Eating In: You go to Buba and its eat at home menu to feel a bit better about things
St Anne’s Square
TIME has somehow managed to both fly and crawl through this pandemic. Some of the usual markers along the road have been packed away until it’s safe to bring them back out again. Without them, finding your bearings hasn’t been easy.
It’s a year since a lot of people, myself included, set foot in their workplace. A few weeks after that it’ll be 12 months since the first of however many lockdowns there have been came into force, with restaurants leading the way in – for want of a better/worse phrase – in pulling down the shutters.
The year, even for people lucky enough to have only been inconvenienced by something that has destroyed countless lives and livelihoods, has flown and crawled and everything in between.
And so Buba’s eat-at-home menu was accompanied with an observation that the last time I was there was a year ago to the day, followed quickly by the familiar refrain. “I can’t believe that’s a year ago.” Every time.
It can’t be ascribed entirely to coincidence. Both ‘visits’ were to mark the same occasion, 12 months apart. And that’s no coincidence either. Buba and its food have always felt celebratory. The sort of place you go to add some sparkle, to feel a bit better about things. Who doesn’t need that?
There’s a cosy glow about the place, a warmth that perfectly complements the menu of dishes from the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa that boasts arguably the best selection of vegan food in Belfast – without even trying.
And the food itself wouldn’t be out of place in a glass case, only accessible with a body blow to the credit card or something that would be called a ‘heist’ in the next day’s papers.
Dates and pieces of preserved lemon glisten like jewels. Pomegranate seeds and pieces of Turkish delight shimmer like precious stones, the little teapots of fantastic cocktails lull you into seeing stars.
Alas, those cocktails are missing from their At Home With Buba boxes, but almost everything else that makes the St Anne’s Square restaurant special is there – and available for delivery everywhere in Northern Ireland.
When you unpack containers and pore over reheating instructions the magic feels a little absent but it’s clear to see once you get everything on to the plate.
The halloumi fries and falafel among the generous mezze platter are just faultless examples of each, but it’s the rest that lifts things to a level that never drops. A Kermit-green hummus is brought alive with fresh herbs, under the crunch of hazelnut dukka, while molasses-sweet dates get some bite from their baklava stuffing, with the salt and chew of their bacon blankets holding all that sugar in check. It’s probably for the best that there’s just the two of them.
One of meat magician Peter Hannan’s sugar pit pork chops, somewhere between pork, bacon and heaven itself comes with gently spiced potatoes and a date relish. The whole thing is a callback to the flavours of those stuffed dates and, along with lemon and sesame roasted roots, makes for quite the meat and two veg.
Fall-apart lamb – sweet, fragrant, smoky, full of warming spice – finds itself calmed and lifted by harissa, mint and lemon yogurt, and couscous studded with sultanas and tiny nuggets of preserved lemon. The meat itself must have started cooking a fortnight ago and for its obvious quality to shine through even after being packed up then reheated in a domestic kitchen is a feat in itself. But not as impressive a feat as it is to get the lamb tasting like this in the first place.
Sticky toffee pudding, which has emerged from the past year as the go-to cook at home unmessupable dessert, is sticky and sweet and just right, but the best thing of all the things – up there with the best things I’ve eaten all year – is the panna cotta.
The buttermilk cream sits barely set, and to get to it you go through a sharp top of the freshest raspberry, a rubble of bitter chocolate and the floral whiff of rose from chewy pink gemstones of Turkish delight. It should come in a jewellery box and it’s impossible to think of a better way to finish a meal, in any circumstance.
Buba serves food that catches the light – and provides some too.
At Home With Buba box x2 £50