Ever heard of the imposter syndrome? It’s something lots of us suffer from. When you feel like you somehow don’t deserve to be doing what you’re doing, where you’re doing it, with whom you’re doing it and pretty much everything associated with it. People have it about work quite often, but in plenty of other situations too.
I have it. There’s no medication sadly. It’s just a case of trying to balance a bit of humility with some ‘balls’ and accepting that if somehow you’ve managed to find yourself somewhere, doing something, with certain people, then someone somewhere thinks you deserve it and bring something to the table.
And so it was when I found myself sitting down to lunch in Belfast with a few people whose work when it comes to food – writing about it, cooking it, knowing about it – I respect, admire and whom I certainly don’t see myself as equal with, introducing me to the chef and restaurateur behind it and treating me rather nicely, considering I don’t see myself quite in their league.
For starters, Belfast is great! And fab for food. I was only there briefly on a trip for the day job, but it was enough to know I want to go back. I was introduced to the Duke of York, a marvellous pub complete with a bucketload of murals and a collection of whiskies whose price will make your eyes water. Again, this imposter got a bit of special experience when the owner wandered past, recognised my companions and insisted we try a new rather pricey whisky he’d got hold of. I’m no connoisseur but I think Irish whisky might be my way into a drink that has so far eluded me in the enjoyment stakes.
Our lunch venue was just down the same alleyway in the Cathedral Quarter at Hadskis, an award-winning restaurant opened by Niall McKenna, who is no small name when it comes to food in Belfast and beyond. Niall’s been cooking since he was 15 and his experience includes training under chefs from Gary Rhodes to Marco Pierre White. He’s the guy behind Hadskis and three other restaurants – James Street South, The Bar + Grill and Cast and Crew Titanic. He’s also opened a cooking school, has been on Great British Menu, and was named Northern Ireland Tourism Hero.
More importantly, like the guys I was lucky enough to be with – soaking up their knowledge and experience like SpongeBob Squarepants whilst simultaneously wondering quite how I’d ended up there – he is a good bloke. Humble, down to earth, with none of the bluster and bullsh*t (sorry Mum) that comes with people who aren’t quite so secure in their own position in the world and what they’re doing with their lives. Refreshing to say the least.
Anyway, enough observation on the human condition and down to the food. We’d only popped in for lunch and were on a relatively tight timescale so there wasn’t much time to linger. We were treated to a complimentary appetiser that was as fresh and full of flavour as it was simple. A fuss-free combination of asparagus cooked just right, shavings of parmesan, crisp shards of toast and a truffle oil which altogether screamed seasonality, simplicity and skill.
Since we were just having one course for our quick lunch, I opted for one of Hadskis’ more popular dishes – ‘Bacon, Egg & Chips’. If you’re thinking greasy fry-up, think again. To use a much hackneyed but forever-recognised phrase, if Carlsberg did bacon, egg and chips, this would be it.
The bacon is more of a gammon chop – the biggest I think I’ve ever been presented with, and still on the bone. I think it’s from well-known award-winning meat man Peter Hannan. It’s served with a silky jus that adds just enough liquid to transform the dish from a breakfast into something more akin to what you’d expect from a restaurant meal. The egg is a classic fried egg – no fuss, no messing – and is placed on top like a golden-hued comfort blanket.
The dish comes accompanied with chips – the natural choice and the final piece of the puzzle to complete a fond favourite that takes you back to your childhood yet offers a more adult, more tasty and slightly more refined version of your memories whilst simultaneously retaining the simplicity that makes dishes like this so darn good. I can see why it’s a winner.
We order an extra side of champ, because we’re in Ireland. I’m told there’s one place elsewhere in Belfast where you can actually choose from no fewer than seven different types of potato to accompany your meal. It’s this history, heritage and culture that makes me fall in love with Belfast in the two days I’m there and has already got me planning a return trip.
Hadskis has that same heritage. In 1760 the building it was in was a foundry – used to make pots and pans – and the whole Cathedral Quarter oozes history and culture. It feels like a buzzing place to be, and I’m just sad I had to leave before I could see it come even more to life in the evening.
Given the company I was in, it was unlikely that any meal I had in Belfast was going to be a bad one and of course, Hadskis was the opposite. It’s also somewhere that proves yet again that sometimes the simple stuff works just as good as all the experimental, artistic theatre that goes on in some restaurants. Real interviews with Niall and he’ll talk about how his various restaurants have different audiences and the importance he sees in catering for what customers want to eat, not necessarily what chefs want to cook.
I like this attitude. It’s all too often forgotten amidst quests for stars, awards or self-aggrandizement. And ironically enough, that same attitude is probably what’s won the awards for McKenna. It’s amazing what a bit of confidence in your own mission can achieve. Now all I need to do is get a bit of that for myself and kiss goodbye to the Imposter Syndrome….
We paid for our meal at Hadskis.