £10".
I'm utterly charmed by all this, of course (it doesn't take much), and order the pork belly with Clonakilty black pudding puree and winter kale (there are equally compelling seasonal offers such as roasted venison with smoked potato, chanterelles and redcurrant or the seafood linguine with parmesan).
The pork belly is excellent, the tender meat disappearing into the fat with no determined or distinctive separation. It is beautifully and slowly cooked for maximum flavour, and the moistness of it is as comforting as it is sensual.
The kale's bright greenness glistens on the plate, but the puree looks unmistakeably white. Of the black pudding there is no sign.
I mention this to a second server who brought the dishes out. She vanishes without explanation and returns with a tiny battered thing which I take to be a roundel of black pudding. But it is something else, possibly pulled pork, possibly another meat, either way I don't explore too far because it's stone cold.
The vegan cheesy mac is, quite predictably, tasteless. Frankly, how can anything possibly compete with the real thing?
We all know what mac and cheese is supposed to taste like, so this dish should be ordered only by committed vegans, for whom the disappointment will not be quite so heartbreaking. A vegan dish of winter squash and lentil stew goes down well, providing our final score a draw.
Teas and coffees and sparkling water bring the total to a very small bill for three of a little over a tenner each.
The server has done the right thing and has removed the costs of the mac and the cheeseboard.
I wanted it to be perfect. The next time, I'm pretty certain it will be.
Pork belly: £10
Winter stew: £10
Sparkling water x 3: £6.60
The Sagart, 18 Chapel Lane, Belfast.Tel: 028 9031 0809