Farewell to “Backwards Belfast”

made in belfast

According to Belfast Telegraph, local restaurateur Emma Bricknell is, apparently, leaving us for good. It’s not her, it’s us. We are ‘a laughing stock‘. We are ‘backwards’. She has found somewhere else, somewhere sunnier. Apparently the break up is long overdue.

Bricknell is the owner of three city centre restaurants, two branches of Made in Belfast and Le Coop on Hill Street. I have been to Made in Belfast exactly twice. Personally I was not a fan. Neither was Joris Minne or Jay Rayner. They weren’t exactly on the fast track for Michelin star status, put it that way.

But now Bricknell is off to Ibiza, with a slew of acerbic words about Belfast in her wake. Our social attitudes are going backwards. The red tape and bureaucracy makes it ‘impossible’ to do business here. We are also isolated from the rest of the world:

“The US flight has stopped – you can’t fly to Sweden, Berlin or Italy. How does anyone get anywhere?”

This is not the world’s biggest island. Direct flights to the US, Sweden, Berlin AND Italy all operate out of Dublin, a relatively short trip from Belfast via a direct twenty-four hour bus link from Dublin Airport. We have direct flights to Iceland, Switzerland, Spain, France and a whole load of other places. I have never awoken deep at night with a burning need to get to Sweden that has been thwarted by no flight being available from Aldergrove, but that is maybe just me. I’m also pretty sure Jet2.com, for example, offers direct seasonal routes from Belfast to Rome, Verona, and Pisa. There is, however, conveniently, a direct flight to Ibiza, where Bricknell is planning to make her new home.

Bricknell, originally from Kent, ‘The Garden of England’, opened her first restaurant in Belfast in 2005, having moved here, apparently, after picking names of places to live out of a hat. Nine years in the local restaurant trade shows that she has at least given it a fair crack.

She doesn’t hate us all, though, just “the “scumbag minority” in Stormont”. Phew.

What do you think? Do you work in the hospitality trade locally (I’m looking at you Belfast Barman!)? Or do you run a different kind of business in NI? Are you one of the scumbag minority up in Stormont, dedicated to making lives for the local business community unutterably miserable? Are the points Emma Bricknell making entirely justified or is she chucking her toys out of the pram? The floor, as ever, is yours….



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  • Clanky

    The red tape and bureaucracy makes it ‘impossible’ to do business here.

    Good luck with Spain!

  • Laura Haydon

    There are many good reasons to leave NI in disgust, but I don’t think Emma’s are among them….

  • feismother

    I walked out of one of her places because I couldn’t take the tacky decor. She seemed to be forever on the radio telling us that she was leaving.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’m rather cannibalising some comments made about small and medium business [SMB] environment in the south on another blog, the bullet points seem to apply to teh wee six even more so. Anyway, here goes.

    Against the ability for any such enterprise to florish any number of factors are at work. To name eight:

    1. geographic isolation and costly logistics

    2. high input costs (including the cost of capital)

    3. a tiny available base of suitably experienced staff

    4. minimal help from the state at crucial phases in the development of SME’s

    5. in some sectors direct competition by the state, and in most sectors exclusion from public procurement

    6. high costs of enforcing contracts

    7. an unstable tax and banking environment

    8. an unstaple political environment

    While all these factors are not going to be in play in every situation, most of tham apply to any business I can think of attempting to survive in the rather unique atmosphere of “us here”. Until Christmas most economic activity would have been directly or indirectly linked to state funding, not a bad thing if intellegently applied, but the general malaise here has ensured that this has in actuality acted as an inhibiting factor on real, independant enterprise in my experience. Where some activities appear to be strongly underpinned by public procurement and their compeditors do not seem to be given a look in no matter what they do, despite what are quite strict procurement procedures, this acts as an obvious inhibitor for genuine competition. While I’m not on this treadmill myself I know of a few businesses that are. But I can think of many instances of each of the other inhibiting factors at play in every enterprise that I know of.

  • JoeHassit

    I’m a bit fed up with the “who does she think she is” response to her comments. Sure, some of her statement was ill-thought out (W(R)Ite Noise rightly debunks her arguments about flights), but she’s right. We are backward. Businesses are being held back by 9-5 opening hours and ‘sacred sabbath day’ attitudes. Politicians and business leaders need to bring NI into line with the UK and Ireland.

