Belfast flags protest cited in Rankin restaurant closure
City’s former `Golden Mile’ in decline without regeneration, says celebrity chef
Celebrity chef Paul Rankin cited the ongoing union flag protests as a contributory factor in his decision to close the Cayenne restaurant. Photograph: Paul Faith/Press Association
Rankin, who with Roscoff, the precursor to Cayenne, was the first restaurateur to earn a Michelin star in Northern Ireland announced yesterday that his premises on Great Victoria Street at Shaftesbury Square closed on Sunday night. Eighteen jobs have been lost as a result of the closure.
Rankin, with his former wife Jeanne, has been a pioneer in bringing gourmet cooking to the North. He is a Belfast native and returned from Canada in 1989 during the Troubles to open Roscoff, gaining a Michelin star two years later.
The 53-year-old chef was first with Roscoff, and then with Cayenne which opened on the same site in 1999. He kept his top-notch kitchen going through troubled times – including bomb attacks that damaged the building – and then into peaceful times.
But he admitted that the flags protests which erupted in early December, together with locational shifts in eating habits in Belfast, persuaded him to finally close the doors of Cayenne.
“The lease at our current location has now come to an end and, given the change in the Shaftesbury Square area over the last number of years, it doesn’t make sense to undertake the necessary investment required to continue to operate there at this time,” he said.
Referring to changes in what was dubbed Great Victoria Street's “Golden Mile” of restaurants and office developments he added: “The once ‘Golden Mile’ of Belfast has suffered badly from a lack of regeneration and a general decline in popularity and appearance. Even the Ulster Bank with its gable end statues across from us is to close shortly.”
He also adverted to how the social hub of Belfast has been moving away from Great Victoria Street.
“Location is key in the restaurant business, particularly at a time of economic downturn, and our current setting is no longer sustainable. The disturbances around the flag protest, particularly during the Christmas period, also confirmed our decision,” he said.
Rankin, whose celebrity status was established through the Gourmet Ireland programme that he and Jeanne Rankin presented in the mid-1990s, is also involved in a range of foods such as breads and sausages.
He indicated his intention to remain in the restaurant business while adding that he couldn’t confirm any details at this stage.
“Cooking is my ultimate passion and I am committed to establishing a new kitchen inspired by both Cayenne and Roscoff before it. There has already been some high level talks taking place about other exciting business and restaurant opportunities,” he said.