Asked if ev­ery­thing was all right ... not by a long shot

The main cour­ses at this Ital­ian restau­rant fran­chise in Belfast were so poor that the servers deleted them from the bill with­out any hes­i­ta­tion

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FOOD - Joris Minne

Do you com­plain about poor ser­vice or bad food? How bad does it have to be be­fore you’ ll give an hon­est an­swer to: “Ev­ery­thing all right, folks?” I know peo­ple who lose the plot en­tirely when they are served sub­stan­dard food. They are af­fronted and feel per­son­ally in­sulted that any­one would think they would eat any­thing sec­ond-rate and be ex­pected to pay for it.

I used to think this kind of re­ac­tion was over the top and only those com­pletely up them­selves would be ca­pa­ble of be­ing driven to in­can­des­cence by some­thing so dis­pro­por­tion­ately triv­ial.

But, as the ad­viser re­minds me, there is noth­ing triv­ial about food. Never mind its life-giv­ing func­tion, food is what binds fam­i­lies, friends, com­mu­ni­ties and en­tire so­ci­eties. It’s at the core of ev­ery­thing we do and ev­ery­body we are.

Tak­ing pride in the food you pre­pare, no mat­ter how mod­est, is a given. Take the hum­ble mus­sel. My mum’s golden rule with the pop­u­lar bi-valve mol­lusc is to en­sure they are prop­erly washed and clean of any grit or beard (if rope grown).

She says clean­li­ness is the only thing about mus­sels (or any shell­fish for that mat­ter) that any­one needs to con­sider, so it’s very easy to get it right. It is there­fore in­ex­cus­able for a bowl of mus­sels to be served up with even a hint of grit.

“It’s an act of dis­re­spect and shows you aren’t look­ing af­ter your guests prop­erly,” she says.

So when my friends kick off, un­leash­ing scenes of Dante-es­que hor­ror and fury when con­fronted with some­thing third or fourthrate, I have full sym­pa­thy and a good bit of ad­mi­ra­tion. First-rate, good. Sec­ond-rate, tol­er­a­ble, but only just. Af­ter that it’s MMA.

On this premise there­fore, the Zizzi Ital­ian restau­rant in Vic­to­ria Square, part of a UK wide fran­chise, (cur­rently made fa­mous by the Rus­sian shenani­gans in Sal­is­bury, Eng­land ear­lier this year) is to be avoided. It’s not even as if they have mus­sels to worry about. Sim­ple enough dishes are ut­terly man­gled and de­stroyed, the mouth-fur­ring ined­i­bil­ity of some of the stuff they put on the ta­ble, a baf­fling mys­tery. The prob­lems be­gin early. A dish of arancini looks just as its de­scrip­tion in­di­cates: hand-rolled risotto balls with moz­zarella, peas and bread­crumb coat­ing. The tex­ture feels just about right and recog­nis­able, but they are heavy, taste­less and claggy. I un­der­stand that large chain restau­rants need to mel­low down the flavours to make them ac­cept­able to a broad pub­lic but these sad lit­tle arancini are noth­ing more than pack­ing. Much could be said about the tortel­loni rosso. The ad­viser sug­gested that if the in­te­rior of a liv­ing room cush­ion had a tex­ture and flavour, it would be this. I thought she was be­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily mean un­til I tried it. Re­mark­ably, it tasted ex­actly like what we both imag­ined with a hint of ad­di­tional fire re­tar­dant ma­te­rial.

A pulled beef and veni­son stroz­za­preti was marginally edi­ble. The sauce wasn’t bad although flavour re­lied heav­ily on salt, but the stroz­za­peti pasta had been ren­dered down to an off-putting, mu­cus-like gungy soft­ness.

All this is un­for­tu­nate for the servers be­cause they de­serve bet­ter than this. They are pol­ished and quick footed, pleas­ant and help­ful. (They did not hes­i­tate to take the two mainly of­fend­ing items off the bill).

The restau­rant’s in­te­rior is at­mo­spheric and well lit, warm and bright and with just enough bare brick­work to mo­men­tar­ily sus­pend the cor­po­rate gi­ant’s iden­tity and let you imag­ine you’re ac­tu­ally sit­ting just off the main Pi­azza de la Repub­blica in Florence. Mo­men­tar­ily, I said.

But none of this can cover up the ter­ri­fy­ing re­al­ity that some­thing des­per­ate and ir­repara­bly wrong has hap­pened in the kitchen.

We are blessed with a net­work of very good in­de­pen­dent restau­rants and Belfast city cen­tre has far more than any other city. This kind of thing from Zizzi is un­for­giv­able, par­tic­u­larly when only a few yards away are qual­ity lo­cal restau­rants serv­ing ex­cel­lent food from sim­ple and imag­i­na­tive burg­ers to fab­u­lous cre­ations from lo­cal pro­duc­ers, fish­ing boats and farm­ers.

If you’re prone to los­ing the bap when you are served poor food, keep well away.

DIS­AP­POINT­ING: Zizzi has good ser­vice but is let down by the food

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