  • Sliothar

    Come on, guys, it’s not ALL bad. We’re top of the worst hospital waiting times in the UK.
    Triumphs, no matter how small, should be celebrated. 😉

  • Gaygael

    She specifically names the conscience clause as part of the regressive attitudes. Strange that limited attention was drawn to that. Laura, below says she doesn’t see any of Emma’s reasons as valid. If you are an lesbian, gay or bisexual person, and our government are talking about introducing a law that prohibits refusal of goods facilities and services ONLY for that community. That is valid. The only place in Western Europe where anti gay laws get any serious consideration. That’s embarrassing. That’s backwards.
    And she is right. The caleban are imposing their Victorian attitudes on us. The licensing debacle was one recent example.

    But I don’t like her stick. She up cycles and goes for quaint and boho and bare walls. I’m not convinced that this is cutting corners and saving money dressed up as ‘look’
    Why bother painting walls when you can leave it bad and distressed. Why pay money for matching table and chairs, when you can loot a skip and slot it into your restaurant with barely no cost. I’m very sceptical.

    I’m also uncomfortable with someone not from here having such a pop. It could be couched in more of a nuance. She was able to draw names out of a hat as to where she might go and set up a business. She is so unaware of her own privilege. That lack of awareness and not being local will grate with many people.

  • salmonofdata

    On your point about transport links, you’re spot on. With Dublin Airport less than 90 minutes away, Belfast is certainly no worse off for connections to the outside world than, say, Cork.
    But she does raise some valid points. The licensing issue is preposterous in this day and age, akin to the pious policymaking that used to see playground swings locked up on a Sunday.

    There is often a knee-jerk, jingoistic nationalist (in the universal sense) response in Northern Ireland that recoils at the notion of someone not from here making any criticism of the place whatsoever. Many of us remember fondly the 90s, when Presidents and Prime Ministers would serenade us with praise and attention, which was intended to charm us into making nice and agreeing to stop fighting between ourselves. Now we have the semblence of some form of civic normality, we need to start accepting some home truths; Northern Ireland is a small, economically unimportant backwater with significantly more problems than money.

    If we are to make progress, we may need to collectively grow a thicker skin and accept that some critical outsiders may, sometimes, have a point.

  • chrisjones2

    Shock!!! Horror!!! Someone tells the truth as she sees it and the sniffiness is overwhelming. How dare she. Shes English you know (Wink) . She doesn’t know what its like. Shes just plain wrong

    SeannnUNeill below hits it on the head. This is NOT a good place to do business. Its small, insular and deeply sectarian. Corruption is growing and a lot that does get done takes an age and the speed depends on being in the know with some councillors or council staff who can ease the way

    The banking system is stuffed. There is little help for SMEs especially in services. You can get some help from DEL if you take on extra staff and train them – but they are often the deeply unemployable who either dont want to work or aren’t capable

    If you do have problems with suppliers or debtors the small claims limit is just £3k (£10k in England) and the courts take 3 x as long to do anything The Legal Profession is a closed shop with high prices Customers or staff will be legally aided to sue you at the drop of a hat for utterly false and frivolous claims pushing insurance premiums up and up

    Paying Tax and PAYE or VAT seems largely optional unless you are foolish enough to register with HMRC when they will hound you. If you don’t bother to register they wont bother you. Unless you owe them £500k they aren’t interested. The minimum wage is a fantasy if you pay cash in hand and staff do the double – and this is rife in hospitality If you are honest and dont do all this rest assured many of your competitors will and undercut your prices

    WHen the impact of the coming cuts kick it it will get a lot worse. After all those redundant civil servants splash out on a new sofa or holiday cold cold reality will set in Arlene’s wet dream of the effect of 10% Corpo Tax will do well for manufacturers of brass plates, framers, accountants, property developers Fermanagh Frackers and lawyers and badly for the rest of us.

  • Practically_Family

    I shall admit to some confusion regarding many of the comments, here and elsewhere, regarding what Emma said.

    Specifically those which use phrases like “never on a Sunday”, “Chain up the swings”, “Sabbath day… Blah blah” in regard to Belfast.

    While it’s certainly the case that NI used to be a near paragon for the observance of keeping Sunday sacred, I’m not convinced it’s any different from other areas of the UK or Republic these days. In the last year I’ve spent Sundays in Manchester, Birmingham, Bury, Leicester & Northampton. Dublin, Limerick, & the back of beyond in counties Louth & Carlow. And guess what? If you want to do anything other than buy a burger/coffee and the paper much before early afternoon you’re SOL in all of them.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thanks Chris, for so vividly filling in all the blanks. That’s my experience too.

    The problem is that all to many up on the hill think that paying about 90% of what is thought of as their “income” to our “farmers” as farm subsidy constitutes having an economy. What they will do when the well runs dry and their failure to actually encourage “real people” with business acumen and ability when the could means that we are all having to boil old boots to eat, those who actually have bought leather footware with the subsidies, that is!

