Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Cyprus Avenue - a taste of Paris

228-230 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9065 6755

Cyprus Avenue is a real shining light in east Belfast
Cyprus Avenue is a real shining light in east Belfast
Joris Minne

By Joris Minne

A handsome, Parisian-style brasserie on the Newtownards Road, just on the western edges of Ballyhackamore's pulsating culinary heart, Cyprus Avenue was an instant marketing coup for chef patron Richard McCracken when he first opened in 2017. Everything you could order on a Paris boulevard was available here including croque monsieur, madeleines, plat du jour, wine and good coffee.

Also, Cyprus Avenue is a name made global by Sir Van Morrison, so brand recognition took a matter of a few minutes to establish (the famous street is a block away).

Stylish little booths, city slick service and wholesome, appetising dishes designed largely for a local, conventional crowd, made it popular and soon the demand was there for it to grow. The former sous chef to Danny Millar, Richard McCracken had form and a sound reputation and off-Ballyhackamore had a new kid on the block.

So popular is Cyprus Avenue that expansion into the premises next door has more than doubled the floor space and it's even more boulevardier than ever with a central bar, pavement presence and a simple belle epoque vibe.

A couple of recent visits have revealed the restaurant to do a number of things very well. Breakfast dishes are a cut above the usual. The Ulster Fry is present (you're in east Belfast: cafés, no matter how innovative and new, are bound by the UF code to stand and deliver the nation's favourite) albeit disguised as the Cyprus Avenue Cooked Breakfast.

But further along are more exciting reinterpretations of American and international standards including cinnamon French toast with roast plums, fruit crumble and toasted seeds, Ballyhornan cheddar and scallion soda with mushrooms and poached egg, cured salmon with scrambled eggs, baked aubergine, red peppers and corn tortilla. There is quality bacon, morcilla-like black pudding and, highlight of the morning, madeleines. These tiny baked delights have become a Cyprus Avenue signature and will soon achieve mythical status. You read it here first.

Lunches are as entertaining with excellent chowder, piri piri chicken, various fish dishes and one or two specials every day.

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Three of us went for lunch to mark the temporary departure of a colleague to have her baby (congratulations, Gillian and welcome to wee Alexander!). They chose well, while I did not. The piri piri chicken was hot and saucy with plenty of chipotle breathiness, the chicken slow cooked, moist and tender. A dish of Marty Johnson's crab and pearl barley risotto with chilli, lime and ginger for that full-on Chilean kick is an outstanding dish memorable for being comforting and exciting at the same time.

Devilled Finnebrogue venison kidneys with wild mushrooms with bacon and potato oaten is the food equivalent of an intensive care unit. There is nothing this dish cannot do to your life to make things better. Not even the intriguing and well executed loin of venison served with chocolate chilli nachos, blue cheese and tomato salsa comes close.

Chef McCracken pushes the boundaries of convention gently and while he should be applauded for this, there are some concoctions best confined to the laboratory.

A pork terrine is too mushy and mousse-like with little bite or texture. The dish of curried mussels was inedible largely for practical reasons. The masala sauce was good, as were the mussels, but the two fought the bit out on the plate neither one wanting to have anything to do with the other. It was an irreconcilable clash of flavours and textures. Yet curried mussels, or the classic mouclade from La Rochelle, is a tried and tested combination. So it should work. Cyprus Avenue front of house staff are particularly noticeable for their agility and grace.

While you can close your eyes and dream of being on the Place de la Republique or some lovely Paris centre avenue, the staff here will quickly break that spell by their friendliness and accessibility.

Lots of vegan and veggie options, by the way and any food intolerances welcome.

The bill

Chowder .............................................. £6

Pork terrine ....................................... £7

Piri Piri Chicken ................................ £14

Small mussels...................................... £7

Marty Johnson's risotto.................. .£11

Kidneys ................................................ £6

Drinks ................................................. £19

Coffees ........................................... £7.20

Desserts x 2 ....................................... £12

Total .............................................. £89.20

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