Eating In: Cuban Sandwich Factory is managing to deliver its usual fantastic food
Cuban Sandwich Factory
29-31 Fountain Street,
IF you want a literal snapshot of one of the many ways things have changed since the world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, have a look at the pictures illustrating this page.
Usually you would see photographs of, in this case, the Cuban Sandwich Factory in Belfast; nicely framed images taken by someone who knows what they’re doing.
But that was Eating Out. This is Eating In. You won’t get any descriptions of exposed brick, bare wood, plush banquettes, or anything at all, because the eating was done in my kitchen.
Not being able to go out for a meal is somewhere around 753rd on the list of Covid-19 issues for most of us. Not being able to go out for meal is far higher up the list for anyone making their living in the hospitality industry.
While belated help was announced by the government that allowed restaurants to close with some expectation of assistance for them and their staff, some have remained open as takeaways and delivery services.
That means Eating Out can, for now anyway, continue as Eating In – albeit with a different, necessarily narrower perspective, a bit more blether (can you tell?), and ropey enough pictures.
Looking at the photographs I’ve taken to illustrate this page makes me realise a couple of things. First of all, there’s a reason professional photography – and indeed professional food photography – exists. A change in career is not on the cards. Although recent developments mean that just by having a Twitter account I’m also a fully qualified epidemiologist.
I’ve also missed a trick in not setting the sandwiches against a backdrop of a well-stocked, expertly curated, terribly eclectic bookcase, a la Skype interviews and Zoom conferences the socially distanced world over.
Lining up a few of those blank video cases you used to get that look like leather-bound volumes of the classics might even have done the job. Jane Eyre and The Grapes of Wrath on the outside, Wrestlemania VI taped by that one fella in school with Sky and an awkwardly dubbed Beverly Hills Cup recorded off ITV at 8pm on a Bank Holiday Monday on the inside. Get the fudge outta here!
The sandwiches themselves, brought to the doorstep and retreated from like they were ticking by on-message Deliveroo delivery man Bogdan (if there’s any time to safely and generously tip people who bring stuff like this to your door, it’s now), are fantastic. They always are.
Cuban Sandwich Factory started as a stall at St George’s Market – where it can still be found at the weekend – before moving to the back of a newsagent’s in the city centre, then a standalone spot in nearby Queen’s Arcade and a second shop on Botanic Avenue.
The Queen’s Arcade location remains open for collection and delivery to Belfast, Whiteabbey and Carrickfergus – and it continues to turn out some of the best food in the city.
The menu has been stripped back a little but the stars of the show – the eponymous Cuban sandwiches owner Carlos Arguelles pioneered in Belfast in 2012 – carry all before them.
Either on the traditional baguette-style crusty roll or a blistered, brioche bap, it’s the quality of the ingredients that elevates things beyond a simple sandwich.
The jerk chicken carries a building fire, soothed by a sweet barbecue sauce, while the chunks of charred but still just firm sweet potato, courgette and aubergine sit perfectly in the soft brioche of the cubapos, with added sweet, smokily hot coleslaw.
The choripan – Latin America’s answer to the question you ask when the only response you want to hear is ‘sausage sandwich’ – takes a Cuban chorizo – soft, moist, with mild heat and a sweet fennel backdrop – and throws in some crispy onions and cheddar.
The classic Cuban is best of all – salty ham, vaguely smoky roast pork shoulder, sweet, nutty Swiss cheese, mild, vinegared American mustard and the crunch of pickled gherkins. Everything balanced, everything perfect – and they come with thin, crisp sweet and regular potato chips.
Being lucky enough to have this brought to the house feels like an incalculable treat at the minute. That’s why enough was ordered to clear lunch and dinner hurdles with plenty to spare.
Making the most of things seems like sage enough advice right now. That and stay at home and wash your hands. As long as these luxuries continue, so will Eating In. I’ll start arranging the bookcase now.
La junta meal for two £18
Pollo a la barbacoa £6.95
Cubapo veggie £7.85
Deliveroo delivery fee £3.99
Deliveroo service fee £0.49