  • salmonofdata

    I’d say the sort of people who are uncomfortable with “non locals” making a criticism of Northern Ireland are people whose prejudices ought to be challenged more, not less.

    It’s ironic, also, that Jay Rayner’s 2011 evisceration of Made in Belfast produced an astonishing number of squeals of outrage at the time. How dare this person come and criticize a Norn Iron restaurant! Not only is he local, but he has the temerity to do his job as a restaurant critic AND be English! Something must be done!

    Now, his bad review is being cited as evidence of the fact that the restaurant was never really much cop in the first place.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I don’t get the story. Multiple news outlets have picked up on this…the business will continue trading so this is essentially just “woman moves away because she doesn’t like NI anymore – turn to page 53(below the obituaries) for our exclusive.

    It she’s sick of it then fine, go away and live your life in Ibiza as you want to, no harm no foul. Don’t pretend it’s something it’s not though. Don’t grab the first moral high horse you seen passing outside your business and jump on board. You’ll only fall off.

    I’m p**sed at the same issues she claims! except I just don’t whinge about it…has she done anything to try and improve what she sees as a terrible situation? Or does she just jump on any media available to sing the woe is me tune.

    She complains about the licensing situation. She runs restaurants, it isn’t that difficult at all, if she wants to run a bar, it can be done. She said it’s impossible to get a license, yep. Impossible…..weird how bars still open and even wetherspoons is buying property to then get a licence for. Don’t get me wrong, the licensing situation is stupid, it’s protected by the religious lobby because it limits alcohol availability and it’s protected by pubs of ulster because it benefits their current members (no such thing is altruism in this industry….) but it’s not impossible.

    The jobs are remaining and the businesses will stay open, this was true whether she was involved of not, the locations are too good to be vacant and there is a real drive in the industry at the minute for premises, they would have been snapped up before they even got to the open market, but she had to later clarify that the businesses would remain, in her hands? Well then why put the idea out there in the first place and run the risk of staff alienation.

    The conscience clause being mentioned is just a bit of an oddity. It is, as far as I’m concerned, an absolute farce, legislation pulled straight out of a disgruntled toddlers back pocket…does it affect made in Belfast though? No. Not one iota. Yes, perhaps she doesn’t want to live in a society where that is law…but it isn’t law, and it may never be, so what’s her point again?

    I was managing a business once that was wrapping up for reasons outside my control, it was suggested to me by an…industry individual, to not mention publicly what the reasons were (rates, rent, constant trouble in the area etc etc) I did it anyway, just because I’m me and that’s how I work. Bricknell has listed a load of reasons that have no bearing on her doing business right now, only future possibly potential who-knows-what-may-come legislation and the possibility that opening a bar/nightclub in future would be difficult (but not impossible)

    Seems to me that bricknell wanted to move to Ibiza… And she’s just saying things that annoy her about Northern Ireland, to the benefit of nothing whatsoever.

    The twitter user @poleinbelfast is in the process of being accepted for a visa to Canada, soon to move his family there. Will that make multiple media outlets? Nope. But because bricknell has decided to have a bit of a grandstand moment about it all, she gets airtime. Good luck to her but call it what it is, don’t pretend that it’s something it isn’t. Bloody flight routes…there are less than a handful of restaurants in the world that people will fly to, made in Belfast isn’t one of them. If you aren’t attracting enough business from within the current potential consumer crop, that’s on you, not on the transport links. If you’re relying on direct flights from NYC to Belfast to keep your restaurant open, your restaurant shouldn’t be open.

  • Zeno


  • Turgon

    “unaware of her own privilege”
    Thirtieth anniversary homages to Eric Blair are so last year.

  • Zeno

    Woman who sells hamburgers and chicken and chips leaves?
    What ARE we going to do?????
    Like someone else says further down. I was in her Cafe twice and it was nothing special. Overpriced would be my one word description.

  • Dan

    Let’s hope she has all her bills paid up to date before she goes…

  • handelaar

    What part of “there’s an airport that goes to America over two hours away” negates her criticism of NI not having decent air links any more?

  • Superfluous

    “We are ‘a laughing stock‘. We are ‘backwards’.”

    She’s right.

  • I’m pretty sure that someone who finds Ms Bricknell’s comments to be, at least, ungracious towards the city which has supported her businesses over the last decade is not really an example of someone “whose prejudices ought to be challenged more, not less”.

    Emma Bricknell is not local. Some of her critiques are valid. But why is she even making them? She is not closing or selling her businesses, they are apparently still profitable and worth running from as far away as Ibiza. People finding her decision to depart all guns blazing, letting no grievance – big or small – remain unaired, petty or bizarre, are not necessarily on a prejudice-driven witch hunt because she is English.

