Restaurant review: Allot to like about this Belfast spot
The Allotment 48 Upper Queen St, Belfast BT1 6FD
The quality food and speed of service makes this city centre spot ideal for office workers
Ulster folk are a sophisticated lot really. We love our Dundrum oysters and creel-caught Strangford langoustines, Armagh cider, Glenarm short-horn, Tyrone pork and all the rest of it (the list of quality local produce grows and broadens each year). We're getting good at identifying them too.
I've had dinner with people who can do a successful blindfold identification of Kettyles, Carnbrooke and Hannan rib-eyes and sub categorise them into Hereford, Angus or Charolais.
Not only are we fast learners, but the quality of some of the food is outstanding: Juliette McCavana, the French owner of Cru Club prefers the Cork camembert to the traditional Normandy one (and possibly risks being stripped of her citizenship for treason - you know what the French are like).
Collectively, we have stepped away from the conventional meat and two veg and now embrace 14-hour smoked brisket, sous-vide water baths and kale crisps. Those of you who prefer to boil your beef until it's nice and grey and eat watery potatoes with washed out cabbage are in a fast retreating minority and making way for the sunlit uplands of grid iron steaks, pulled pork burritos and curried lobster.
The Allotment in the heart of Belfast city centre makes no big deal out of this social phenomenon and just gets on with it. For the Allotment, serving meals made from local produce is a given; it's what you do and it makes business sense.
So does anything served by the Allotment (slogan: Local. Fresh. NI's Best) come in on a boat? Apart from the olive oil, herbs, spices, chorizo, tuna and one or two other bits and bobs, it's all pretty much home grown stuff. At least that's what Jolene who manages the place with charm and good humour thinks, but she's not sure. Under closer questioning, she says the head chef isn't here and he does all the ordering but "Marcel in the kitchen says the scampi is from Pallas".
Okay. So, I order the potato and leek soup and the scampi. The soup arrives with two slices of good wholemeal bread. It's peppery hot with plenty of kick and not as dense as it might be. The spiciness lightens it somehow and makes it an unusually appropriate starter for a cool spring day.
The scampi comes with an array of hand cut chips and salads, as well as some buttery garden peas mixed with some mint. Dark orange, breaded and brittle, the scampi looks suspiciously uniform. But break through that shell and within is the perfectly sublime, firm, moist, juicy and fair sized prawn. There is nothing cheap about these scampi. I've seen the best and the worst made and this is among the best. What's more, Marcel, in charge of the rings, has done a brilliant job to ensure the texture and flavours are at peak. The chips, distinctly hand cut and all sorts of odd shapes and sizes, are fresh, crisp and golden.
This is unexpected. The Allotment looks like any small and modest city cafe with rickety furniture, but it understands the need for speed which makes it your ideal office workers' lunch trough. And the food is good. That scampi is head and shoulders above any other I've tried this year.
My date today asks for his identity not to be revealed. He is a man who operates in the shadows and being part of a secretive review lunch is something he appreciates. He is willing to confirm that his hot and spicy 'Chicken Devil' panini is both hot and spicy and packed with all sorts of sparks from the jalapenos and salsa.
There are more substantial offers on the lunch time menu.
Interestingly the place opens for breakfast at 7.30am, although Jolene says we'd be far better coming in the evenings (they do dinners Thursday, Friday and Saturday) for the duck which they serve grilled with green lentils, parma ham, seasonal veg and tangy orange marmalade sauce or the lamb shank wih apricot and thyme sauce with roasted baby potatoes.
Do not be put off by the ricketiness of the place nor the air freshener which can be switched off (and ought to be flung as far away for ever as possible) because there is some very good food in here at very good prices.
It's BYO too which should make it even more attractive for so many of us.
Soup of the day x 2...........................5.90
Scampi and chips................................5.95
Water x 2............................................2.60