breaking news

What more could you want?

November 1st, 2017 | by LCN Editor
What more could you want?
Venue Spotlight

Award-winning local chef, Kelan McMichael has realised a long-cherished dream by opening a second restaurant under his distinctive Bull & Ram brand – this time in the heart of Belfast.

Serendipity undeniably played in role in the runaway success of Kelan McMichael’s first restaurant project, the universally acclaimed Bull & Ram in the centre of Ballynahinch.

As Kelan renovated those premises prior to his official opening last summer, he unearthed the remnants of a fine old Edwardian butcher’s shop and knew instinctively that he’d found the perfect motif for his first foray into restaurant ownership.

The eatery that later emerged artfully combined the old-world practicality of the shop, which dated from the early 1900s, with the comfort and ambience of a contemporary fine dining restaurant. It was the perfect backdrop for Derry-born Kelan’s carefully nuanced approach to what was, at the heart of it, a steakhouse menu.

The restaurant was an overnight success and a remarkable slew of awards have followed in the year since, including the LCN Newcomer of the Year title for 2017.

Now, Kelan is looking to repeat that success with a very different project which, this time, is right in the heart of Belfast’s Queen’s Quarter.

LCN is delighted to be able to show you the first pictures of the inside of the new restaurant which opened during the third week of October following a £100,000 renovation programme.

And speaking just before the doors were opened, Kelan revealed that having his own restaurant in Belfast city was something he had been dreaming about for some time:

“We just couldn’t find the right premises for it,” he confided. “The first place in Ballynahinch means so much to us so we knew we had to get it right when we made the move.”

Bull & Ram Belfast is located on University Road in premises formerly occupied by another eatery, Beatrice Kennedy’s. The building itself was once a doctor’s surgery and Lorna Kennedy – whose husband was Beatrice Kennedy’s son and the doctor in question – has been working closely with Kelan to help him restore the heart of the old building.

“The atmosphere that we’ve tried to create is a 1920 art deco prohibition vibe,” said Kelan. “With the old butcher’s shop in Ballynahinch, we knew we had a great asset and so we decided to bring that back to its former glory. But that approach wasn’t going to work in an old doctor’s surgery. So we focused on the era instead, this was a doctor’s surgery in the 1930s, and so we are enhancing the style that there was back then.”

The new venue adopts a classic, plain white frontage with a black door and an eye-catching awning that will allow customers to eat and drink in comfort outside the restaurant all year round.

“We think that’s going to be a big draw,” says Kelan.

The menu at the Bull & Ram Belfast is very similar to that in the Ballynahinch restaurant but it has a more intensive meat selection that includes roast game. The approach is still the classic Bull & Ram ‘no frills’ format and it’s still the only restaurant in the country that sells Glenarm shorthorn beef.

Inside the restaurant, the colour scheme is predominantly black and white with marble tops on the bars and cosy booths for the customers, separated by frosted glass, and gorgeous old reworked lighting from the era.

Spread across two floors, the restaurant can accommodate around 80 covers at capacity and there is a cocktail bar on each floor where the staff will also be shucking Killough oysters.

In fact, oysters will be a major element of the offering at the new Bull & Ram.  Kelan recently spent two days with Patrice  Bonnargent from Killough Oysters, which supplies the restaurant, learning more about the product and Patrice has also visited the Bull & Ram to help the staff better understand how to work with oysters.

“They need to know what happens to the oysters, how they are grown and farmed,” says Kelan. “Patrice shifts about 600 Killough Oysters every Saturday morning at St. George’s Market and we will be taking our staff down there to work for a morning with him so they can learn to shuck oysters properly.”

Pictufed are restaurant manager, Patrick McQuillan; operations manager, Daryl Shields, and head chef, Conrad Quinn.

Kelan revealed that the lively buzz which characterises Queen’s Quarter in Belfast was a big part of the attraction that initially drew him to the area:

“We were attracted to the building itself, but the area is just great,” he said. “I love Queen’s Quarter, I’m up there every day at 6.30am at the moment working on the restaurant and it’s such a cosmopolitan vibe, students from all over the world are there, it’s just the hustle and bustle, it’s great.”

When Kelan spoke to LCN during the second week in October, he also revealed that by that stage, Bull & Ram Belfast had already taken around 2000 bookings! As well as that, Queen’s University had also opened an account with the restaurant and the Hugo Boss lifestyle brand had booked the venue for a day.

“I can’t believe the levels of interest that we’ve had,” remarked Kelan. “With me being from Derry, we hope to attract people not just from Belfast but from all over the west of Ireland as well. People from Derry love to come up to Belfast for the evening, but sometimes, it can seem like it’s a little far, so we hope our new place will give them the added incentive to come up and see us.”

With around 30 employees in the new restaurant, that brings Kelan’s total staff roster to around 60.

“My priorities at this point include getting the new restaurant running smoothly,” he said. “In the longer terms, I will be aiming to get Belfast up to the same standard as Ballynahinch. We want to get into the Michelin Guide and the Good Eating Guide, also, we want to be striving for a Bib Gourmand in Belfast next year.”

Kelan also revealed that he is already considering another new venture – a charcuterie wine bar, which he hopes to see open by the middle of next year:

“The brand is expanding and I want to see that continue and to showcase the very best produce that we have in NI, including meat, fish and vegetables,” he said. “We’re very blessed here with everything that we have.”

And looking to the future, Kelan says he just wants to get on with what he does best:

“We are going to be bringing the world’s best oysters front of stage, the world’s best beef and the city’s best cocktails, all inside a beautiful art deco building in a wonderful part of Belfast,” he adds. “What more could anyone want?”





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