Life

Eating Out: Buba totally fulfils the Middle Eastern promise of its twitter teases

With its open kitchen, small cocktail bar and some seriously funky lighting, Buba has a trendy big-city vibe about it Picture: Mal McCann

Buba, St Anne's Square, Belfast, 028 9568 0162

I CAN'T remember ever being as excited about the opening of a restaurant as I was for Buba, the latest addition to St Anne's Square in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. The clever owners teased me for weeks with a Twitter account that posted regular pictures of the dishes as they experimented and perfected the Middle Eastern-inspired small plates.

The pictures of halloumi chips and spiced lamb flatbreads popped up on my timeline most days around 4pm just when lunch was already a distant memory and dinner hours away. I would salivate and count down the weeks, days and hours until Buba opened its doors.

Proprietors Andrea and Tony O'Neill already own Coppi, which is a regular port of call when meeting friends for lunch, so I knew there was good form there.

Needless to say, when Buba did open I was one of the first customers and have already been back for more. It's a small little restaurant, occupying what used to be Fourth Wall, which was incidentally one of the worst places I've ever eaten in my life.

Thankfully they've ripped the old decor out completely and now with an open kitchen, a small cocktail bar and some seriously funky lighting, it has a trendy big-city vibe about it.

Colourful and inviting, the interior reflects the warmth of the food on the menu, which is a delight to read, full of little surprises and dishes that sound exotic, unusual and indulgent. Take note, it's a night-time venue and doesn't open until 4pm, so no lunch service.

Because there is just so much to try, this is the perfect place to visit with a few friends. The small-plate trend is all about sharing – think pumped-up tapas –the kind of food you can pass around, talk about and enjoy.

It's such a sociable way to eat and, of course, drink – and drink I did; the cocktails are again all innovative and not like anything I've tried before. I'm not sure what's in the Mango Hello but I was very jolly after drinking it.

On my first visit we had the baked garlic prawns with za'atar and coriander, the duck cigars and the baba ganoush, harissa and goat cheese flatbread. The prawns were delicious the flatbread with the garlicy baked aubergine a treat. I wasn't a big fan of the duck cigars – they were a little M&S party food for my taste.

I also had a buttermilk panna cotta with dark chocolate and Turkish delight to finish. If you can read that without drooling you're not even alive – go and order it the first chance you get.

With the Stormont talks in an eternal state of despair, I might launch a velvet coup and take over the running of the show myself, and when I am in charge there will be free buttermilk panna cotta for everyone – that's a promise.

So that was my first visit, but being the social butterfly that I am I've already been back and the second trip involved those salty and delicious halloumi chips I told you about. Deep frying cheese is the business, as we all know.

A spiced lamb flat bread, some sharing pitta, a monkfish kebab resting on a little paddling pool of spicy lentils, a chilli hummus with toasted hazelnuts, a Persian-style potato hash with pomegranate and mint and the spiced lamb with harissa salsa.

Before you judge, there were four of us, which meant I had to eat really fast so I could have the most – it all got very competitive when it was realised there were only three bits of monkfish. Needless to say, I won the last piece – and it is a pricey little number at £11 but a delicious treat. It was insanely good, every last bit of it.

The menu also has an entire vegan section for those of you who are concerned with health and wellbeing or who wear shoes made out of banana leaves and judge your friends for having a dirty big Merguez hotdog with sumac onions when they are hungover.

That hotdog is an actual thing and I will be having a word with one on my next visit to Buba. There will be a next time – I can guarantee you that.

THE BILL

Hummus £3

Halloumi £6

Lamb flatbread £6

Chicken flatbread £6

Monkfish kebab £11

Spiced lamb £8

Pitta £4

Potato hash £4

Tanqueray gin £4.30

Tonic £1.75

Mango Hello £9 x2

Pinot grigio £18 x2

Total £117.05

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