Eating out review: We take a bite from Oliver's Restaurant
405 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9067 1105
Proof that you can build instant industrial heritage lies in the relatively new restaurant Oliver's on the Newtownards Road. Located in a no-man's-land area between Ballyhackamore and Stormont, where a Ford car forecourt rubs shoulders with a KFC and some run-down units, Oliver's is an unexpected outpost of style, service and brightly lit hope.
The beards and hipsters have been at their work again bringing their own brand of post-industrial chic to the otherwise unattractive building, stripping walls down to the brick, hanging cool ceiling lights and installing mossy green covered banquettes to create instant urban historic interest. It works for me and I have yet to get tired of this look. But one day the straw which breaks the camel's back will surely come and we will rush back to dark wood chairs, flock wallpaper and benefits office standard strip lighting.
In the mean time, make the most of it because this is a very happening restaurant for the 'burbs. It's safe, it's modern and, if you're over 35, it's bang on trend.
Then take a look at the team. It's like Premier League Fantasy Restaurant with faces you will have grown to love from OX, James Street South and Muddler's Club popping up everywhere you look.
This is a major statement by owner, Peter Oliver of hairdresser fame, because when the place opened in May, there were some mutterings about the service. Now, under the firm hand of Ben Tsang (formerly Hadski's and James Street South), service is like clockwork. The clock may be ever so slightly slow for a lunchtime service but smooth nonetheless.
Oliver's is a departure from its other siblings, one on Belmont Road, the other on Lisburn Road. They are cafes, this is a pukka restaurant with some very comforting dishes.
Today, my rear gunner is Pat, a local computer science PhD who wears her intellect very lightly. She doesn't have much time for lunch but as the dishes arrive, she settles down to enjoy herself. Her celeriac soup is velvety and creamy, the sweetness balanced with the savoury just so.
A pork belly salad sounds like a profound and intractable conflict yet the cubes of crispy meat with the moist salty interiors are well matched to the biting lamb's lettuce. Added luxury comes from the accompanying black pudding, a nice runny poached egg and melba toast. This is a wonderful starter, although almost a little meal in itself.
The seafood risotto contains prawns, smoked haddock and hake. Pat nods and says the rice has just the right consistency. This is an issue for many chefs because some like their risotto to have the consistency of porridge, others like more crunch.
Today's special is seatrout which comes with chef's potatoes, chorizo, peppers, spinach, fresh tomatoes and a salty red jus which binds it all beautifully. The fish skin is dark, salty and brittle-crisp and bright pink, tightly layered meat, slippery and perfectly cooked. It's a well-judged dish for lunchtime. The accompanying white from Valdepenas is the ideal bride, chalky, breathy and full of Spanish sunshine.
Oliver's is a great lunchtime restaurant but having had a look at the dinner menu a return visit will have to be planned soon. The only thing to look out for is the fact that most people lunching here are clearly in no rush to get back to the office.
Young parents, retirees and neighbours seem to be enjoying themselves without constraints but Pat and I need to get back to the office.
We forsake a coffee as a result. Just let them know if you need to be gone.
There is courage and bravery in many of our restaurateurs. When you consider the locations of some places you wonder either why you hadn't thought of it yourself or you thank your stars you didn't have the nerve. Peter Oliver has chosen well here. This part of the Newtownards Road is featureless so now he has created a landmark.
There are some other empty units nearby. I'd bet a bottle of Picpoul that we'll see more investment in his off-Ballyhackamore district shortly.
Pork belly salad £6.50
Glass wine £5
Large sparkling water £4