Belfast's acclaimed Bull & Ram restaurant closes
An acclaimed restaurant in Belfast has said it is now closed - days after its sister venue in Co Down also pulled down the shutters.
The Bull & Ram on south Belfast's University Road revealed its sudden closure on Facebook last night, eight months after opening in the former Beatrice Kennedy's restaurant.
The post read: "We are now closed. Thank you for all your support and custom."
And a sign at the premises on University Road read: "Sorry, we are now closed".
A spokeswoman for the restaurant last night told the Belfast Telegraph that they made the decision to close the eatery yesterday.
"No decision has been made if this is permanent closure," she said.
"We will be in touch with customers about vouchers and bookings."
The spokeswoman could not confirm whether customers will be reimbursed for purchased vouchers.
There was disbelief among fans of fine dining at the move, days after chef owner Kelan McMichael said it would be "relocating" its first Bull & Ram in Ballynahinch to the Belfast branch. The Co Down venue first opened in June 2016.
The Bull & Ram's apparent fate is the latest setback for the Northern Ireland fine dining scene. On Monday, Armagh restaurant The Moody Boar announced it was closing after a rent hike by its landlord, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
The Bull & Ram had been celebrated as "utter joy" by critics in Northern Ireland and London.
Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne said: "It's very sad to see three quality restaurants close their doors in such quick succession. The sector appears to be in rude health in larger conurbations and population centres.
"Small margins in this business show you how vulnerable restaurants can be to rent increases, produce price fluctuations and the general consumer confidence of its customer base which may impact volumes."
His review of the venue in December said it "struck a tone which is at once charming and reassuring but enticing and exciting too".
Patrons of the Belfast restaurant were also in shock. One patron posted on Facebook: "Really? We were only there on Saturday and it was lovely."
Last week, Mr McMichael told the Irish News about his plans for the Belfast venue after the relocation from Ballynahinch.
He said: "Our Belfast restaurant remains open as normal and we are in the process of changing the menu, with plans to introduce a 'cafe'-style menu which will offer a more international and fusion choice of food which reflects how our city is changing, plus we will bring in an array of smaller dishes, as this reflects how people like to eat today.
"We plan to extend our hours, opening for breakfast, brunch and dinner. We're excited about all the changes we have in place, so do watch this space."
In October 2016, Jay Rayner of The Observer described the Bull & Ram as "a class act, without being flash about it".
The restaurant was housed in a former butcher's shop on Dromore Street. Both venues featured cuts of meat from top butcher Hannan Meats in Moira.
Mr Rayner summed up the restaurant's offering as "food for cold nights and roaring fires; for sofa comas".