  • Gaygael

    She made her decision to come here by putting the names of a number of european cities in a hat. The first one pulled would be the city she would move to in order to set up a business. She had the funds. Regardless of what city or what business regulation should would face.
    How many people ever get to make a decision like that? Very very very few. Hence the privilege.

    I eat there over Xmas. I have been a few times. I know a handful of people that have worked in both Made in belfast places, including when the cathedral quarter place was Holligans. I have a relatively intimate insight into these businesses and there owner.

    I think home truths are good for us. When I lived in Birmingham I had the good grace to be diplomatic in my critique of the city. I think that’s a fair enough ask. I think it jars that not only is she undiplomatic in how she describes this place, but that she is moving away. Some if us are staying to fight to change the very things that she complains about. Some of us don’t have the privilege of being able to up sticks and set up a new business, leaving behind 3 relatively successful ones. But fair do to her. She has an approach about sustainability and local produce where possible, which I can commend.

    We want a modern european city and all that entails. Some of our government want a regressive closed society. I can pretty much concur with most of Ms Bricknels lament.

  • ted hagan

    Well she certainly learned something important from her time in Belfast…. don’t pick names out of hats.

  • Turgon

    Indeed what she did was very ungood. Keep up the duckspeak of which “privilege” is a perfect example.

  • chrisjones2

    I’m also uncomfortable with someone not from here having such a pop.

    You might ask yourself why where she coems from is usch an issue for you. Thye answer may be uncomfortable!

  • chrisjones2

    After 10 years she is ‘not local’. I fear that sounds like plain racism and helps support what she says about this place

  • chrisjones2

    I am afraid that with your culinary expectations her places are not for you

  • chrisjones2

    Fine….don’t eat that. NOw what about the points she makes?

  • chrisjones2

    Try things like the costs of licensing, restricted opening hours, etc etc etc

  • chrisjones2

    …..but they wont because almost none of them has spent a day in business or in any work not state funded nor do they care beyond their own narrow political and religious perspectives. Thats where they see their vote and stuff the rest

  • chrisjones2

    What are you suggesting? Why?

  • Zeno

    I didn’t pay much attention. I mean who cares if a Cafe owner doesn’t live close enough to Dublin Airport or if she thinks it’s impossible to do business here, even though she was able to?

    Her opinion means nothing to me. Might as well ask what I think of Boy Georges opinion or David Beckhams opinion.

  • Zeno

    Are you married to her or something? You’re certainly going out of your way to be insulted on her behalf. Saying someone is not local does not make people racists.

  • chrisjones2

    Depends why you say it. And why is it relevant to the issue that she is leaving

    No I am not married to her . Just highlighting the casual attitude on Slugger to anyone who is not “one of us” ….. and that can easily amount to racism. And was motivated by the outpouring of ‘not one of us’ ery in earlier posts

    As an example i have seen continued references to “English” Restaurant owner. Whats the relevance of that? I can almost see the late Les Dawson’s character fold her arms under her over ample bosom, lift them up and say that with a klnowing look on her face

  • chrisjones2

    Leather? British leather or Irish?

    The problem is that this lot on both sides are so well dug in it will take another famine to oust them

    Perhaps we should all just emigrate?

  • Practically_Family

    Umm.. I know all about them. I don’t contest that they’re issues.

    My point was that bitching about Belfast having a “never on a Sunday” attitude is passé, Belfast has about as much happening on a Sunday as any other city on these islands.

  • Fobhristi

    I think someone not from here, and especially someone from somewhere else in the UK highlighting what she find regressive about our society a healthy and good thing.

    I also like it whenever I hear northern ireland called out on its nonsense in the mainstream media to a Britain audience.

    It serves to highlight that the much lauded progressive all-inclusive and multicultural British culture that has been growing in Britain since world war 2, doesn’t exist here within the community that describes themselves as British.

    On an unrelated note, I didn’t think Made in Belfast was a nice restaurant, the food is completely mediocre, don’t how the place has become a recognisable name in the Belfast restaurant scene

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Perhaps we should all just emigrate?”

    Tried it, chris, back here again, poored, a lot older and perhaps even wiser.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Worse. Expensive.

