Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Pot Kettle Black

The Containers 402 Newtownards Road. Belfast Tel: 028 9046 3828

By Joris Minne

It's all happening in east Belfast. Ballyhackamore restaurant fever shows no sign of abating and, as the demographics of the area change, so new eating experiences move in, too. Not only that, but the ripple effect created by that cluster of restaurants in the centre of Ballyhackamore has now seen the arrival of General Merchant's, Oliver's further out the road and others in Strandtown.

This effect is now felt back towards the city centre along the Newtownards Road, where the phenomenon of regeneration has had an additional and extraordinary effect on the area around CS Lewis Square.

The completion of the Connswater Community Greenway has linked this part of the city to the bustling industrial vastness of Queen's Island, allowing workers at Bombardier, Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries and the many other businesses along Airport Road to cross the bridge into the relative calm of Victoria Park and a quick dash to the new restaurants and cafes sprouting up by the square.

With this development comes the tendency towards post-industrial chic in restaurant interiors. Designers Oscar & Oscar have left a trail of beautifully manicured restaurants, ranging from the marvellous Haptic in Newtownards to Aether & Echo in Belfast's city centre, the warmth and comfort and sense of continuity generated by reclaimed furniture and objects cannot be underestimated as mood enhancers in restaurants which rely heavily on an attractive environment for their success.

Now we've gone a step further and the industrial theme has moved from interiors and old buildings into more transitory spaces, including shipping containers.

Containers are du moment. Slum chic was created by architect Paddy Bradley, who is credited with transforming the first containers into a breathtaking home in the Co Londonderry countryside. The accolade for first Northern Ireland restaurant in a container, I believe, goes to Pot Kettle Black.

Restaurants in strange and arresting locations are not a new concept. We've seen them on river barges and suspended 100ft above the ground from a crane. One was due to be installed in the former underground public toilets at Donegall Square North, but I'm not sure what came of it.

So what about our PKB? Two brothers, Chris and Gerard McQuillan, and their mate Michael McKnight, all well-versed in the culinary arts (you may know them already through their other endeavour, Gypsy Kitchen), have taken the lease on the containers and are cooking up all sorts of brunches, lunches and dinners.

What they've managed to do is create a lifestyle vibe which has instant appeal with the younger, hipster set without being at all self-conscious. There are a few tattoos in the kitchen, but nothing that would ward off food-lovers from whatever background.

There are brunch dishes featuring the mandatory toasted sourdough and smashed avocado, French toast and Eggs Benedict. It may look like hipster food, but it's a bit more than that.

The Eggs Benedict, a vast double confection of two bagel halves, two poached eggs and plenty of Hollandaise, is graced with fine big, glistening logs of pork belly, boosted by shredded kimchi cabbage. It's all perfectly executed; the eggs bleeding dramatically beneath the blanket of Hollandaise at the touch of a fork, the pork belly, both belters of salty and fat streaky meat; the accompanying lovage taking the bad look off everything.

Other unlikely combinations which work very well here are the crab BLT, with fresh chopped mango and fennel on a slab of toasted sourdough. The bacon, lettuce and tomato all feature, but don't overwhelm the generous spoonfuls of crab meat lodged within.

Top dish here, however, is the braised lamb flatbread. A Middle Eastern triumph with za'atar, dukkah, yoghurt and cucumber providing all that sultry Lebanese flavour. The flatbread is light and the meat is plentiful, its kofti credentials perfectly intact.

I have less to say about the desserts, but frankly, we're not here for those. The coffee is excellent, the mood and service are cool and attentive and east Belfast has never seen anything like it.

The three guys deserve to succeed. There is a real passion and love for what they do. They're glad to have your business, but they're happy to show off a few skills, too.

The bill

Crab BLT:.............................................£10

Lamb flatbread:.................................£12

Crispy Pork Benny:.............................£11

Thai fries::.........................................£3.50

Satay broccoli:................................£3.50

Crème brulee:.......................................£6

Trio of brownies:..................................£6

Total: ..............................................£52.00

Belfast Telegraph

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