Before heading to a concert at Belfast’s Odessey Arena on a bright Friday evening, our group arrives at the city’s hottest new opening, Novelli at City Quays.
The restaurant is situated within the new location-perfect AC Hotel by Marriott on Belfast’s docklands, a thoroughly modern city hotel offering pristine views over the waterfront, with Titanic Belfast and the Odessey both within walking and viewing distance.
Novelli’s is most definitely a destination restaurant and it was hard not to immediately relax with the evening sun proudly shining through the wall of glass windows, which take full advantage of the beautiful view outside.
The restaurant has a slick and modern design, making full use of the natural light. With wooden tables and cutaway box shelves, the transition from lobby to bar to restaurant is smooth and natural. The design is very well thought out and suitable for all occasions.
Opened in late April, this is multi-Michelin-starred and 5 out of 5AA Rosette winning celebrity Chef Jean-Christoph Novelli’s first restaurant on the island of Ireland.
Speaking shortly before the restaurant opened, Novelli stated that his aim for this restaurant is “to provide customers with an authentic Mediterranean dining experience whilst at the same time, paying homage to our Belfast location with locally sourced produce”.
With Jim Mulholland as the restaurant’s Grand Chef, the pair hope “to deliver a world-class dining experience”, with Jim adding: “I have long been a devotée of Jean-Christophe and to be working with him, here on my home turf, is an absolute honour. I look forward to bringing some local flavours and flourishes, as well as the best of Northern Ireland produce, to his Mediterranean table!”
Among the producers on Novelli’s impressive new menu are Hannan Meats, Ewing’s Seafood and more. All the producers were handpicked by Novelli and Mulholland prior to the restaurant’s opening. Together, they have created a menu which combines the chef’s classic French dishes with a whole host of local produce, giving the fare a thoroughly Irish twist.
As the Novelli classics are what may attract some visitors to this stylish eatery, you won’t be disappointed to find his Coq Au Vin, French Onion Soup and Loin of Sugar Pit Pork, crafted with local bounty. For those who wish to sample Novelli’s classic creations, a special ‘N’ symbol is written beside particular dishes like “My Own French Onion Soup”.
While perusing the menu, I found it difficult to narrow down my choices, with a number of the dishes almost leaping off the pages. In particular, seafood is well represented on the menu, with scallops taking my fascination for the first course.
As it was a hot day and eager to sample some of the locally sourced seafood (the restaurant is located right on the docks after all), I chose the Local Seared Scallop (£9.50) to start with.
The tender scallops were cooked to perfection and beautifully presented , with cured salmon belly, peas and sea vegetables all complimenting the scallops. A single strip of crispy bacon added that extra something special to the dish, a sinful indulgence and a delicious surprise.
Around the table, Novelli’s French Onion Soup (£6.50) went down a treat with a fan of the chef, who had been only too delighted to sample the creation first hand, luxuriously sweet and topped with a cheesy pastry lid begging to be smashed with a spoon.
A fantastically presented Goat’s Cheese with Encased Beetroot Jelly (£7.00) was the envy of us all and disappeared from view faster than anyone thought possible.
Our dining group had two vegans, both of whom were thoroughly impressed by the wide variety and creativity exhibited on the specialised menu, something they admit is often hard to come by.
One even dubbed it “the best vegan menu I have seen in a long time”. From Parsnip Gnocchi (£7.00) with Sage and Toasted Walnut Crumb to Roasted Squash Risotto (£12.00) and Chickpea Curry (£12.00), they were well taken care of.
For my main course, I couldn’t resist the allure of the Sugar Pit Pork Loin (£16.00). I was sold from the first bite. This is the sort of dish that would push any thoughts of ever considering going vegetarian so far out of your head.
A carnivorous delight, the succulent pork was slowly roasted to perfection in the restaurant’s very own rotisserie. Delicately placed and perfectly blanched greens resting on top of the meat ensured I got my five a day.
I devoured the pork, much to the watering eyes of those around me. If I hadn’t been in polite company, I may have even considered licking the plate.
Novelli’s signature Coq Au Vin (£18.00) also received rave reviews from across the table. The perfect combination of chicken, celeriac ratte potatoes, red wine, a hint of chocolate, vanilla and roscoff onion, lips were most definitely licked.
Elsewhere, the Sea Bass (£21.00) with cod cheeks, buttered spinach and clam broth was the ultimate seafood treat, light yet indulgently flavourful.
The table’s silence while eating said much more than a few vocalised comments of “oh that’s very nice” could ever do.
Throughout dinner, it was clear that Jean-Christoph Novelli and Jim Mulholland share a deep understanding. Mulholland’s knowledge of Novelli’s classic dishes is evident and he brings his own experience and awareness of the Irish food scene to his cooking.
While the majority of our group were sold on the Pear and Chocolate Brownie Cake (£6.00) for dessert (It did look good, I’m not going to lie), my eyes were transfixed on that all-important ‘N’ symbol.
Selecting the Novelli Minute Baked Tarte Tatin (£6.00) (do allow 15 minutes of prep time for this treasure), I sipped the end of my glass of Chardonnay while waiting for the plate of pastry perfection to arrive.
Topped with Bourbon Ice Cream, this sweet pastry treat is a rich indulgence, with the caramelised apple delicately melting on the tongue. Quite filling, I silently scolded myself for my inability to finish the tempting treat.
Classic French dishes with an Irish twist is what you’ll find in Novelli at City Quays and you won’t be disappointed.
I found out later that night that Novelli himself had just been in Belfast for an event the night before. Although momentarily devastated that we had just missed him, it’s a testament to his involvement with the restaurant that he regularly checks in to ensure visitors are sampling true Novelli creations.
REVIEW BY SARAH GLASCOTT