Dining out: Fruit Shop – where food meets art

fruit store,

438 Ormeau Road,

Belfast,

BT7 3HY

028 9064 3780

fruitshop.com

JUST so you know: if you stick around until the end, things are going to get a little dark – but in a good way.

Seems fair for a place like Fruit Shop, which isn’t just a cafe but the hub of an artist collective, created in 2020 by Mitch Conlon, Jennifer Mehigan and Phillip McCrilly. Last month, Conlon won the Turner Prize as a member of another Belfast collective, Array.

So the artistic references are impressive, but what if you’re more concerned with feeding your face than your soul?

As central as the artistic mission of its identity and existence is, we’re here to eat, so all the art in the world won’t make up for a crap lunch.

It’s not necessary.

The space itself is a stripped-down cafe, simple tables and chairs under the wooden frame of a drop ceiling, minus the ceiling.

The menu is short but not lacking in choice because everything is a convincing argument to order.

The starting point is vegetarian/vegan but that’s just a starting point. You can add a fried egg and/or bacon to everything – an option that more places, not just cafes and restaurants, need to explore.

I reflect on this considering the fact that I’m getting my hair cut on the side.

“What will it be today?”

“Short backs and sides, please.

“Add a fried egg and bacon?” »

“Sure.”

Although there are menu changes and adjustments every week, okonomiyaki is a staple, and it’s easy to see why. In Japanese, okonomiyaki translates to “whatever you like to cook” and Fruit Shop presents you with a bowl of all the good stuff.

At the bottom is the indispensable thick pancake, in this case full of sweet potato and cabbage. To get there, you have to dip into a miso chive mayonnaise, cashew nut and blood orange furikake seasoning, pickled radish salad, cucumber and shallot.

And a fried egg. Sure.

It’s a color wheel for all the senses. There’s crunch, crunch and bite, burnt edges and smooth sauces. The taste bingo card fills up with every bite – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. So much umami.

And even then, the okonomiyaki has to bow to the grilled Fruit Shop sandwich to deliver that deep flavor.

Today it’s a vegetarian option, which can be de-vegetarianized with bacon but really doesn’t need it, not only because it holds up perfectly, but because it’s massive.

Two slices of sourdough from Bara Bakehouse in Newtownards struggle to contain roasted chestnut mushrooms, chilli-fried kale, ricotta overflowing with candied garlic and capers. This one comes with the fried egg in the first place without you having to ask. It’s a civilized place that way.

Don’t even consider eating with your hands, not just because of the runny yolk crown perched on top. It’s a knife and fork job, and one to savor.

And now that darkness has been promised to you. It comes from an unlikely source – something to take home and enjoy with a cup of tea or Fruit Shop’s excellent coffee.

The array of pastries at the checkout is positively moody.

Vegan Florentine chocolate wears its cocoa solids like a badge of honor. Nuts are caramelized deeply and with purpose. There’s crunch and chewiness and the thing is the size of a frisbee.

The Basque cheesecake is a piece of soft, slightly tart sweetness beneath its signature blackened top, with the burnt skin giving way to a simmering interior.

Even the chocolate chip cookies come with a splash of miso, and the lemonade – freshly made in the back – comes from burnt lemons and added bay leaves.

Serious, adult treats and good food with or without the art. Or a fried egg.

THE LAW PROJECT

Okonomiyaki (plus egg) £9.50

Grilled sandwich £8.50

Basque cheesecake €2.80

Chocolate chip miso cookie €2

Florentine €2.50

Iced caramel latte €2.70

Lemonade with burnt lemon and bay leaf £2.50

Total £30.50

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