Eating Out: Slim's Healthy Kitchen proves restaurant business a case of survival of the fittest
Slim's Healthy Kitchen
28 Belmont Road
028 9508 8011
RUNNING a restaurant is not easy. Running a successful one is even harder. And for “successful” read “staying open, paying everyone who needs to be paid and not driving yourself into the ground in the process”.
It’s an unforgiving business at the best of times, never mind when you find yourself collateral damage to something like the Primark fire in Belfast city centre.
As well as the likes of City Picnic restaurant, which along with 13 other businesses will have to remain closed as they sit within the cordon erected around the charred Bank Buildings, others on the edge of the exclusion zone are having to adjust to the reduced numbers passing their doors.
A socks and pants behemoth like Primark will always drive footfall, but now not only has that gone, but those feet are being forced away from the area altogether.
As it happens, I’ve reviewed two restaurants in the shadow of Primark’s blackened facade: La Taqueria and Pizza Boutique on Castle Street. Both are fantastic places for something to eat. Visit either and you won’t be disappointed. Visit both and you’ll be delighted.
But even without extraordinary circumstances, things aren’t easy. Two of my first reviews for this page, barely two years ago, were thriving places excelling in what they were doing. The Bull & Ram in Ballynahinch was lauded, not just by me, for its exemplary treatment of outstanding produce, while Bubbacue, an American barbecue trailblazer, maintained fantastic levels of consistency and quality more than a few imitators couldn’t match.
Fast forward to today and both have closed, not long after they had expanded to additional locations and, in the case of Bubbacue, had outlined plans to grow even more.
Slim’s Healthy Kitchen opened on Belfast’s Lisburn Road in 2013 and it wasn’t long before other branches popped up across the city and further afield, with plans to expand to Dublin and Britain. But in February last year six of the eight locations had closed.
Since then, they’ve opened another in Magherafelt, but we’re in the Belmont Road branch in east Belfast, one of the two along with the original place across the city that had managed to survive.
A mustard banquette takes up one wall of the space, which is equal parts industrial cool and wood assiduously treated to make it look like it hasn’t been treated at all. It’s what you might expect of somewhere with ‘Healthy’ in its name and words like ‘detox’, ‘wheatgrass’ and ‘amino slushies’ on its menu.
But it’s not all chewing on bunches of kale – not by a long shot. They also have burgers and tacos and pizza and beer. They don’t have pasta. They say they have pasta but it’s actually courgettes masquerading as spaghetti in that infuriatingly modern way people think noodles can be made out of carrots or sense can be made out of Brexit.
Another culprit is the ‘vegan hot wings’ – cauliflower florets in a piri piri sauce. Lightly battering smaller pieces of cauliflower and deep frying them until crispy before dousing them in a spicy (usually Buffalo) sauce is a standard enough alternative to a chicken wing. Despite the name, these weren’t that – but they were a fantastically smoky and seriously potent vegetable side dish.
They may have been suffering from an identity crisis, but their quality was a sign of things to come.
The chicken satay sizzler – served with onion and peppers on a skillet – came with a gently warming sauce that wasn’t as cloying as satay can be, and was punctuated by bursts of red chilli. The chicken itself was moist and was well served by the crunch of peanuts.
The chicken in the jerk pitta was even better although, given it was thigh rather than breast, it had a five-lap head start. It could have been a lot spicier, especially as it came with a lot of sweet stuff designed to temper too much fire – pineapple, mango, onion, peppers, aioli. Still, it was excellent.
For another £3.50 you can double the amount of chicken, which is pretty unnecessary. What do you think?
If you didn’t come here to be healthy there are a few afters options. The chocolate and walnut brownie and the gluten free carrot cake were both solid efforts.
Or you could just gorge on their skinny fries. Crisp, savoury, they were more than a little reminiscent of McDonald’s (that’s a massive compliment) which, as far as I can tell, hasn’t got into the amino slushies business just yet.
Vegan hot wings £4.95
Chicken satay sizzler £12.95
Jerk chicken pitta with skinny fries £14.45
Asparagus and Parma ham £3
Chocolate and walnut brownie £2.75
Carrot cake £3.50