Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Joris Minne: The Ivory Restaurant

How this chic Victoria Square restaurant will fuel your retail therapy sessions in fine style.

Sammy Wilson! You may take away our freedom in the name of efficiency savings, but you cannot take away our shopping centres! No matter how hard the hard times are going to be, Belfast is and always will be a shopping capital. Forget the city’s noble past as a hub of international commerce and trade, its vast manufacturing and engineering heritage and its place at the head of a century-long industrial revolution. Belfast’s real identity is defined by dedicated consumerism. And Victoria Square in the city centre is its Vatican.

No matter how many times you sign the Socialist Workers’ petition to ban water charges, to change foreign policy in developing countries and to cancel Third World debt, the draw of Victoria Square remains as powerful as the gravitational pull of the sun. It’s hard not to like Victoria Square and its glamorous shop assistants (except in the Apple Store where they look like bearded vegans who’ve pledged all their future earnings to a North Dakota televangelist to secure a seat on the last space craft to Jupiter when the world blows up).

Victoria Square is charming and seductive on many fronts. This is a fair enough state of affairs because the retail sector has become one of the greatest observers of the human condition, constantly adjusting and fine tuning its fashion, accessories, computer products and whatever else sells well down there to render them irresistible to suckers like me. The adviser is much cannier and stronger-willed and flicks on the retail-resister force shield whenever she goes there, but sadly I have no such protection. That’s why I try to keep away from it as much as possible.

Nonetheless, I had no choice but to run the gauntlet of temptation recently to meet a friend for lunch in Victoria Square’s roof-top Ivory restaurant. Formerly known as Ba Mizu, which wasn’t a bad place at all, the new Ivory has proven to be a success since it opened last year.

By the time you reach that top floor you will have escalated your way past millions of pounds-worth of consumerables and your appetite, if you’re anything like me, will be rampant as a result. All that visual stimulation, bright lighting, sensual odour of new linen, cotton, wool mixed with the combined scents rising from the ground floor beauty section, cannot fail but to make you hungry by the time you reach Ivory.

The restaurant maintains the momentum of commercial attractiveness built up in the rest of the centre. It’s actually quite a grand place with as much space as you might require to host an indoor display of the Newtownards Air Show. The grandeur is modern, dark wood, enormous picture windows, leather couches and a very corporate Manhattan-in-the-Nineties, chest-high bar. I loved it. Add to this a very accomplished team of servers managed by a purposeful Gok Wan lookalike maitre d’, and you’ve got yourself an excellent lunchtime venue.

I liked that it was so busy that no table was immediately available — “but if the gentlemen cared to have a drink at the bar we’d see

to it that you need not wait more than 10 minutes”. And so it came to be. Gok had the table ready following a very pleasant 10 minutes at the bar eyeing up the shoppers tucking into their salads and the kitchen staff right behind the optics looking very busy.

There are no surprises on the menu. Caesar salad, soup of the day, moules marinieres, risotto of gorgonzola, mushrooms on toast, scampi, beefburger and so on are all decent offerings aimed at maintaining the gentle seduction programme you enrolled on as soon as you came in through the doors of the shopping centre.

And judging by the three dishes we shared, it’s very good. If the breads, oils and tapenade are a bit heavy going, others might think otherwise and welcome the huge chunks of brioche-like loaf. The Thai chicken green curry (described as coming with basmati rather than sticky rice) was spot on. I’ve had hundreds of green curries over the years, in places that include Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and Ivory’s is perfectly serviceable. Not so bland as you might expect when catering for competition shoppers, but with a bit of bite, quality tender chicken and a good selection of pak choi, scallions and chillies.

The breaded squid with tomato ceviche (a kind of marinated stew of fish with lemon juice and olive oil), crispy capers and chilli dressing went down well, and my co-pilot Gerry who ordered it — and who says nobody does squid better than Simon McCance at Ginger (I disagree) — was pleased with it.

The Ivory is a sophisticated re-interpretation of the department store café — a feature of any town with a decent big shop. While nearby Castle Court continues to operate very successfully — reports of its demise when Victoria Square first opened were premature — the need for it to host a good café-restaurant is now urgent. The Ivory has made the point loud and clear that if you provide a quality, grown-up place in which to eat and drink (never mind the more populist Pizza Express, Nando’s, etc, also housed in Victoria Square), it helps increase the footfall.

With the adviser’s force shield switched on to full protection, I will make a point of taking the family to the Ivory.

The bill

Breads and oils £4.95

Squid £6.95

Thai chicken £8.95

Warsteiner x 2 £7.20

Sparkling water x 3 £5.40

Dash lime x 2 £0.60

Total £34.05

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