Eating Out: There's a reason everybody raves it about Coppi and loves it so much
St Anne’s Square
028 9031 1959
“YOU haven’t been to [insert name of popular, well-regarded local favourite, wherever local may be here]? Really?”
It’s a refrain that greets the news that, despite taking every chance possible to have someone else bring me lots of stuff I couldn’t dream of knocking up myself, no I haven’t been to that place everybody round here raves about and loves so much.
Such an oversight may be forgiveable if you’re just passing through, but living in a place and managing to avoid somewhere that elicits that sort of response can take some doing.
Somehow, in the more than half a decade since it opened in St Anne’s Square in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, Coppi has eluded me. Or maybe I’ve eluded it. Anyway, it hasn’t been part of any grand plan, it’s just happened. And the tardiness in getting round to addressing this came into sharper focus with the opening at the start of the year, just a few doors down, of Buba.
There, chef Tony O’Neill is applying an eastern Mediterranean spin to the Italian formula that has proved so successful in Coppi and Il Pirata, its sister restaurant on the Newtownards Road in the east of the city.
I haven’t been to Buba either, though nothing I’ve read or heard about it disputes the view of Allison Morris on this page that it’s somewhere worth going back to again and again.
Buba is also a departure for O’Neill in that, unlike Il Pirata (Marco Pantani), (Fausto) Coppi or the now closed (Gino) Bartali in Portballintrae, it isn’t named after an Italian cycling legend.
A huge picture of Signor Coppi takes up one of the back walls, among the dark wood, bare concrete and industrial feel that remains the go-to for any place opening now that wants to give off a cool, edgy vibe.
The menu takes its lead from Venetian bacari bars and pretty much led the way – along with Il Pirata – in introducing the notion of small plates that aren’t Spanish tapas to diners here.
There are main-course-sized portions, and pizza and pastas, but it is those cichetti that remain the centrepiece. So it would have been rude not to order a table full of them.
Eight arrive – you can get one for £3.50, three for £9.50, four for £12 and five for £14 – to make up two more than satisfying lunches.
The sausage ‘nachos’ were actually sheets of ravioli, fried to a golden crisp and topped with sweet, fennel-rich sausage meat and melting mozarella. They were good, but weren’t even the best of the “fried ravioli” category.
The duck fitters provided crisp pasta, filled with rich bird and they only got better when dregded through a garlic-laden truffle and Parmesan aioli.
We visited before the menu took a seasonal turn towards summer, so there was a Sicilian goat slider – a little bap full of a rich, deeply flavoured tangle of meat with a bit of zip and crunch from fennel and apple slaw.
Prawns, bound with salsa verde aioli on top of crostini were a nice nod towards the better weather, while a trio of frittery allstars kept the bar high as the table full of plates was greedily picked at.
Feta fritters were perfectly salty against their coat of truffle honey, while crab cazzilli were shot through with tarragon and came with a sweet roquito pepper sauce that delivered a good jab of heat.
The truffled mushroom arancini managed to avoid the traps these fried risotto balls so often roll into, being neither claggy nor dried out. This lot can fry stuff.
But the best thing of all wasn’t fried – it wasn’t even cooked. And it wasn’t the glorious cocktails either (top marks to the white negroni).
Salami, taleggio and walnut rotolo were tubes of salami filled with oozing cheese, studded with chopped nuts. Basically a triple-barrelled fat delivery system. That’s a recommendation.
Desserts didn’t disappoint either – an exemplary tiramisu and a flaky cannoli filled with perfumed amaretto and orange cream with a chocolate fudge dip it didn’t really need. Still, no dip remained.
Coppi doesn’t have the reputation it does by accident. There’s a reason everybody round here raves about it and loves it so much. If you get the chance, you really should go. To be honest, I can’t believe you haven’t been already.
4 cichetti £12
4 cichetti £12
Lemon sherbet cocktail £7.75
Espresso martini £7.75
Smoked old fashioned £7.75
White negroni £7.50