Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland restaurateur reveals plans for new Mediterranean eatery in Belfast


By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland restaurateur Tony O'Neill is to open a new venue specialising in Mediterranean food in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

But he closed Bartali in Portballintrae on the north coast at the beginning of the year, after first opening in 2015.

"Trade was good during the summer but the winters were just too long," Mr O'Neill said.

Work is starting today on Buba Restaurant in St Anne's Square - on the site of The Fourth Wall, which closed earlier this year.

Mr O'Neill's latest opening is close to Coppi, the venue specialising in Italian food which he opened four years ago.

He and fellow company director Andrea O'Neill have applied for an alcohol licence for Buba under new company Buba Restaurants Ltd.

He told the Belfast Telegraph he hoped to open in late January.

"We want it to be quite relaxed. At the start it will only be open in the evenings, but open quite late.

"It will be serving food from small plates along the theme of Middle Eastern, Turkish, Mediterranean and North African food."

Mr O'Neill formerly worked in the Merchant Hotel as executive chef, and went into business with entrepreneur Sam Spain in 2011.

Their first opening was Il Pirata in east Belfast. That venue is now run by Mr Spain.

Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne described Mr O'Neill as "the quiet man of restaurants".

"He has huge pedigree, having come from top flight operations such as The Merchant and Coppi.

"His collaborations with Sam Spain in Il Pirata and elsewhere show just how talented he is.

"Sharing plates are increasingly popular, although we remain a largely conventional and traditional market which likes starters, mains and desserts. O'Neill has a nose for trends, however, and this venture is likely to work very well."

The former Fourth Wall restaurant had been advertised to let through commercial property agents CBRE at a rate of £45,000 per year.

Other tenants in the square include restaurants Pizza Express and House of Zen, arts centre and theatre The Mac, The Ramada Encore Hotel and Pure Gym.

Mr O'Neill's new venture is the latest in a series of restaurant openings in Belfast. The Dog Track -a spin-off from Michael Fletcher and Michael O'Connor, owners of the Barking Dog restaurant on the Malone Road - has opened in the Weaving Works office block in Ormeau Avenue in the city centre.

And in Stranmillis, a new Mexican restaurant, El Chapo, has opened on the site of the former chicken restaurant Birdcage.

Jonny Elliott, who worked with top chefs Gordon Ramsay and Gary Rhodes, has opened tapas restaurant Edo (pronounced Aye-doh) - which is Latin for 'I eat' - on Upper Queen Street, Belfast.

And the Michelin-starred chef Danni Barry, formerly of Deanes Eipic, has started work at Clenaghan's Restaurant in Aghalee, Co Antrim after it was taken over by Stevie and Cristina Higginson.

Glasgow pizza chain Pizza Punks is also to open in Longbridge House on the corner of Waring Street and Hill Street.

Longbridge House is also home to Bunsen Burger, a Dublin chain. It has five locations in the Republic.

Co-founder Tom Gleeson has said that the restaurant could look at a second spot here in the near future

Belfast Telegraph

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