Niall McKenna: There’s nothing better than good food with family and friends

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: award-winning Belfast chef and restaurateur, Niall McKenna


Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

Generally, it's a case of getting up and having breakfast with the kids, then I go on the school run with my wife, Joanne, before heading on into work. We've been busy getting our latest venture, Waterman House and our new restaurant, Waterman, up and running in Belfast, so even though the restaurant isn't open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, there's always lots of stuff to be done in terms of preparation and admin.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

First thing in the morning for me is coffee and porridge.


As a chef, I really tend not to have lunch unless I'm on holiday.

Evening meal?

I have staff tea if I'm in work.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Yes, nutrition is important but I'm like all chefs - we graze constantly. On the health supplements side, I take cod liver oil every day, as well as a new vitamin B spray that a friend gave me.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

Yes, I have been on a diet. I have a knee problem and the last time I saw the consultant he told me to get cycling. It worked - but I could still be lighter.


Weekend treat?

I really love spicy, international food. A real treat for me is Macau on the Ormeau Road, or Sumo Cat (Sushi) or Bengal Brasserie on the Lisburn Road. Delicious.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I have a cycling machine at home, a small dog with lots of energy and a job that has me standing for a lot of my time, so I may not be Iron Man, but I have plenty of stamina. For my mind health and mental fitness, I like to zone out in front of the TV for some relaxation. To keep the business wheels in motion, I work with the brilliant Siobhan Mulvenna from SMT Solutions, who has helped us build the team back up after Covid.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

I'd say the best thing any of us can do is to keep on moving.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I loved sport during my school years and played everything I could. I tried to excel at it all. My son, Conrad, has me out hitting a ball again and it's great to see the parks so busy these days with people doing all sorts of activities. It's things like that that really help build a community.


Teetotal or tipple?

I like a glass of red wine and, having been the Duke of York's neighbour for 10 years, I love a pint of Guinness, too.


Stairs or lift?

Well, that really depends on how far up we are going...


What book are you currently reading?

I'm going back over Danny Meyer's Setting the Table. He is an icon in the US restaurant scene. I always have a new cookbook on the go too.


Best Netflix?

Devils, which is a drama set in the world of global finance. It's fantastic.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

I suppose the first thing we came to realise was just how lucky we are, but also how easy it can be to fall into the way of not working. Along with a lot of other people I also learned that I can be very adaptable, which is a good thing to know.


Any new skills or hobbies?

One new thing I tried out was cold water swimming. It was great. I also got quite into making pizza and I'm currently trying to perfect the recipe after investing a lot of time in it during lockdown.


How do you relax?

My favourite way to relax is over dinner with family and friends. What could be better than good food and having all your favourite people in one place to enjoy it with you?


What are your goals for 2022?

The focus for this year is to get Waterman House up and running as a successful cookery school and event and restaurant hub in the heart of Belfast, along with building a great team of hospitality professionals. On the personal side, I want to get better at managing my time and my expectations, as well as spending more time with my family.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I go to sleep late, and no, I'd have to say I probably don't get as much sleep as I could.


Biggest gripe?

My biggest gripe at the minute is people moaning about having to work.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Yes and no. I have a personality that means I strive for success every day, but I have a habit of moving the goalposts. I'd probably like to take it all a bit easier.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

No. The pandemic has made me reassess my goals, but mortality doesn't really enter my thoughts. I am too busy for that.

Niall McKenna shares recipes with Irish News readers every Saturday in the Weekend section. His new Waterman restaurant is on Hill Street in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. 028 9043 4310,