Bistro Este – Belfast
“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
Some of you may recognise the above words. They are the lyrics to one of America’s most popular sitcoms of the 1980’s – the brilliant ‘Cheers’. A television show set in a basement Boston bar, where friends met up daily to shake off the rigours of their 9-5, air their opinions on life and the universe, flirt, interact and occasionally drown their sorrows. The bar acted as the show’s constant, the centre of the characters on screen social life and a place to have fun. We watched as the bar’s staff and customers transcended that most uniformed relationship, offered each other support and most importantly, had a few laughs along the way. ‘Cheers’ launched the careers of several Hollywood stars including Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley and Woody Harelson, and helped create the blueprint for great sitcoms of the future, Friends being an obvious comparison. I think it’s fair enough to say the creators got this one spot on, a simple idea which has stood the test of time and provided viewers with hours of fun. Don’t we all just wish we had ‘Cheers’ as our own local?!? Of course we do!!!
In early January a simple idea led me to a restaurant in the east of Northern Ireland’s capital. As I sat reading through Twitter one Tuesday afternoon, I noticed a Tweet from the Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic, Joris Minne, asking local food writers, bloggers and enthusiasts to meet for lunch at an East Belfast restaurant, that has seen trade badly affected by the cities recent protests. A family run restaurant that has acted as a constant in the local area for several years, offering guests from all over, good food, fun and a comfortable place to unwind. An eatery Joris had thoroughly enjoyed and subsequently given a glowing review to in November 2012. A review I really enjoyed and as such placed the restaurant firmly on my radar for an official Pimp visit – so if I could offer them support now, in any small way, it seemed like a very good idea in my book. So on this occasion The Restaurant Pimp’s endless food journey led him happily, to an impromptu lunch visit, at Bistro Este, Belfast.
As we made our way onto the busy Newtownard’s Road in the surprisingly warm winter sunshine, I was more than a little excited to be meeting some of my food peers for a rare lunch outing. Easily parked on a nearby side street, we got our first glimpse of the three storey, navy coloured, shop front like Bistro Este. Inside, the smallish ground floor was a hive of activity, with lots of guests enjoying light lunches and cups of delicious smelling coffee. My dining partner for the afternoon, Belfast Cookery School tutor David Semple and I were warmly welcomed, firstly by the charming front of house staff and secondly by Joris. The kitchen is based on the ground floor and I could see Chef / Owner David Adams hard at it as the orders came in thick and fast, whilst his charming wife Sarah, who manages the front of house, steered us upstairs towards the dining room, where a table had been reserved for the food collective. Around the table we had Manuel T. Waiter, Sarah (the geek) P, Laura from Arcadia Deli, David, Joris and I – so conversation was interesting and varied.
The upstairs dining room is a welcoming space, our own table flooded with sunlight from a high reaching window. The tables and chairs are dark brown, no table cloths and very comfortable. The walls are awash of soft purple and interesting pieces of art – all for sale and all painted by local artists. The bistro offers an express lunch menu, ranging from all day breakfasts, pitta pockets, omelettes, stews, soups and sandwiches, all offering incredible value. I had a look at the dinner menu as well which looked superb, littered with delights like Lough Neagh Eel, squid and monkfish. I’ll be back for those another time. Sarah kindly informed us of the daily specials and as luck would have it, they sounded perfect for what I required on a brisk winter’s day. So with orders in, the food collective did what foodies do, talked some more about food and awaited our daily delights.
Curry Parsnip Soup & Wheaten Bread
So my lunch at Bistro Este kicked off with Curry Parsnip Soup & Wheaten Bread served simply, with a generous bowl of vibrant orange soup, sat on a rectangular plate with fresh wheaten. The soup was silky smooth and packed a full on spice punch, in a very good way. It lingered on the palate in a properly addictive fashion, encouraging me to happily dive in for more and more. The spice hit was balanced really well by the inclusion of chunks of pickled aubergine, delivering clever little bursts of sharp and sweet relief from the intense heat – a proper pimped up bowl of soup, loved it!
White Chocolate & Cranberry Tray Bake
It was quickly followed by the popular choice of the day Seafood Chowder, again presented simply in a good sized round white bowl, its contents topped with green chives. The chowder was creamy, heavily seasoned and extremely moreish, ultimate comfort food, laced with meaty monkfish cheeks, cod cheeks, smoked salmon, potato and the most delicious smoked bacon from neighbouring Warwick butchers. The textures of pea, carrot and potato were very pleasing and there was a big plate of wheaten bread to mop every last drop. Seeing as this was a review of sorts and because I do have a sweet tooth, I wrapped up the afternoon with a White Chocolate & Cranberry Tray Bake, sweet, dense and a perfect accompaniment to one of those delicious smelling coffees I detected on my arrival. A very satisfying lunch visit indeed.
This wasn’t some kind of elaborate PR stunt, nor was it any attempt at a political statement in relation to the protests or wider flags issue. The food scene in Northern Ireland is a tightly knit community. At the moment lots of city centre eateries are feeling the direct impact of people unfortunately avoiding the city at night and deciding simply, to stay at home. It just so happens that Bistro Este is slap bang in the eye of the storm and evening trade for this family run restaurant has been virtually non existent. As a restaurant review blogger, I help put bums on seats and encourage readers of the website to go out and enjoy themselves. So joining together with like minded food lovers and sitting down for lunch in East Belfast, demonstrates to the wider public that our restaurants are open for business – every day and every night, enjoy them!
Making your way in the world today does take everything you’ve got, for independent small businesses, restaurants and retailers it’s twice as difficult – so if and where possible, show them a little support, or sadly, just like the great television show ‘Cheers’, they may become a happy memory from the past.
Would I Pimp this Restaurant???
I cannot wait to go back to Bistro Este.
Next time it will be a visit on a Friday or Saturday night, to have a closer look at that seriously impressive dinner menu.
Oh and don’t forget folks, it’s bring your own, it’d be a shame not to!
Bistro Este, Belfast – 028 90 47 36 70