The Chubby Cherub,
491-495 Lisburn Road
Belfast, BT9 7EZ
028 9099 3241
WE visited the Chubby Cherub, freshly opened Lisburn Road outpost of the long-established Belfast city centre Italian restaurant, with a warning ringing in our ears.
Well, not quite a warning but rather a plea on their Instagram page earlier that day.
The place, it said, was “still in its soft launch period” and during this time “we kindly request your kindness, patience, and understanding”. Something to live by every day whether you’re going out for something to eat or not. Anyway, we had been warned, sort of.
It turned out that it wasn’t a ‘soft opening’ in the sense that the menu and, importantly, what they were charging for it, was no different to what it will be weeks down the line.
If there had been a substantial variation in price or offering it would have only been fair to come back for a review another day with all things being equal and the experience the same for anybody walking in off the street at any time.
No, in this case ‘soft opening’ simply meant ‘just opened, please have patience’ which is fine – opening a restaurant isn’t easy. At the same time, if you’re charging full whack customers should expect full service. If it’s not ready then, well, tough, except to be told that.
The thing is, without that Instagram post you never would have known. It wasn’t busy in the space between lunch and dinner on a Wednesday – it was picking up pace as we left – but nothing in the service betrayed teething problems.
It was all as bright, sharp and helpful as you’re likely to get any other time.
All of this is going on in one of the more bonkers dining rooms in Belfast. Like their city centre spot, it doesn’t hold back. A former evangelical church has been transformed into a Las Vegas take on Italian style with chandeliers, mirrors and faux gilding everywhere, with a fresco on the ceiling. Oh, and a fake orange grove.
It’s certainly a look, but it’s shimmering and cheerful and the sun that wasn’t too busy catching the golden tables and chairs outside streamed in and lit up the place.
The menu isn’t going to spring any surprises or introduce hitherto unknown regional secrets. It’s a sprawling double album of Italy’s greatest hits with pizzas and pastas and lots of things on bread.
There’s also a hefty drinks list with glasses of wine from £7.25 and most bottles between £25 and £30.
Some of the menu might set alarms bell ringing. Putting the words ‘classics, carbonara, cream and ‘add chicken’’ in close proximity might make you wonder, but you’re sitting in a fake orange grove. How it tastes is really what matters here. And, on the whole, it tastes pretty good.
The small caprese salad was, however, a clunker. Neither the mozzarella nor the tomato tasted of much, and what rocket was doing there was anybody’s guess. Instead, the basil presence came in the form of pesto, which saved the entire thing, slapping you round the face with sweet herb, punchy garlic and tangy cheese.
There was more of it across the table on a starter that paired it with a pile of bread as well as another lip smacker of a sauce – this time a salty tapenade jammed with sundried tomatoes. Tasty, but not £7.75 worth of tasty.
It shouldn’t really be a day for baked pasta, especially not a portion this generous, but the manicotti was full of zippy freshness, mainly thanks to lemon ricotta and a sprightly mix of aubergine and courgette.
Similarly, the pork fillet – roasted beautifully just pink – managed a lightness of touch with its herb gnocchi, peas, mushrooms and a delicate truffle cream sauce.
It feels right, amidst all the fluff and bling of the decor, that desserts stole the show with more lemon scented ricotta coming sweetened and filling a brace of cannoli, while a light, floral panettone came next to maybe the best thing in the whole meal, a perfectly balanced lavender and candied walnut semifreddo. Delicate flavours with that eponymous half-frozen texture just the right side of melting. Maybe this is the soft opening they were talking about.
If not, they should be.
Tear and share bread £7.75
Roasted vegetable manicotti £16.90
Pork fillet £19.50
Sorbetto cocktail £11.50
Rhubarb and rose aqua spritz x2 £11.90
Sour cherry, grape and hibiscus aqua spritz £5.95