Ambrosia review: We take a bite out of Italian newcomer to Ormeau Road
Ambrosia. 455 Ormeau Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9049 1443
Ambrosia, the Italian newcomer to Ormeau Road, has filled the hole left by former occupant DVD rental shop Xtra-vision. And that's about the most positive observation I can make about Ambrosia because neither the offer nor the environment hold much appeal.
There's something perfunctory about this restaurant. The mood is somewhere between cross-channel ferry cafeteria and 1970s motorway service station.
From the minute you walk into the cold and charmless canteen, there is a chilling efficiency about the server's glancing instruction to sit at this table. If I get the idea that somebody's not glad to see me, my first instinct is to head back for the door.
In this instance I am with a friend. We arranged to meet for today's lunch weeks ago so this is no time for petulance, justified or otherwise.
A brief menu lists all the classic Italian dishes - pizza, lasagne, tagliatelle Bolognese and so on.
The two servers are evidently professionals. They're quick and at lunchtime this is welcome. But we've been spoilt in recent years by improving restaurant service, which these days comes with a bit of charm and craic as well as efficiency and knowledge. Here, the service is charmless. It reminds me of those European city restaurants near railway stations where restaurateurs gave up years ago trying because they don't have to any more.
This kind of thing does not go down well in Belfast, where savvy diners expect to be treated with respect and if none is shown then word will get round quicker than you can say please or thank you.
On this Tuesday lunchtime there's a fair crowd - a couple of mums with young babies, a table of office workers and an older couple are testing the place. A couple of ladies just want coffee and they are shown a table.
The food is cheap and cheerless. The lasagne has little flavour and tastes more like one of the more expensive microwaveable meals you'd get in a supermarket. The tagliatelle is watery and overcooked and the Bolognese is equally bland.
The chicken Caesar salad is a success, however. A deep bowl contains freshly roasted chunks of warm chicken, crispy nuggets of fried bacon and plenty of parmesan flakes. The croutons have gone hard rather than crispy and brittle but the Caesar dressing is very good with plenty of anchovy essence and tang.
But other than this, the meal is an unhappy one.
Belfast is blessed with very good restaurants and as a result the city is punching way above its weight in terms of the mid-range offer. As a result, there is far higher quality of food, service and ambience per pound here than in most other cities of a similar size.
Also, there are any number of talented young chefs here who'd sell their Crocs for the chance of opening a restaurant. Check out other neighbourhood Italians such as Il Pirata, Amici and Chubby Cherub and you'll find something exciting and entertaining. I'm not sure what the problem is here. Is it an owner who insists on an Italian menu that went out of fashion with flared jeans?
Who knows, because if it were my money, I'd be starting over again. Ormeau Road has good restaurants including Petit Ormeau, Shed, Kaffe O, Soul Food and a few others. But it will take some new thinking if Ambrosia is going to be anything more than a street gap filler.
Chicken Caesar (starter) x2 £9.90
Tagliatelle Bolognese £5.95
Sparkling water £1.90
Diet Coke £1.95