Life

Eating In: I'm not certain if Morning Star's burgers are sexy but they sure are tasty

The Morning Star bar and restaurant in central Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seamus Maloney

The Morning Star

17-19 Pottingers Entry

Belfast

BT1 4DT

028 90235986

themorningstarbar.co.uk

WE’RE still Eating In – just about – but not for long. The need to have things lined up for this fortnightly page means that, even though outside dining reopened last week, we’re still operating in the realm of takeaway and collection and doing your own dishes.

So the first foray back into the world of other people taking care of everything but the fun stuff – the actual eating – will be next time.

Until then, this is the story of a visit to a pub on a glorious Saturday to find it almost empty, save for the similarly masked souls spread out around the bar patiently waiting for something to bring home for their dinner. The sorts of Saturdays that will hopefully soon be behind us.

Over the past 14 months, the Morning Star in Belfast city centre kept going by becoming a provisions shop, an off-licence, a takeaway. At the start of the first lockdown, the fact you could get a pasta bake, spiced lamb sausage, some craft beer and five dozen eggs delivered to your door made it a stand-out service – and one that was taken advantage of more than a few times.

More recently it has operated a couple of pop-up offerings – burgers on Fridays and Saturdays and roasts on Sundays – and it was the burgers, sorry, the Big Sexy Burgers, you’ll read about here.

They are certainly big. Not sure how sexy, and one of them’s called the Chunky Chick.

Yes, I’m old and I’m grouchy – can you not see the picture at the top of the page? – but such names will at least keep my eye-rolling muscles in good shape.

They’re also excellent. They’re squarely in the category of more is more, the type of burgers that can give you a headache, there’s so much stuff piled on to them, as you try to work out just how negotiate matters without half of it ending up down your front.

Sometimes this is a ruse to camouflage a basic lack of quality, but here all of that pile, and there’s a lot of it, sings of the stuff.

That unfortunately named chicken burger is an outstanding example of the genre. The well-spiced coating on the moist meat remains crisp despite the journey home – and everything it sits under. But there’s balance in the topping with sweet, rich mayonnaise, salty bacon, a bit of zip and heat and crunch from the slaw.

The Bookmaker burger – not really, it’s a steak sandwich – is equally well put together.

Pieces of picanha steak are blushing pink and suitably beefy enough to stand up to crisp and caramelised onions and smoked cheese.

The burgers are excellent – couldn’t be faulted – but the best of the place by far was what they put on their chips.

What makes the ‘Belfast chip’ a ‘Belfast chip’ is entirely unclear but even more unimportant. The hot rustle of chips is covered in black pudding, bacon, cheddar, gravy and scallions. It can call itself whatever it wants. Deeply rich and savoury, there’s no messing around and the flavours are all smacks in the chops.

The Mambo Italiano claims to be topped with cheese and salsa verde. It isn’t really but that doesn’t matter either because they’ve come up with something that goes straight into the Why Did Nobody Else Think Of That? Hall of Fame.

The salsa is actually almost entirely chopped capers. It looks like there are some tiny bits of gherkin in there – again, not very salsa verde-y – and there’s not even the hint of a herb – but the combination is glorious.

The cheese is the salt, the capers are the vinegar. But because you’re getting cheese there’s that comforting melting here and there over the chips, with the cold, tart bursts of the capers working against both.

If a cheesy chip can be a masterpiece, then this is one.

But they’ll look even better in their natural environment, straight out of the kitchen and on to a table nearby. Until the next time...

THE BILL

Chunky Chick burger £7

Bookmaker burger £7

Belfast chip £4.50

Mambo Italiano chip £4.50

Buffalo cauliflower bites £4.50

Onion rings £3

Black pudding lollipops £4

Total £34.50

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