Jean-Christophe Novelli hails Northern Ireland produce as Belfast restaurant gets ready to open
He's a multi-Michelin star award-winning chef who has just chosen Belfast for his first restaurant in Ireland - and he is set on creating a dining experience for all.
French celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli was in the city yesterday ahead of the opening of his restaurant at City Quays in April.
The four-star AC Hotel by Marriott, Belfast's newest waterfront hotel development, will feature the landmark 112-seat Novelli at City Quays restaurant.
While here, he also announced he had enlisted Belfast's Jim Mulholland as head chef.
He came to Novelli's attention in 2016 when he cooked for him at Ballyrobin Country Lodge.
So why Belfast?
"I knew there was a lot going on here," Novelli told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I wasn't actually as aware of the fantastic produce and selection of the quality until I met Jim.
"I haven't actually spent that much time in Northern Ireland - not enough anyway - and you can see where things are happening.
"I've wanted to open a restaurant here for some time and, with location being everything, I am very proud that it will be here in Belfast.
"In the city, it's tricky when you are up against big names which are doing extremely well."
He is also excited at the prospect of having his restaurant in the Marriott Hotel - another first for him.
He added: "What is next is the style, the design, the layout.
"And also this is a one floor restaurant, which is again my first time."
Novelli branded head chef Jim as the ambassador for the restaurant, and he explained the concept for the style of the menu.
He said: "We married the Mediterranean feel with Jean's influence in his classic French cooking style.
"What I brought to the table was produce that I have been familiar with and used for 30 years in Northern Ireland, and we married the three together.
"That's the concept - a Mediterranean feel with a strong influence from Jean using some of his signature dishes, with our emphasis on locality and local produce." Novelli spoke passionately about the quality of the local produce that will be used.
"It's fantastic, honestly fantastic," he said.
"And the more I'm introduced to by Jim, the more I realise it's like a wonderland."
And diners can expect to see him in the restaurant - but he says the key to success is trusting your team.
"I don't have to come here every day, but I have an advantage living 90 minutes door-to-door to Belfast," he said.
"The most important thing is to believe in your staff and believe in your team.
"When you put someone in charge, you let that person be in charge.
"It's not just business, but also a pleasure for me to come to Belfast."
He insisted his first concern was not Michelin stars, but creating a dining experience for all.
"We need to make sure we use produce from this country and area. We need to make sure we don't miss anything out," he added.
He explained that he wanted the restaurant to be somewhere "people can feel welcome".
"We want to be busy and have a good, progressive reputation," he said.
The £25m AC Hotel by Marriott is the multinational company's first hotel in Northern Ireland and will be among the city's largest, with 188 bedrooms.