Five ambitious local chefs have taken part in Hill Street Hatch, an imaginative initiative by design experts Crown Creative to promote creativity in hospitality here.
The venture has already encouraged the start-up of a small business and four others to accelerate the development of existing operations.
The Hatch is now driving food-on-the-go creativity in the city by enabling younger chefs in particular to re-imagine traditional favourites such as toasted sandwiches, sausage rolls and gelato.
The success of the Hatch has earned the venture and one of its spin-off enterprises, The Toast Office, international recognition in the renowned Restaurant and Bar Design Awards. This follows earlier success in awards from a local newspaper.
Of the four concepts shortlisted in the European Visual Identity category of the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards, two were Belfast-based. This pays testament to the unique design concepts of both brands, conceived in Crown Creative, a specialist hospitality design studio founded and managed by Northern Irish native Ryan Crown.
Having gained five years’ experience in New York working alongside some of the world’s best hospitality brands, including the Dead Rabbit and Marriott International, Ryan has returned home, and through concepts such as Hill Street Hatch and the Toast Office brings a new creative voice to hospitality here.
The Restaurant & Bar Design Awards is the world’s leading independent competition dedicated to excellence in hospitality design and is a benchmark for the industry’s most creative and influential bars and restaurants. The winners will be announced on October 14.
Among the chefs who have benefited from the Hill Street Hatch experience is Great British Menu participant Gemma Austin with her quirky A Peculiar Tea pop-up food business. She tantalised the taste buds of foodies in Cathedral Quarter with exceptional takeaway dishes such as savoury waffles filled with pulled ham hock or Beijing duck and a choice of eclairs with either lobster or Kobe beef.
Gemma, 29, an experienced chef and co-owner Alexander’s & Co restaurant and bar in Holywood, introduced her novel pop-up to the Hatch over the past two weekends … and with stunning success.
“I’d always wanted to do something really creative with local food and A Peculiar Tea is the vehicle for this ambition,” Gemma says.
“Great British Menu was another opportunity to be different. The Hatch is a fantastic development for local chefs by Ryan Crown and Ema O’Kane,” she adds.
Gemma’s creativity proved an outstanding success. “We were sold out well before closing time all three days last week,” she continues.
“It’s also proved great for feedback from customers. And I am delighted to say that the feedback last week was wholly positive and immensely encouraging,” says Gemma.
What she’s achieved is a re-invention of waffles and eclairs, long-standing snack favourites, using savoury and different ingredients.
The Hatch’s next occupant will offer authentic Filipino street food.
Ham and cheese toasties, which were originally created by the Toast Office start-up on a short term basis, have led a fully-fledged food outlet, another hatch in Hill Street, due to the popularity of its toasties.
And Moon Gelato’s original iced desserts continue to be served daily by chef Aaron Heasley at the Fat Gherkin café in Moira after a stint in Hill Street.
Aaron Heasley, 37, successfully introduced his own luxury Moon Gelato to the Hatch last month.
He developed a taste for Italian gelato on honeymoon to Barcelona and on a Mediterranean cruise. The first lockdown provided the time and space to develop his own products and the business.
“The Hatch was amazing, a tremendous experience,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to try new flavours and formats, all of which proved extremely popular.
“I gained very worthwhile feedback that will help me in developing the gelato business, especially in the short-term,” he added.
The popularity of his gelato meant he was sold out well before the 6pm closing time over the three days.
Featuring at The Hatch this weekend is Kubo, a specialist in Filipino snacks and another born out of the lockdown.
Kubo’s Nallaine Calvo explains: “We specialise in authentic Filipino food and we’re best known for Northern Ireland’s first Filipino Kamayan Kit/Box.”
Kubo was established in May 2020 at the start of the pandemic.
“I’ve planned Filipino Kamayan events and supper clubs pre lockdown and saw this as an opportunity to keep Filipino food alive in Belfast!
“The Hatch is a very smart idea which is giving me an opportunity to introduce my food to a different audience and gain important feedback.
“Authentic Filipino food is new to most people here. I’ve have plans to develop the business in the years ahead.”
“We have taken a redefined street food approach to Filipino food in The Hatch. We’re serving up Filipino BBQ and Filipino finger food or ‘Pulutan’ along with some yummy Filipino sweets!
“Our homemade spicy vinegar and pandan sugar syrup will also be available,” she says.
Experienced chef John Hollywood brought the sausage roll, that classic hot snack favourite, into the 21st century at the Hatch, another success story.
Chef at Yugo East, the popular Asian Fusion restaurant at Ballyhackamore in east Belfast, John was behind Roller Boy, a unique hospitality start-up enterprise.
“The Hatch was a marvellous experience that gave me the opportunity to try something different in snacking,” he adds.