Eating Out: Buns the only blips in a brunch to remember at The Pocket
The Pocket Cafe
69 University Road,
0778 887 8525
IT PROBABLY comes off as a bit churlish to begin by calling attention to the less than stellar aspects of a trip to The Pocket Cafe. But it’s only to get it out of the way. It feels worse to keep it to the end, just because it was afters.
Maybe sliding in a mention midway through would camouflage things better, but I’m more of a rip the plaster off sort. We’ll mention it now and say no more about it. By the time you get to the end you’ll have forgotten.
There’s every chance it was our fault anyway. An unfortunate choice. The wrong end of a Russian roulette session – but with buns instead of bullets.
Here goes: The banana bread and the black forest brownie were both pretty meh. They looked great (even with the incongruous blackberry on top of the brownie) but they were just all right.
But maybe we just struck it unlucky. I’m still not sure why we didn’t go for the pistachio or the honey and lavender cake – a better looking pair than Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in Out Of Sight.
Maybe next time, which there will be because, sweet let-downs aside, The Pocket, across the road from Queen’s University, Belfast, is a small, wonderfully formed delight.
It’s small enough that it took two visits to secure a spot for brunch, if you can still call it that at three o’clock in the afternoon. You may as well, because that’s what The Pocket exclusively serves – although you can call it breakfast in the morning if you really want.
Whatever you call it, the menu immediately grabs your attention by delivering plenty of stuff you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
You can expect good coffee, which you’ll get, because the place itself screams hipster java den. A quote from Goethe on the blackboard under their selection of coffees: “Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless.” The lucky get must have had that pistachio cake.
Exposed brick, bare wood on the floor and as the furniture, pages from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland along one of the walls, avocado on the menu.
There’s a fry, with sausage and bacon and egg and mushrooms and bread, but it’s all a bit through the looking glass, with fried brioche and soy mushrooms and merguez – the spicy, fragrant, sweet, north African lamb sausage.
It’s tempting, but there’s a special on today – crab cake waffles. At £13 it’s the most expensive thing on the menu – the fry is £11.50 with everything else between £3.50 and £7.50 – but it’s a show stopper.
Crispy edged, pillowy waffles, rammed full of sweet crab with a mildly mustardy, creamy sauce, that came alive when the yolks from two perfectly poached eggs were introduced to the whole situation.
The dose of added spice this sort of thing always benefits from came in the form of a little molecular gastronomy – sriracha “caviar”. A drizzle of the garlicky Thai hot sauce would have done the job perfectly well, but the tiny jellified spheres were a great touch, bursting in the mouth and bringing a bit of fun and more of the unexpected.
There are a few idiosyncratic touches to the mushrooms on toast as well, with soy and miso and Parmesan bringing even more great whacks of umami flavour to the fungus, all on two hulking great bits of very good sourdough. The roast tomatoes felt a bit underdone and lost but they didn’t detract from the rest.
Adding to things were a couple of picks from the “little additions”, which lets you supplement your brunch with bacon (£1.80), beetroot cured salmon (£2), a couple of those merguez (£3) or, obviously, avocado (£2). Stopping at one extra helping of the sausages should be considered a good deed worthy of a treat. Probably more merguez.
The staff are bright and eager and know their menu, although it turns out they oversold the black forest brownie a little.
Shame on me for bringing it up again. The Pocket can be forgiven its little blip because if you want a brunch in Belfast you’ll remember – and not find anywhere else – it should be top of your list.
Crab cake waffle £13
Mushrooms on toast £7
Merguez sausages £3
Banana bread £2
Black forest brownie £3.20
Americano x2 £5.80