Restaurant Review: The Ivory, Belfast
Victoria Square, Tel: 028 9032 4577
The views of Belfast from this rooftop restaurant are outstanding, but less so the fish... and don't even mention the DJ!
Victoria Square, Belfast's flagship shopping centre and the city's only true temple to profligacy and competition consumerism, is still bringing in the punters.
The elegant, multi-storey centre, which houses all the stores and shops you'll ever need for all those items you didn't know you needed, was born in an economic crossfire hurricane at the very moment the Western world's financial framework crashed to the ground.
When most businesses, however, were laying people off and pressing the “search and rescue” button, the sheer brightness and glamour of Victoria Square made the place irresistible to shoppers.
Any retail developer will tell you that the secret in getting these centres to work is a good mix of experiences and a unique offer. This means an attractively designed palace which houses dear shops, reasonably-priced shops, coffee-shops, cinemas, bars and restaurants.
The restaurants in Victoria Square are not the kind you will find in the High Street, or in your neighbourhood. They are specific to shopping centres and, as a result, are often well-priced. But they can be bland.
The Wagamamas, Prezzos and Cosmos seem to do well as do the other chains. They serve up predictable, acceptable food which is inoffensive. But the Ivory Restaurant at the very top of the six-storey centre is different. For one thing, it has its own front door on Chichester Street, where you can get a lift directly to it even after the shops have closed.
It is also blessed with an extensive rooftop terrace, which includes two separate areas, both offering great views of the city.
The restaurant is airy, modern and smart without being intimidating or sniffy. The staff are hard-worked, but kind and able.
The menu sticks closely within the safety zone of the popular. But even if all the old suspects, including salmon, pork, chicken and beef, are in the line-up, at least they are decent and well-sourced.
The beef is from Kettyles, goat's cheese is St Tola and the chicken is free-range. The gold-standard smoked salmon is from up the road at Walter Ewing's.
There is a wedding on this Saturday evening as five of us pile into a booth as far from the clatter of heels on the dance floor as we can manage.
The wedding party is obscured from the rest of the restaurant by a heavy curtain. They have the best part of the place with the big terrace overlooking the city.
We get used to the noise, because the club-like feel of the Ivory somehow makes it right to be pumping. And, anyway, the servers are charming and, while not entirely apologetic about the racket, are doing their best to keep any potential mutiny at bay.
Good cocktails, locally brewed beers served chilled (few people ever mention these in write-ups, but honestly, getting a simple thing right like a cold beer goes a long way) and an affordable wine list are fuelling the happy mood of the place.
This is heightened when a large bowl of cockles and mussels shows up. The pile of shells rises above the tomato broth, which has loads of spicy flavours thanks to the jalapeno peppers and garlic within. The broth is as light and as satisfying as warm gazpacho and the meat of the mussels and cockles is firm and fresh.
The younger Minnes are happy with the salt and chilli chicken, which is backed up by a tomato and chilli salad with crispy capers. A starter portion is plenty for anyone — we made the mistake of ordering it as a main course and half of it was left behind.
The teriyaki salmon signals a less satisfactory seam. The salmon is fine, but the expected crispy charred skin has moistened and softened to become elastic and stretchy.
But the halibut has fared the worst. Wrapped in Parma ham and served on a very ordinary pea and parsley risotto, the generous fillet is sadly overcooked and dry. It's not inedible and is consumed nonetheless, but it could have been so much better.
Despite the mild disappointment of the fish dishes, the Ivory is the kind of place we would go back to en famille. The staff are very good (they are quick to point to the cheap Portugese white (Coreto), which is an outstanding discovery for £15.95), want to please and have the confidence to be in control, even when their restaurant is under relentless and repeated DJ attack from behind that curtain.
Salt & Chilli chicken (x 3) £23.85
Cockles & mussels £8.95
Teriyaki salmon £12.95
Pear drop martini £6.95
Fulcrum Beer £4.50
Bottle Coreto £15.95