Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Belfast Foodie Chronicles - Victoria Square Meal for One

I've spent my last couple of posts reliving the tastes and textures of my recent bank holiday foodie tour through Belfast city centre and the surrounding area. You see, I don't get to go and try out all the new treats in town very often, partly because I can't afford it but mainly because the Yorkshireman, being a Yorkshireman, gets all itchy when I suggest that we spend money actually eating out somewhere. Therefore if he is with me I can only rarely subject him to such tortures.

Happily for me but not for him, he had to work on the last bank holiday and I didn't, so I had planned a day of indulging at my own whim, taking advantage of the only "alone time" I anticipated for the foreseeable future. However when he declared he was also off on night out with his workmates, I got another unexpected opportunity to explore what culinary delights the city had to offer.

Unfortunately money and time were both in short supply at the time, so my options were a little limited. It had to be dinner because I had a Crusaders match to get to later than evening so wouldn't have time to eat anything else beforehand, and given my time and cost constraints it had to be somewhere in the city centre and preferably not much more than £10 in total. Challenge accepted!

I actually lucked out a little because I found a voucher online for Pizza Express where I could get 40% off any main meal, so I decided, hey why not? I always jump at the chance to get pizza when I'm not dining with the Yorkshireman because, as I've mentioned before, he has inexplicably taken agin' pizza (the weirdo) so we don't eat in pizza restaurants very often. I, however, have eaten far too many garlic dough balls and imbibed far too much drinkable red wine at the Pizza Express on Bedford Street with my friends over the years but for some reason I've never been to the Victoria Square restaurant. Time to change that!

The Victoria Square Pizza Express actually has a completely different vibe than the Bedford Street one. Bedford Street is quite definitely pretty upmarket, full of young professionals on dates or enjoying a leisurely night out with friends. It is family-friendly and you can bring children, but I have to say I've rarely seen many there, especially in the evening. However Victoria Square was different. For one thing you can dine outside, although only one family seemed to be taking them up on the offer (it was pretty chilly). Inside there seemed to be two different areas: in the back there were little tables for smaller groups, where younger couples seemed to be grabbing a quick bite to eat on their way to doing something more exciting; whereas at the front there were big tables full of families cutting pizza into bite-sized pieces and battling with spaghetti. It was kind of like two different restaurants squished into one, both of which were completely different than it's sister restaurant across town.

Being a loner for the evening, I was sat at one of the tables in the back beside the cash register and promptly ordered myself a large glass of red wine and an American (pepperoni) pizza. They arrived pretty quickly and I munched my way through my pizza and sipped my wine with one hand whilst playing on my smartphone with the other. Well, you've got to have some kind of entertainment if you're dining alone. It's either that or give the evil eye to any small children that might be staring at you for no apparent reason. I did both.

The pizza wasn't bad - a little lacking in toppings but if my recollections are correct that's always been the case with Pizza Express. I'd rather have a Domino's pizza, or actually preferably my favourite frozen pizza (Chicago Town Takeaway sauce-stuffed pizza nomnomnom), but for a quick dinner out and about it was ok. At 40% off it was a bargain too and my whole bill came in at £10.32 for the whole pizza and a large glass of wine. I think next time I would actually head back to Little Wing though and try one of their whole pizzas instead - the prices are similar and it's good to support local enterprise.

The pizza and wine might have been gone but I had another cunning plan that meant dinner wasn't over. Yogen Früz opened in Victoria Square a few months ago and ever since I had been hearing tales of the expensive but delicious frozen yoghurt within.

I'd first tried frozen yoghurt in the USA when I was about eleven years old and always actually preferred it to ice-cream but it wasn't really available over here until recently. Even now whilst you can buy Ben and Jerry's frozen yoghurt, I can only ever find flavours that somehow incorporate chocolate, which doesn't really work for me. So the addition of Yogen Früz to the Belfast snack scene was good news indeed.

I must admit I found it all a bit confusing. Some things are on a big menu board (like set combinations) and other things (like the list of toppings) aren't. I wasn't quite sure how or what to order and I'm sure I came across as a total dork, but the friendly server dude helped me through it. I ended up with a medium tub of non-fat frozen yoghurt topped with blueberries and strawberries (so I could kid myself it was "healthy"), which cost something like £3.75.

I found it a bit of an odd taste to start with. It sounds obvious in retrospect but it actually just tasted like plain yoghurt, whereas I think the frozen yoghurt I've had before was probably loaded with sugar, so I had been expecting it to be sweeter. However once I got over that initial surprise, I found myself quite enjoying it. The strawberries and blueberries gave it a sweet edge anyway but it was quite refreshing to have a dessert that didn't taste like a sugar overload. I'm torn about the price though. On one hand you could buy a whole pint of luxury ice-cream in the supermarket for the price of one of these tubs. On the other hand if you were having dessert in a restaurant you would expect to pay anywhere between £3-5 anyway. I guess it's another entry on the "occasional treat" list for me but definitely worth trying at least once.

While I was at Victoria Square I also bought a little treat to take home. Hotel Chocolat opened near the William Street South entrance of Victoria Square a wee while back and people I knew were raving about it. Clearly people with more money than I have because I decided to purchase a little box of six white chocolate strawberry creams and it cost me £3.50 - yikes!

Later I sampled them whilst watching TV and I have to say they were absolutely delicious. White chocolate can have a tendency to be too sickly if you get the balance of sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla wrong, but these were pretty much perfect. Still very sweet, don't get me wrong, especially with the strawberry cream filling, but I managed all six without a problem and was sad when they ran out. I won't be rushing to spend that much on chocolate again any time soon but next time I want to treat myself or someone else, I'll know where to go!

Thus my cheapie foodie adventure ended on a sweet note, leaving me satisfied but yet wanting more. Now, what to try next..?

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