Belfast Telegraph

Expansion's on the menu for McKenna

Chef scouring city for new spots to showcase his brand of fine cuisine

By Margaret Canning

Top chef Niall McKenna – the owner of high-end restaurant James Street South – is looking to expand, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Mr McKenna (42) said he is considering three sites in Belfast, including one in the Cathedral Quarter close to Nick's Warehouse, which will close next month.

Even the Titanic Quarter is under his radar – though he admitted that might not happen for "another five years".

Mr McKenna (right), who is in business with his wife Joanne, opened fine dining spot James Street South on the street of the same name in 2003.

That was followed by the neighbouring Bar + Grill in 2011 – and the business has also branched out into a cookery school.

But the chef said his appetite had now sharpened and he was ready for more.

The Belfast Telegraph understands a deal to acquire a premises in the Cathedral Quarter is in its final stages but the exact location has not been revealed.

"We will be doing a lot of different things in the next year and a half," he said. "It's time to keep pushing out but be very, very cautious at the same time."

He said the pace of his expansion had been gradual. "In the past nine-and-a-half years we have opened two restaurants and the cookery school but there are others who have opened five restaurants over four years.

"I believe in smaller steps and being very, very cautious about what you are doing."

He would not give away the location of the Cathedral Quarter spot and said that despite plans to expand, times were tough in Belfast.

But Mr McKenna said the existing James Street South businesses would remain and said he had just signed up to a new lease.

However, any new venue will be "casual dining". "But at the same time everything I do is based on local produce and quality food. A lot of our stuff is bought directly off the boats. It's all about keeping the quality there and offering great value for money."

Gavin Weir, a director at commercial property consultants GVA (NI), said the Cathedral Quarter would continue to attract pubs and restaurants.

"The redevelopment of the region is a textbook example, witnessed in other cities across the UK and Ireland, of how the night-time economy feeds off other outlets and attractions.

"As opposed to harming existing businesses, new developments and concepts consolidate the area's appeal and therefore can often improve the trading levels across the board."

Joris Minne, food critic at the Belfast Telegraph, said: "This is great news if true because of the quality that something like James Street South brings.

"We have already seen the quality of the offering in and around the Cathedral Quarter improve, and this can only bring standards higher."

Belfast Telegraph