Food & Drink

Curb your cocktail chipolata cravings - Eating out at Stix & Stones meat wagon

Nothing compares to the ‘sure maybe one more’ moreishness of these little bullets of pork

Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast City Centre.
Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast City Centre (COLM LENAGHAN)
Stix & Stones Meat Wagon,
12-14 Wellington Place,
BT1 6GE.
028 9031 5555

It hadn’t occurred to me until I was sitting in Meat Wagon, the latest venture of the Stix & Stones brand in Belfast, but once it did it could scarcely have seemed more obvious.

Why don’t more restaurants serve cocktail sausages? Not a ‘take’ on cocktail sausages or anything reinvented or deconstructed. Just a big pile of cocktail sausages, sat down in front of you to be consumed until you’ve had enough cocktail sausages.

Perhaps it’s because the phrase ‘enough cocktail sausages’ just doesn’t register. Not with me anyway.

While plenty of food can claim to be moreish, or addictive or whatever, nothing compares in its ability to occupy ‘sure maybe one more’ territory like these little bullets of pork, hot or cold, of the highest quality or maybe not so much.

Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast City Centre.
Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast city centre (COLM LENAGHAN)

I’d call them a guilty pleasure if I felt even the merest hint of guilt about them.

I’m not saying restaurants with Michelin star pretensions should find a place for them on a tasting menu – actually, now I think of it… – but certainly places that will happily serve up the likes of chicken wings or mac and cheese bites or whatever else could find room for them.

If you really want to try to be fancy, call them chipolatas – even though they’re a different thing – which is what Meat Wagon call theirs, piled high and slicked in a mixture of honey and mustard.

Whatever about the iffy nomenclature, they’re an appropriate way to start a meal here. While Stix & Stones’ sister sites are also protein-powered, with the added gimmick of cooking stuff yourself on hot stones, Meat Wagon is about longer, slower treatment, American barbecue with a few other bits and pieces in a relaxed diner-esque vibe in a space with dark wood, deep blue tile and tucked away booths.

There are indeed mac and cheese bites and chicken wings, as well as pork rib platters and burgers.

Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast City Centre.
Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast city centre (COLM LENAGHAN)

And they’re a lot. You’ll need to restrain yourself with the cocktail sausages because Meat Wagon is nothing if not generous. And, while none of it is the absolute best examples you’ll find anywhere, for the most part it’s pretty good.

Those mac and cheese bites are an exception. They’re crisp and hot cubes of deep fried pasta but inside they’re bland, badly in need of some sort of a kick. The little pot of unadorned, straight out of a bottle hot sauce, goes too far the other way, however. The complimentary middle ground something like this should be planted in is nowhere to be found.

That hot sauce does a much better job on the genuinely excellent chicken wings that come as part of an £18.95 platter for one that could easily feed more. Those wings are the best thing on it, though the pork ribs are sweet and come off the bone under a pleasing crust, while the brisket in a light, gravy-ish sauce is soft and gently smoky. Coleslaw, corn and decent chips finish the plate perfectly acceptably.

A simple cheese smash burger, thin and frilled around the edges, is a good one, and while it maintains the American inflection of the menu and the surroundings, the onion rings have much more in common with the art on the walls and its local colloquialisms and the fact ice cream floats are called ‘smokies’ in the menu, just to confuse anyone not from Belfast.

These aren’t little breaded American diner onion rings, they’re chip shop specials and they’re great. Whopping carnival stall efforts of things, piping hot and crisp, dying to be doused in vinegar.

Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast City Centre.
Meat Wagon on Wellington Place in Belfast city centre (COLM LENAGHAN)

“Would you like to see the dessert menu?” asks one of the impeccable service crew moments after another somehow manages to transport an apple crumble to another table by themselves.

Already wet, we may as well go swimming.

A strawberry milkshake, complete with a collar of hundreds and thousands looks like Barbie – not just the doll, the entire film – has been thrown into a blender. But it has turned out just as satisfying.

That crumble is a beast, and a tasty beast too, although it could do with more of its excellent if very thin oat-heavy topping, even if it would likely make finishing things impossible.

Unless there are some more cocktail sausages going?

The bill
Honey mustard chipolatas £6.95
Mac & cheese bites £6.95
Plain Jane burger £9.95
Onion rings £3.95
Platter £18.95
Apple crumble £6.95
Two scoop shake £6.50
Kentucky Mule £9.95
Pineapple Margarita £9.95
Total £80.10