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Belfast's Speranza eatery morphs into Brooklyn SQ: Restaurant welcomed the likes of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga

By John Mulgrew

It was one of the first thriving Italian restaurants in Belfast and has welcomed the likes of pop superstars Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber through its doors.

But after 34 years, Speranza - based on the once-thriving 'Golden Mile' in Belfast - is changing its name, and its tastes, to help boost business and polish up a "now tarnished" city centre location.

Brooklyn SQ serves up a range of Italian-American dishes, including pizza, ribs and steaks.

Speranza - a three-storey restaurant which came to the city during the height of the Troubles - was set up by Sicilian-born Salvatore Liberante in 1983.

It has been owned by the Fanning family for 11 years and director Darren Fanning hopes the new name, and new menu, will help revive the business which, he says, was a welcome addition when it first arrived on the city.

"Back in the day there was nothing," he said. "I was only born in the 1970s, there was nothing in Belfast, who was going to bring money into Belfast?"

Darren hopes to add around 20 new staff to the eatery, increasing the workforce to 45. The new revamp and renovation is costing around £150,000.

But he said it will carry on the legacy of Speranza and continue to serve up classics such as lasagne and carbonara.

"The connections are still there. We still have Italian chefs. Speranza means hope in Italian," he said. "We have employed four chefs and we are trying to use the best of what we had with Speranza, but bringing in Brooklyn - a bit of Little Italy."

Darren said stars such as Brad Pitt have graced the restaurant, as well as a surge of well-known faces when the MTV Europe Music Awards were held in Belfast in 2011.

Actress Selena Gomez, who dined at the venue, ordered dozens of lasagnes from Speranza for her crew the following day.

The Golden Mile, the Dublin Road and Shaftesbury Square area of Belfast, once played host to a range of top restaurants, including Paul Rankin's Cayenne.

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