I’m not sure what the collective noun for a group of restaurants is, but I’d like to think it’s a ‘gang of restaurants’. Not that I’m suggesting restaurants are like turkeys (whose collective noun is, in fact, a gang), or that they go around with semi-automatic weapons shooting up bus stops shouting ‘Fuck da Police’… it just sounds cool. It is the kind of collectiveness that suits St Anne’s Square, whose restaurants I’ve been gathering together like a kid with a set of Panini World Cup stickers (that would have to be one nerdy kid though). I’ve nearly got the complete set, with Salt Bistro being that elusive sticker that as a ten-year-old I thought I’d have to buy 300 packets to find to fill my book.
One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to review is that the food on offer did little to make me want to venture in. It’s a problem, which doesn’t just focus on Salt, it’s endemic across the city. Many restaurants have also caught the “let’s all have the same menu” syndrome that seems to be taking hold of Belfast quicker than a dose of the clap at a one-star Nevada brothel (I’m sure they’ve got a Scores on the Doors equivalent). It’d be unfair to unleash my annoyance at such things on Salt because they’re no different than the host of other restaurants in the city serving up the same dishes like [insert your own favourite that appears on most menus], so I’ll move on and make a mental note to write angry-bitter article later.
One of those dishes Belfast loves so well is the salt and chili love affair. Very few do it well, the rest are simply wasting character space under the word ‘Starters’ on their menus. I’m ranting. When I said I wouldn’t. Sorry, back to Salt. We started off with a soup special, which wasn’t bad, in fact it was pretty decent.
The salt and chili prawns were a different story. The prawns, which were covered in a slightly soggy, nearly flavourless batter, were strewn across the top of a pile of bland salad. It was the sort of presentation I’d expect a 17-year-old trainee to get put on the naughty step for. The dish screamed dull and uninspiring more than any I’ve had in some time. I was not, in case you’re wondering, a fan.
But enough of the misery and on to the mains. There was a dull and uninteresting seabass that was a touch overcooked. Then there was lamb that was well cooked and seasoned with a pretty good jus. The mash did a reasonable enough job too though was a touch stodgy.
It was like a backwards shit sandwich. Instead of a bit of bad news wrapped up in two good bits it was the complete reverse. The starters and desserts were poor and in no way made up for a lamb main course that whilst descent wasn’t much better than many people produce on a Sunday afternoon in their own kitchen.
A cheesecake did what hundreds of other cheesecakes in the city do – provide a source of uninspiring gloom to the recipient [see mental note about the city’s restaurants producing same menus and bash your head against some concrete].
On my side of the table, a square of puff pastry where some pear had lain down to die did little to liven my tastebuds. Either something went horribly wrong or someone’s idea of perfectly cooked pear is similar to my mother’s notion that nothing less than eight hours will properly cook a cabbage.
The pile of fruit that was cooked to within an inch of its life and accompanied by some shop-bought ice cream was only rendered edible by a superb sticky, sweet sauce that covered the slices of pear.
The whole meal reminded me of Father Paul Stone, you know, the tedious one in Fr Ted who was nice and all, but so boring you’d hide behind the sofa for two hours just in case he was still looking in the window wanting to come in for a cuppa.
Coffees were brought and it shows how interesting a meal we had when I got excited about the quirky, china cups that my espresso came out in. If only they’d brought some of that quirkiness into the food, then it wouldn’t be a case of me avoiding Salt like the plague and it might be more of Entertaining Father Stone.
Saint Anne’s Square
Tel: (028) 9023 8012
Log on to Salt Bistro’s website