Food & Drink

‘I feel like I’m part of Belfast’s bricks and mortar’ - chef Michael Deane

Ahead of the launch of his new restaurant mrDeanes, Michael Deane chats to Sophie Clarke

Belfast Restaurateur Michael Deane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Michael Deane's new restaurant, mrDeanes, is named in honour of his late father, Ted (Mal McCann)

“The other night I made a list of all the restaurants I’ve had and I’d sort of forgot how many there have actually been,” confesses chef Michael Deane who, over the last 27 years has made the name Deanes synonymous with the food scene in Belfast and far beyond.

The secret to his success? His fearless approach to change.

“I’ve been changing since the day I started,” he says as we sit down to chat just next door to the building site set to house his latest venture which is due to open its doors in less than a week.

Belfast Restaurateur Michael Deane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Michael Deane credits his success on his enthusiasm to embrace change (Mal McCann)

“The new place is called mrDeanes and it will be a bistro, a bar, a corporate room, a private room and, on Friday and Saturday nights, it’ll be a music room,” Michael enthuses.

“It’ll be all things to all people, and I think I’m ahead of the curve in that respect.”

He explains that the name of the venue was inspired by his late father, Ted, who was a massive support to him throughout his career.

“My dad was a very good living man, he was an electronics engineer but he also had experience working in restaurants,” he says.

“He would’ve peeled potatoes, washed pots, he used to drive customers home – everything.

“And he just loved being part of Deanes so whenever he went, I wanted to do something as a tribute for all that he put in.”

Known for his versatility in the kitchen Michael hopes to use the restaurant as an opportunity to “step back into the classics” with a nod to legacy operations like Deanes Brasserie, Deanes Deli and Love Fish.

“For this menu I went into the kitchen with the guys, and we cooked a proper pepper steak – we rubbed the peppers into it, cooked it in the frying pan, flambéed it with brandy – the way you used to do it years ago - and it’s dishes like that which are on the menu,” he says.

Belfast Restaurateur Michael Deane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Restaurateur Michael Deane (Mal McCann)

“Calling it a bistro also means you can give it a nod to anywhere, not just France, so there’s also a nod to Italy, there’s bits of Asian stuff going on as well a few Irish dishes.”

However, despite feeling “invigorated” about the launch of the new restaurant Michael admits it is bittersweet as it comes as result of his decision, announced late last year, to close his Michelin starred restaurant Eipic.

MrDeanes will be situated in the space formerly occupied by Eipic as well as his seafood restaurant Love Fish.

“It was hard for me to walk away from the Michelin badge but it’s been hard for me to walk away from all the things I’ve done,” admits Michael.

Belfast Restaurateur Michael Deane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
As he prepares for his latest venture, Michael Deane says he feels like he's 'part of the bricks and mortar in Belfast' (Mal McCann)

“The guys who helped me run Eipic decided they wanted to do their own thing and I had to decide whether to go back into the kitchen myself at 63 or give the star back and I thought it made the most sense to give the star back – for a while anyway.”

Although Michael assures me that he has no intention of retiring - “not for another 10 years at least” - and is still very much hands on, albeit in a much less literal sense than in the past.

“When I was cooking at Deanes on the Square in Helen’s Bay, the trouble was I was completely obsessed with touching every bit of food that went across to a customer,” he laughs.

“I had to touch it, I had to see it, I had to smell it and if I didn’t like it, I’d throw the plate in the bin.

“I’m not that bad now, thankfully, but I haven’t got the mind or the ability to be completely hands-off. I feel like if my name is on the door, I have to be there in some capacity.”

Michael also has an excellent team behind him, ensuring that the standard of mrDeanes, Deanes Meat Locker and Deanes at Queens remains peerless.

“I’m very fortunate to have employed good people and a lot of them have been with me for a long time and understand my ethos.

Belfast Restaurateur Michael Deane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Michael Deane says he never wanted to make a name just for himself 'but also for my city' (Mal McCann)

“If we can get a nice table, a glass with something nice in it and a plate with something nice on it - that’s what we do.”

He is also responsible for mentoring some of the next generation of exciting chefs, including Chris Fearon, head chef at Deanes at Queens, and former Eipic head chef Alex Greene, who both got dishes to the banquet when they appeared on BBC’s Great British Menu in 2011 and 2020 respectively.

In March Michael was named ‘Mentor of the Year’ at the 2023 Michelin Guide event for Great Britain and Ireland.

“My philosophy is that I’ve got to make the next generation better than me,” he says.

“Thomas Keller who works at The French Laundry in America said, ‘If we don’t make the next generation better, then we’ve failed.’”

It is perhaps a surprise that Michael has never appeared on Great British Menu himself.

“I was asked to do the first series, but it would’ve meant competing against my cousin, associate and great rival Paul Rankin,” he explains.

Belfast Restaurateur Michael Deane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Michael Deane says he's handed back his Michelin Star 'for a while anyway...' (Mal McCann)

“And my PR executive at the time said it was better I didn’t do it because it wouldn’t be very good if I went on and he had to give me a hiding on GBM – and he probably would have, to be fair.”

Unlike his cousin, Michael never had much of an inkling of going down the TV chef route but that has not stopped him from becoming something of an icon, with his trademark long hair, glasses and chef’s whites.

“It can be as much a good thing as a bad thing,” he admits.

“But if I’ve got the name, the background and I’ve got the accolades, then I think I can stand over it.

“It does add a pressure, but it’s something I can’t help and if I was to do it all over again, I’d still try to make a name for myself.

“When I was training in London I always wanted to come back because Northern Ireland was always in my blood - I didn’t want to make a name just for me but also for my city.

“Apparently the deal for the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the peace talks was sorted out in Love Fish – and that’s brilliant.

Belfast Restaurateur Michael Deane. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Michael Deane says his philosophy is 'to make the next generation better than me' (Mal McCann)

“I feel like I’m part of the bricks and mortar in Belfast and that along with a lot of other people I’ve helped build up the hospitality sector.”

MrDeanes will welcome its first diners on May 31 and reservations are filling up fast.

Once open, Deanes Meat Locker will pause service for three weeks from the beginning of June to undergo a refresh and extension.

“I’ve done my homework, on the branding, the menus, the décor and on the feeling,” Michael explains.

“I’m certainly nervous but it’s a good nervous because I know we’ll be organised.

“So, let’s hope people take it into their hearts.”