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Chef gets caught up on Cyprus Avenue in new Belfast restaurant

By Rachel Martin

A Co Down chef has gone from washing dishes in a restaurant to owning his own venue - paying tribute to Van Morrison in the process.

Richard McCracken's career had humble beginnings behind the scenes at acclaimed Co Down restaurant Balloo House.

But now he's opened Cyprus Avenue in Ballyhackamore in east Belfast - named after the street made famous in Van Morrison's song.

It completed its first fortnight of trading on Friday, and now employs 25 people.

Richard said he hopes the restaurant will become part of the community.

"It's a neighbourhood eaterie and I want something which anyone can pop into whether its for a meal or a coffee," he said.

"We've quite an eclectic menu as well."

And he said he owes much of his success to Danny Millar, after striking up a friendship with the Balloo House chef and co-owner while working as a dishwasher.

He says Danny persuaded him to learn to cook and arranged for him to train as a chef under Michelin-starred Scottish chef Tom Kitchin. Richard then went on to work in a Paris restaurant for Michelin star chef Helene Darroze.

He returned to work in the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, before finally coming home to Northern Ireland two years ago.

Richard started working again with his former boss Danny Millar before making the decision to open his first restaurant.

Mr McCracken said: "It's hard to get chefs especially in rural areas - it would have been a lot easier for Danny to have said 'come back and work with me', but he told me to stick it out - he's been very supportive throughout everything."

And he says he's happy with the choice of name for his first restaurant. "To me Cyprus Avenue isn't just about the song - there's so much more to it than that.

"Even through all that happened during the Troubles in east Belfast, Cyprus Avenue is a tree-lined sanctuary in the middle of east Belfast.

"It's also where Van Morrison took the leap of faith to start writing music - to me it's a beautiful, tranquil place.

"It's always been my dream to run my own restaurant so it just seemed to fit well."

He says the menu at Cyprus Avenue reflects his range of experience. "Cooking in France is very different, but our menu is very simple - it's very different from where I have trained but it's still got some influences from where I've been before. I've a black rice dish ,which is spelt cooked with squid ink. It's the garnish for the hake and squid from Portavogie - and inspired by Helene's signature black rice dish."

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