Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Oliver's restaurant

405 Upper Newtownards Road. Belfast Tel: 028 9067 1105

By Joris Minne

The smug faces around east Belfast's Ballyhackamore district would put you off your dinner. Now that they have been told that their barrio is the best place to live in the Western hemisphere, Ballyhackamorians are strutting around being impossibly self-satisfied.

Soon, they will be flaunting their new-found sense of success by actually moving to the Lisburn Road, which is where they would really rather be in the first place. Only kiddin'!

It's that bitter taste of sour grapes. I'm just being jealous. I live in Newtownbreda, which has a fair way to go before it features on anybody's radar, never mind a best place to live list.

There's no denying it: Ballyhackamore has developed a sense of chic. It may not have much to boast about in terms of cultural heritage, or architecture, but it does have all the components required to qualify as a hip urban environment: bike shops, convenience stores, parks, bars and, of course, restaurants.

Throw into the mix the nearby Connswater Community Greenway and CS Lewis Square and this part of east Belfast becomes even more irresistible.

But, ultimately, Ballyhackamore's central schtick is its restaurants. There is a list of excellent places to eat here, including Bistro Este, Neil's Hill, Graze, Il Pirata, Mandarin City and Acapulco and the bars, including the Stoker's Halt and Horatio Nelson's, are proper neighbourhood drinking spots with plenty of character, local beers and gins and the like.

The chains have predictably followed suit and PizzaExpress and Cafe Nero both have sizeable and attractive outlets here, too.

And, so, Ballyhackamore is now at saturation point and anywhere new wanting a slice of the "hacktion" will be opening either in nearby Strandtown (home to Baker Street, Bennett's, Smart's Cafe and Marco Pierre White's in the Park Avenue Hotel), or further out the Newtownards Road towards Stormont. A little under two years ago, barber Peter McCloskey, who had already tasted cafe success with his Oliver's cafe chain, opened up a more full-service restaurant serving proper three-course lunches.

A nice job on the interior of an otherwise unprepossessing commercial premises between a sofa shop and a car dealer resulted in something surprisingly comfortable, on trend and matched by decent food and service. In recent months, Oliver's took another step and introduced brunches and dinners.

So, if the concept and the content are very Ballyhackamore, it's only a matter of time before this part of Belfast (Knock?) starts feeling the warm glow of rising house prices. I firmly believe that a good restaurant raises residential prices up to a 500-metre radius, so Oliver's could be your man if you're looking to move. Oliver's success is down to three things: Alex, the manager, Michael, his head waiter, and chef Thomas Wightman's food.

Few other places have a level of slick and friendly service to compare with these two.

This is a neighbourhood restaurant and Alex and Michael will make you feel like a local. Also, few other places are doing kedgeree, or duck hash, or that amazing ribeye from Jason Hamilton's Carnbrooke butcher's.

The menus for the times of day are simple and appealing. Smashed avocado on toasted sourdough with optional black pudding, Thai chilli beef, monkfish fritters with apple and celeriac remoulade, burgers, risottos and chargrilled piri piri chicken may sound like a mish-mash, a lack of direction and identity, but when you consider the theme of comfort first and eating out not so much as a life-affirming experience, but rather an alternative to cooking yourself, then this is your man.

Five of us had an array of dishes, ranging from that ribeye to wild mushroom linguine, the brunchy avocado on toast to a Sunday roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, gravy and the rest of it.

All were sound, some were excellent and much was made of the kedgeree, which combined that warm curry heat with the fresh tang of grapes and the smokey haddock flakes.

If you're one of those smug Ballyhackamorians sitting on your Ikea cushions wondering where to go for dinner this evening, take a walk out the road to Knock and see for yourself that there is a world out there. If you're from anywhere else, Oliver's is worth a spin.

The bill

Olives......................................£3.50

Breads.........................................£4

Kedgeree................................£6.50

Avocado....................................£ 7

Roast x 2..................................£24

Ribeye.....................................£ 23

Linguine................................£10.50

Salad...........................................£2

Waffle.....................................£ 4.50

Pannacotta..................................£4

Sticky toffee...............................£4

Apple crumble ............................£4

Sides........................................£ 8.50

Drinks ...................................£51.80

Total.....................................£157.30

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