Eating out: Asia Supermarket Café has plenty of potential for bozos like us
Asia Supermarket Cafe,
40 Ormeau Embankment,
028 9032 6396
WAY back at the end of the last century, before your Facebooks and your Twitters and your smartphones and your Brexits, the Holylands area of south Belfast actually wasn't all that rowdy.
Certainly not the way it seems to be now, with young'ns from down the country turning the streets between Queen's University and the Ormeau Road into a scene from Braveheart with GAA tracksuits instead of kilts and bottles of WKD instead of claymores.
Maybe that's just on St Patrick's Day but when I was a 19-year-old sharing a house with fellow young'ns from down the country many moons ago, I don't recall things being quite so apocalyptic as they seem to get at least once a year now.
We may have been a particularly sensible lot (debatable) but even the wildest nights back then never seemed to make the papers. And WKD was never involved, although that's because it hadn't been invented yet either. God, I feel old.
A couple of years ago our old street really did make it into the papers – the front of this one, as it happens – thanks to the off-licence at the end of it and the queue stretching out the front on St Patrick's Day morning, patiently waiting for the tools with which to get blootered.
It would be rewriting history to say we didn't do our bit in swelling its coffers although, as a non-drinker in 1997, more of my money was spent in the premises a little further along the street – when I kept my nerve.
It's difficult to get across just how exotic the Asia Supermarket on Agincourt Avenue was to a group of teenagers in 1998. Apart from the unidentifiable bags of frozen something or other there were jars and sachets and tins of all sorts of stuff that looked both amazing and terrifying at the same time.
Nine times out of 10 we chickened out of buying something to eat and just left with four two-litre bottles of Coke and returned to the house for a pizza, chips, beans and the Champions League.
In retrospect we missed out, although it's pretty obvious the bozos we were wouldn't have had a clue what to do with the stuff had we been brave enough to buy it.
Just before Christmas the supermarket opened it's shiny, huge new premises on Ormeau Embankment, a stretch of the Lagan away from the old one. It has everything it did before, only now much more of it, actual parking and, best of all for the 39-year-old me, a cafe.
It's a no frills space, exactly what you'd expect from a cafe in a supermarket, with a menu criss-crossing Asia while trying to stay familiar enough to make sure no-one turns on their heels with nothing but a two-litre bottle of Coke to show for it.
So, there are breakfast bagels and quiches beside rice noodle salads and skewers of satay chicken. There's also a space where banh mi – the fantastic Vietnamese/French mash-up baguette – used to be before they sold out so another fusion sandwich is suggested instead.
The bulgogi beef focaccia feels very Italian with its bread, fried peppers and onions and cheese, though its main ingredient is thin slices of Korean marinated beef. Whatever it is it tastes great, as does the noodle salad, bright and fresh with the crunch of peanut and pepper.
A special of curry chicken noodles was a big, sweet, gentle hug of a bowl, topped with skewers of moist meat.
The rice noodles, like those in the salad, were perfectly cooked, in a brothy sauce packing plenty of flavour without taking the spice level much beyond mild. Pak choi and red and green peppers completed a good, if unspectacular lunch. Still, on a dirty, rainy day it was a welcome plate of comfort.
A Malaysian chicken curry pie – brought home in the interests of comprehensiveness – was good but not great, as were the char siu puffs, which you get two of for £4.25. That's a generous portion but the barbecue pork inside the flaky pastry was a little underwhelming.
Maybe that was the problem – that I was too ready to be overwhelmed, just the way I had been two decades ago. So, while everything made for a tasty lunch and a bit more, that's as far as it went.
But you can see what it could be and hopefully they'll be a bit braver in what they have to offer – and bozos like us will reward them for it.
Bulgogi beef sandwich £5.75
Noodle salad £1.75
Curry chicken noodles £8.25
Char Siu puffs £4.25
Chicken curry pie £4.25
Flat white £2.40
Sparkling water £2
Rammune soft drink £2.20