YO Sushi! on course for Belfast's Victoria Square
Global Japanese-style restaurant chain YO Sushi! – which specialises in the seafood and cooked rice speciality – is set to become the latest arrival to Belfast's lively dining scene.
The UK-based chain, which has around 70 restaurants around the world, confirmed it was looking at sites in Victoria Square in the city.
It is already advertising for a restaurant manager and a head chef in Belfast, but would not comment on when it might open or how many people it would take on in total.
YO! Sushi's property director Kieran Sherlock said: "We have identified Belfast as a great opportunity for YO! Sushi and have viewed a number of locations.
"We are currently in discussion with Victoria Square regarding possible opportunities within the centre and hope to confirm a definitive location in the coming weeks."
The high-end shopping centre is already home to other family restaurants, such as Cosmo, Chiquito, Pizza Express and Nando's.
The Belfast Telegraph also revealed last month that healthy fast food restaurant Slim Jim's will also open up in Victoria Square this spring.
However, Victoria Square said it had no comment on YO Sushi!'s plans.
Belfast-born John McKenna, a restaurant critic and co-author of the 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland guide, said YO Sushi! embodied a strong business concept.
"Right from the start they were brilliant at marketing and shaping the message, and they still are, and so they managed to come across as a less precious Wagamama, less austere and more fun.
"And their brilliance lies in taking what is actually a very esoteric style of eating – sushi is as purist as a style of food can be – and making it easy to access and fun to be in the room.
"Certainly, it is a good introduction to sushi, and if it sets people off on that road then it does a good job, because sushi is a fascinating concept and ritual, but people reject it because they just say – yuk, raw fish.
"That is the genius bit: getting westerners to eat something that is so unusual."
YO Sushi!, famous for its conveyor belt service, is expected to open in Victoria Square, already home to 12 restaurant chains as well as three cafes, the independent Ivory Restaurant and the Kitchen Bar. But other parts of the city have also seen strong activity on the restaurant scene. Howard Street alone has become home to three new restaurants since the end of last year, while Maze, a Wellington Place venue styling itself as "international fusion specialising in Argentinian-style steak", held its official opening last night.
Ulster says YO! to a great new dish
By Joris Minne
YO! Sushi is the Nando's of Japanese food. It's as Japanese as a sausage soda, and its success is based on cheerful service, a bright, modern environment and dishes which seem exotic but rely on the four pillars of successful catering: saltiness, sweetness, sourness, spiciness.
But I wouldn't let that put you off. YO! is a clever concoction of sit-down and takeaway which brings us Japanese-inspired dishes, created by an English chef and styled by a German designer.
If, however, the famed Japanese cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, can claim to be the best in the world at Western music, why can't a couple of creative types from Europe be the best at mass-producing sushi? I like YO! Sushi because it's fast, colourful and happy. It follows the McDonald's principle of predictability: you know what you're getting.
It might be the opposite of home cooking and the pinnacle of volume catering, but it will be a welcome sight in Belfast.
Joris Minne is restaurant critic of the Belfast Telegraph