Restaurant review: SoZo in Jordanstown
671 Shore Road Jordanstown. Tel: 028 9085 9090
I've never met him, but Joe Bailey bought my bike. He told me over the phone that he owned SoZo on the Antrim Road when he answered a Gumtree ad I had posted to sell my bike. The bike - a very sexy little handmade, lime-green Cinello racer - was to be my last.
While everyone else was breezing through a couple of hundred miles on a Sunday afternoon, I took stock of personal fitness levels (very low), attempted to correct these and, after a few miles, concluded that any such effort was pointless. I had always wanted a Cinello, though, and had spent years finding this one.
But there was Joe on the end of the line saying he'd buy it. I don't know if any of you have ever seen Joe in real life, but by the sounds of it, he's someone with great reserves of energy.
SoZo on the Antrim Road was a great asset for north Belfast (and still is). Cool interior design enhanced by bits of brightly painted shipping containers provided the perfect backdrop for the dirty burgers and pulled meats on offer. I thought it was excellent, with a sound value/price ratio.
Joe has done it again and opened another one, this time in Jordanstown a few doors up from the Bureau and next door to the interestingly named Whose Art Cafe. This SoZo is less container and more regular diner with tiles on the wall, plenty of stripped timbers and, if you're lucky to get the right table, a good view across the dual carriageway to Belfast Lough. It also features some of the best front-of-house staff in the business.
To simple country folk like me, Belfast people are very urban; they are hard-edged, thin-lipped, thick-skinned and occasionally very funny. People who grew up in the city and enter the hospitality trade can sometimes struggle with the concept of being warm, welcoming and helpful, because they're so busy asserting themselves. But when they get the hang of it, there is no better front-of-house staff than Belfast staff.
This is the case in SoZo, where tattooed servers are hotfooting about the busy place, yet still make time to be pleasant and tell you about stuff on the menu.
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The menu is a popular mix of sharing planks, dirty burgers and funky salads, a range with cross-generational appeal. It's hard to resist this kind of food: salted piri piri chicken wings, pork and duck cigar rolls and "Wee Kyle's smashed hummus" with warm flatbreads and salad feature as sharing plates. I can vouch for all three.
In any other circumstance, say, a corporate function in a fancy hotel, these finger foods would be greeted with awe and respect, because they are full of flavours, crunch, bite and spice. The wings are slow-cooked, rich, moist and tender. The hummus is infused with beetroot and is light and textured.
Under the menu heading of The Big Lunch is a list of hangover cures, gob-fillers and belly-busters: club sandwich, smoked paprika lasagne, quiche, burrito, fish fingers in a Belfast bap. And then there are the burgers.
The vegetarian burger was hailed by the teen as possibly the best one currently on offer anywhere in the greater Belfast area. Made from ground chickpeas and beans and some secret spices, the burger had all the robustness and presence of the best quality beef alternatives. Crunchy red cabbage slaw and a mound of skinny fries complete the picture.
And being, in essence, a diner, the desserts are unavoidable. In fact, they are a star attraction. A chocolate and peanut cheesecake is a cliff face of dark and sinful irresistibility and one will happily do the four of us. But I can't help it and order a Snickers cake, just to be sure. If it's dirty food you're after, then this is red-light grade filthy.
SoZo in Jordanstown is worth a stop. It's cheerful, well-priced, quick and the food is good quality. You can't go wrong.
Wee Kyle’s Hummus ........................... £6
Veggie burger ................................ £8.75
Piri piri burger x 2 ............................ £18
Desserts x 2 ....................................... £10
Drinks ........................................... £19.70
Total .............................................. £62.45