Food & drink

Eating Out: Fruit Shop - where food meets art

Seamus Maloney

Fruit Shop,

438 Ormeau Road,

Belfast,

BT7 3HY

028 9064 3780

f-r-u-i-t-s-h-o-p.com

JUST so you know: If you stay to the end of this, things are going to get a little dark – but in a good way.

It feels about right for somewhere like Fruit Shop, that isn't just a cafe but the hub for an artists' collective, set up in 2020 by Mitch Conlon, Jennifer Mehigan and Phillip McCrilly. Last month Conlon won the Turner Prize as a member of another Belfast collective, Array.

So, the artistic credentials are impressive but what if you're more concerned with feeding your face than your soul?

As central as the artistic mission is to its identity and existence, we're here to eat, so all the art in the world won't compensate for a crappy lunch.

It doesn't need to.

The space itself is a bare-bones cafe, simple tables and chairs below the wooden frame of a suspended ceiling, minus the ceiling.

The menu is short but doesn't offer a lack of choice because everything on it makes a convincing case to be ordered.

The starting point is vegetarian/vegan but it's only a starting point. You can add a fried egg and/or bacon to everything – an option that more places, not just cafés and restaurants, need to explore.

I ponder this as I consider the fact I happen to get my hair cut next door.

"What'll it be today?"

"Short back and sides, please."

"Add a fried egg and some bacon?"

"Of course."

While there are menu changes and tweaks every week, the okonomiyaki is a staple, and it's easy to see why. In Japanese, okonomiyaki translates as "what you like cooked" and Fruit Shop present you with a bowl of all of the good stuff.

At the bottom is the essential thick pancake, in this case full of sweet potato and cabbage. To get to it you have to dig through a chive miso mayonnaise, cashew nut and blood orange furikake seasoning, pickled radish, cucumber and scallion salad.

And a fried egg. Of course.

It's a colour wheel for every sense. There's crunch, crackle and bite, burnt edges and smooth sauces. The taste bingo card gets filled in every bite – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. So much umami.

And even then, the okonomiyaki has to bow to Fruit Shop's toasted sandwich in the delivery of that deep savouriness.

Today it's a vegetarian option, which can be de-vegetarianised with some bacon but really doesn't need it, not only because it sits as it does perfectly well, but because it's massive.

Two slabs of sourdough from Bara Bakehouse in Newtownards struggle to contain roasted chestnut mushrooms, chilli-flecked fried kale, ricotta bursting with confit garlic, and capers. This one comes with the fried egg in top spot without you having to ask for it. It's a civilised place that way.

Don't even consider eating with your hands, not just because of the runny-yolked crown perched on top. This is a knife and fork job, and one to be savoured.

And now that darkness you were promised. It comes from an unlikely source – something to bring home and enjoy with a cup of tea, or Fruit Shop's excellent coffee.

The line-up of pastries up at the till is positively brooding.

The chocolate in the vegan florentine wears its cocoa solids as a badge of honour. The nuts are caramelised deeply and with purpose. There's crunch and chew and the thing is the size of a frisbee.

The Basque cheesecake is a wedge of gentle, slightly tangy sweetness under its signature blackened top, with the singed skin giving way to a quivering interior.

Even the chocolate chip cookies come with the added whack of miso, and the lemonade – freshly made out the back – comes from burnt lemons and with added bay leaf.

Serious, grown-up treats, and seriously good food with or without the art. Or a fried egg.

THE BILL

Okonomiyaki (plus egg) £9.50

Toasted sandwich £8.50

Basque cheesecake £2.80

Chocolate chip miso cookie £2

Florentine £2.50

Iced caramel latte £2.70

Burnt lemon and bay leaf lemonade £2.50

Total £30.50

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