After 26 years in business, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is closing due to costs becoming too expensive – for both customers and the restaurant operators.
Deanes EIPIC, the flagship fine dining restaurant of an empire started by Northern Irish chef Michael Deane in the 1990s, won its first Michelin star within a year of opening as Deanes in 1997.
However, this month the company announced Deanes EIPIC will be closing by the end of 2023 due to increased price sensitivity among customers and the impact of Covid, Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis. A relaunch is planned with a new “value for money” focus.
Head chef Alex Greene, a finalist on the UK TV show “Great British Menu,” tells CNN Travel he sees the move as symptomatic of a growing trend in the hospitality industry.
‘The cost has spiralled out of control’
“EIPIC as a whole wasn’t a restaurant that was dying,” he says, but “people have an expectation when walking through the doors. The cost of delivering that expectation has doubled since lockdown, the cost has spiralled out of control. And we can’t double the price.”
Tasting menus at EIPIC are £100 a pop (around $123), so hardly at the extreme end of the price scale but, as a small city, Belfast doesn’t have the flow-through of wealthy diners found in the likes of London or Paris.
EIPIC follows the classic fine-dining model upon which many a Michelin star has been earned throughout Europe and beyond. However, Greene says, “the more luxurious end of dining, white linen tablecloths and service and stuff, it seems to be becoming a bygone era.”
Modern restaurants of Michelin caliber are “more stripped back,” he adds. While the passion, dedication and quality of food are still there, “You don’t have the white linen tablecloth, you don’t have the same level of service” and it’s more “economic to deliver to the customer.” While there’s a still a market for traditional fine dining, it’s shrinking.
And the strains being felt by the UK industry are also in terms of labor shortages. “It’s about finding the right staff, with the right kind of level of dedication, knowledge, everything,” says Greene. “It’s very hard to find and very expensive to get.”
Other Michelin-starred closures
Greene and Deanes EIPIC general manager Bronagh McCormick are moving out of the city to start a new food and venture in 2024 in the Mourne countryside south of Belfast. While quality food and drink was once hard to find in rural Northern Ireland, there’s been a post-Covid boom here, as in other parts of the UK countryside.
“Take Belfast as an example,” says Greene. “This year there have been more rate rises, there’s an increase in property insurance, an increase of everything within the city.” The Mourne region, famous for its mountains and sea, was recently named a UNESCO Global Geopark and next year the seaside resort of Newcastle will host the Irish Open golfing tournament. Says Greene, “people are willing to travel from the city or anywhere for good food and good accommodation. And the costs of doing it in the countryside are significantly lower than in the city.”
Deanes EIPIC is the latest in a series of closures of high-profile restaurants. In January, one of the world’s most famous restaurants, Copenhagen’s Noma, announced it was closing, with owner René Redzepi telling the New York Times the fine dining business model was “unsustainable.” And in August, English-French celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr. announced that he will be closing his two-Michelin-starred London restaurant Le Gavroche next January to “make time for a better work/life balance.”