Niall McKenna

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James Street South Restaurant owner and head chef Niall McKenna has been cooking since the age of 16 when he started working part time in the Strand Restaurant in Belfast. Niall's first full time cooking position was in the Dunadry Inn and he moved to work with Paul Rankin when he opened Roscoff in the late 1980's. Niall took of to London for twelve years where he trained under Michelin starred Chefs Nico Ladenis at Nico @ Ninety, Gary Rhodes at The Greenhouse and City Rhodes and Marco Pierre White at the The Canteen. Niall also worked in the prestigious Avenue Restaurant in Mayfair and at the Notting Hill Brasserie owned by the Firmdale Hotel Group.

Having always been ambitious Niall returned home to Belfast to open James Street South Restaurant in 2003 in a disused office space, which was once an established linen mill. Since opening its doors James Street South Restaurant has won a loyal following of customers and has enhanced the Belfast restaurant scene.

James Street South Restaurant has won a clutch of accolades including Best Restaurant in Northern Ireland (Observer on Sunday) in 2006, 2007 and 2009, Best Restaurant in 2008 Which Good Food Guide and it is currently listed in the Top 100 restaurants in the UK by the Restaurant Magazine and Eat Out magazine 2009. Niall recently competed in the BBC2 series Great British Menu where he knocked out his peers Brian McCann (Shu) and Derek Creagh (Michael Deane Restaurant) to get into the UK final to compete against seven of the best chefs in the UK to get a dish on the menu of a banquet hosted by Prince Charles and attended by over 100 of the best food producers in the UK. Niall’s winning dish of Poached Rhubarb and Strawberry jelly with Lavender Ice Cream, Yellow man is a favourite on the menu during the summer months.

In 2011 Niall opened a casual dining restaurant The Bar + Grill next door to his main restaurant and this is a upbeat grill bar serving a wide ranging menu from seafood chowder to 600g rib eye steak on the bone. This has been a popular addition to Belfast’s dining out scene and is great for cocktails pre and post theatre.

The Bar + Grill also houses a private dining room for up to 50 as well as a Cookery School. This building on James Street South is dedicated to all things culinary and hosts a great number of practical cookery classes from the informal “Sushi and Cocktails” to “The Art of Sauces”. A Wine tasting in association with is hosted once a month by Master of Wine Jane Boyce where Niall and his team serve a forked supper to accompany a selection of 5-6 tasting wines.

As of last year 2012, Niall has been the Chair of the Taste of Ulster and has been promoting local produce at national and international fairs on behalf of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Board Bia and Invest NI.