The holy trin­ity of south Belfast’s Ormeau Road

The famed street’s rep­u­ta­tion for great food and drink keeps grow­ing, and this fan­tas­tic fan­tasy lunch menu comes from three of its best spots

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FOOD -

We are de­ter­mined to bring our read­ers value for money, so this week I’m re­view­ing three places for the price of one. All three are within a few yards of each other, which means I am able for the first time to en­act the Belfast Fan­tasy Menu I pub­lish each week on Twit­ter: pick a dish from each of three restau­rants and cafes and build your own per­fect three course lunch or din­ner.

I’ve al­ways loved the Ormeau Road. There is some­thing about the way it strad­dles town and coun­try, of­fer­ing you the feel­ing of be­ing one leg in and one leg out of the city cen­tre.

It’s a cool, ur­ban place on the one hand, yet it’s got the park, the river and a bit of breath­ing space. Lately the Ormeau has be­come a bit more than a trunk road.

Orla Smyth’s Kaffe O, Soul Food, L’Etoile and Ma­cau have been there long enough now to pro­vide solid foun­da­tions for more cof­fee joints and restau­rants, and sure enough a Cafe Nero has just opened down from the Vine­yard, one of Belfast’s best wine mer­chants.

The Ormeau Road now hosts Gen­eral Mer­chants, Shed, Yarn Cafe and Bo­den Park, which tech­ni­cally puts it on a par with Bal­ly­hack­amore — the world’s great­est place to live. And this is a prob­lem.

That crowd in Rosetta loves noth­ing more than a bit of dis­tressed wood fur­ni­ture, but re­ally what they’re after is rais­ing the post­code value. And now it’s in­evitable thanks to the restau­rant clus­ter.

To­day fo­cuses on three strate­gi­cally im­por­tant yet dirt cheap places to eat: Bia Rebel, Al Gelato and Root & Branch the cafe. On the face of it they ap­peal to all those in the so­cio-eco­nomic de­mo­graphic spec­trum from A to D1. But re­ally, it’s all A. The noo­dle bar Bia Rebel has moved to dry land by open­ing a restau­rant with­out wheels. It is more of a take­away joint frankly, but I did test it and sat down for my lunch there last week. It is un­com­fort­able — small rick­ety stools, hang­ing gales and too lit­tle room — but the noo­dles are sub­lime. Bia Rebel is all about the ra­men noo­dles, made fresh daily by Brian Don­nelly. Great big bowls of the stuff come in vary­ing de­grees of spiced broths with veg­eta­bles, meats and herbs which are ex­plo­sively tasty and whole­some.

I love Banh and Ju­mon, but Don­nelly’s ra­men noo­dles have the edge, with flex­i­ble tex­ture, big flavour and plenty of bite. Pos­si­bly the best of the choice is the Rebel Ra­men, which fea­tures smoked pa­prika ground pork, chilli oil, sweet­corn, scal­lions and “se­cret house sauce”. It’s a tom yum kind of broth with plenty of deep flavours and heat, and the por­tions are gen­er­ous.

The sec­ond course is in Al Gelato, a few doors down. Here, Ali Mc­Cauley is mak­ing ice cream as good as any we’ve had in Italy. The bright lit­tle par­lour of­fers cof­fee and cakes, but this is a pukka ice-cream par­lour first.

There is a wa­ter­melon sor­bet which is full of per­fumed res­o­nance and a won­der­ful palate cleanser. I thought that was good un­til Ali brought out the dark choco­late sor­bet.

This ve­gan-friendly treat packs a coco punch the likes of which you will never have tasted. The al­most black choco­late is deep and last­ing in the mouth.

There are other less grown up ice-creams too: milk choco­late, creme brulee, hon­ey­comb (the big seller) and pis­ta­chio. It’s eas­ily the best ice cream in the city. If you can find any­where bet­ter I’ll buy you a £3.80 cone my­self.

Fi­nally, a walk back up the other side of the road will take you just past the Er­rigle Inn. In James Street is Root & Branch the tiny cof­fee shop so cool it makes Es­tab­lished look like a Cen­tra. The cof­fee is so spe­cial and pre­cious you can have a choice of the cof­fee beans: their own blend for this week, from Columbia, is the amaz­ing Raquel Tru­jillo.

If you think all cof­fee talk is b ******* , let Lisa ex­plain what she’s mak­ing for you. A £2.50 espresso will open a whole world of ex­otic ad­ven­ture you never ex­pected. In­ter­est­ingly, Root & Branch is ex­pand­ing into the next door premises so look out for their lunches after May 1.

There you have it. The holy trin­ity of the Ormeau Road, and not to be missed. Who says we don’t look after you?

RAP­TUR­OUS RA­MEN: Bia Rebel and (be­low from top) Al Gelato and Root & Branch, all sit­u­ated on the Ormeau Road

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