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The Vacuum Issue 3 spacer Issue 3
The Pastie Review
by Stuart Watson
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Ah, the beauty of the pastie. For the following assignment it was decided that this traditional and most humble source of sustenance for toiling workers and seasoned alcoholics alike was long overdue a serious reappraisal. So it was that I and two long-standing pastie aficionados (Dr A Kelly and The Beast From The East (1)) set out to prove that this most derided of foodstuffs still had a place in our society. To do so we chose to sample the pastie choices on offer from some of Belfast's most salubrious eating establishments. For the purposes of the exercise a strictly empirical approach was taken: shops would be given marks under different categories, not just on pastie quality but on contributory/detrimental factors to the quality of the pastie-consumption experience. Ambience, hospitality/patience of staff and "extras" would all be taken into consideration before an average mark was given to each establishment.
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The first emporium to receive our custom was 'The Chipie' on North Street, previously known as The Little Knife & Fork. As we took our seats in this traditional chipper I and the Beast had our first doubts about Dr Kelly's commitment to the project as he merely ordered a cup of tea protesting that he would sample our fare, not wishing to shoot his pastie bolt too soon. As the tasting commenced we agreed that the pastie while agreeable was lacking in spiciness and that the batter, while crispy, was slightly thin; however extra marks were given for consistency of texture. Service, while efficient, was "no frills". Full marks were awarded for the generous portion of chips doled out with the main course. We admired the overall 70s ambience; indeed save for the modern dress of (some of) the patrons we were in a scene in which it would have been no surprise were Jack Regan and George Carter of The Sweeney to stagger in the door. In particular the alarming buzz of the heater above the door ensured a high score from the Beast. Perhaps it reminded him of his own kitchen.
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Overall score: 6.6.
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Following a brief palate cleansing trip to the bar we moved on, having been joined by another taster, "Ginger" Mark. At this point the limitations of confining our tasting area to the city centre became apparent as we entered the Windmill Café on Church Lane. Instantly declining a menu and requesting four of their finest pasties we were rebuffed and informed that only "Cornish" pasties were available. Our looks of horrified disbelief must have registered with the staff as Dr Kelly took it upon himself to inform them of the exact nature of our mission. Perhaps it was the alcoholic perfume now wafting from our company but they didn't appear to believe us. Nil points for them. Further disappointment waited as we headed for what we assumed would be the traditional pastie salvation of The Anchor only to find it shut.
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Our spirits now flagging under the wearying trudge through the horror of a rainy city centre thronged with pastie-hungry shoppers. We decided upon Brights Café on Ann Street as our last hope. Full marks were awarded for service as the waiter enquired as to whether we wanted sauce; however we declined, not wanting to sully the purity of the taste. Initial doubts that it was a bit too much of a coffee shop to really excel in the pastie were soon dispelled on the tasting. Spicy, meaty, thick crispy batter: our faith restored. Add another generous portion of chips and this was looking like the clear leader of the field so far, despite Mark's comments that the shocking pink meat resembled a "gum shield" and that the fashionably exposed brickwork reminded him of prison.
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Leaving past personal trauma out of it an overall score of: 8.5.
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By now our policy of finishing off every last morsel rather than merely tasting the wares was beginning to threaten our ability to finish the mission; with this in mind following another round of refreshments in the literary confines of Bittles Bar we made our way to one of Belfast's most popular pastie haunts, Bishops in Bradbury Place. Here we decided to leave aside our purist approach and sample one of Dr Kelly's favourites, the pastie bap (2). Service was efficient if not exactly welcoming, however on the tasting opinion was divided. Despite Dr Kelly's protestations we found the pastie rather bland and floury; a meagre serving of chips also brought the score down. The sterile "modern traditional" ambience did not compare to the genuinely traditional appeal of The Chipie.
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Overall score: 5.
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At this point, our palates and stomachs thoroughly pastied out. We retired to the nearest imbibing emporium unable to do much more than pour alcohol on top of the mounds in our bellies. With Brights the outright winner, the traditional pastie is alive and well; however I wouldn't recommend eating more than two a day if you value your health. And your sanity.
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1. The Beast's pastie expert credentials are proven by the tale of the day he sampled the apocryphal "air pastie" in the now departed Dallas Chippy. Heading home and biting into it he found that he had received batter in the pastie shape but no filling, a memory that makes him shudder to this day.
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2. Some argument exists over the grammar of this The Pastie Review, some claiming to have seen "bap pastie" on previous visits. Which makes no sense if you ask me.
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The Pastie Review
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