  • ted hagan

    I’m afraid Emma’s remarks are a PR disaster along the lines of Ratner and his famous trashing of his own jewellery. What she is basically is saying to her customers is ‘Eat up, enjoy, I’m done with here, pity you live in such a dump. Now I’m off’. See ya’
    Pretty arrogant stuff.
    And she used a pretty irrational scatter-gun approach to her indictment of Northern Ireland, with everything from education, Sunday opening, licensing laws, politicians thrown in there along with the kitchen sink. Not very well-thought-out or gracious. I left Belfast seventeen years and now work in southern France, which I like, though which has its own sectarian conflicts. And yes, it has its ‘European’ culture, as Emma calls it, with its outdoor cafes and fine summer weather, sometimes too hot though. As for Sundays? Well, the whole place shuts down and doesn’t really resume until Tuesdays. The winters? Pretty rough.
    Emma talks about Belfast adopting a ‘European’ culture, by that I take it she means becoming more ‘sophisticated’. How boring. I actually think the idea of the crisp sandwich café is a lot more ‘Belfast’ and shows much more imagination.
    No, forget European sophistication and what we did on our Mediterranean holiday. The streets in Belfast and Dublin for that matter, are far too narrow for this much-promoted outdoor café culture. Also the weather is often far too bleak and windy.
    Let’s be original. Let’s create a special, original identity for Belfast using the best brains to come up with something different. There’s been loads of progress so far, and I think there’s a lot more to be done. There’s some great restaurants. On the cultural side there’s plenty that needs to be done. Does BBC radio have to have a continuous diet of bland country music and hickey presenters? I’m sure there’s plenty more creativity out there.
    I always look forward to coming to Belfast and have nothing but praise for the entrepreneurs who have pioneered through the roughest of times. I’m sure I will be in amongst you some time again. Belfast never really loses its grip
    And Emma? Best of luck, though you may regret your decision.

  • Gaygael

    Come on turgon.
    Surely you got better than that? Or are you just trolling me?

    She had the privilege of being able to pick a city name out of a hat and then move there to set up a business. How many people ever face get that opportunity? A tiny minority I presume. Hence her privilege.

  • Gaygael

    I think the conscience clause will contribute to many of our younger lgbt people deciding to go abroad. No?

  • David Arnold

    While Emma did flag up some local problems, there are plenty more points she could have raised besides the conscience clause.

    The fact that by the summer, NI could be the only part of these islands where equal marriage is outlawed would have been a good start. Add to that the shenanigans over gay blood donation, gay couples adopting, the criminalisation of buying sex and the ongoing abortion ban. And that’s before touching on flags or parades.

    Seems like Emma let ‘our wee country’ off pretty light.

  • Gaygael

    I have no discomfort with where she is from. I’m actually an Anglophile having lived there for 7 years. In the great city of Birmingham actually.
    My discomfort is she doesn’t realise how lucky she is by being able to put the names of european cities in a hat and drawing one out to determine where she would set up a business.

  • Practically_Family

    “it will take another famine to oust them”

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Practically_Family

    I dunno. My neighbour tells me that Belfast is an immeasurably “better” city in which to live as an openly gay male then most of those of Northern England. I think his main metric is the chance of getting assaulted mind you.

  • Practically_Family

    You know, I honestly can’t remember the mast time I was in an eaterie that had bread & butter on the menu. Toast is still present I suppose.

    Used to be be a thing with my grandad. He’d order b&b and then ask the waitress if they’d missed one b with the other.

    His we laughed.

    Perhaps the recurrence of this joke among aged customers has led to a sanity saving removal of this particular delicacy from our menus? Or perhaps the disappearance of such culinary delights as Banquet Margarine from the shelves has led to bread and “butter” becoming prohibitively expensive.

  • Gaygael

    Lets be very clear. when the young life and times asked this question regarding moving away in the late 00s, the much talked of protestant brain drain was not evidenced. What was evidenced was that on the basis of sexual oreintation, is wher the gap lay. Our brain drain continues, and its our lgbt youth flocking to get away.
    I think that your neighbour has given a personal opinion. This is all well and good. I prefer an expert or organisational viewpoint. In Northern England – regardless of potential risk of assault there are no politicians of any note being entertained with attempts to restrict equality law against the gays. That is happening here and it will encourage lgbt youth and creative types to leave. This may be exactly what the narrow minded and homophobic DUP want thou.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    One of the many misfortunes I suffer from, chris, is to sound entirely English, almost “David Cameron” to everyone here, while on my trips to London it is made clear to me that I come over as a kind of inferior Brendan Behan from the north whose accent no-one civilised (at least Oxbridge) could ever understand, the pockets of my Donegal Tweed jacket filled with peat and potatoes. I keep getting flashbacks of that Master of Ceremonies, Fred Rickwood, in that “Father Ted” episode “A Song for Europe”, slick as “Peak Hours” one minute, an utter mess the next.

    But worst of all I keep hearing “Are you enjoying your holiday?”, “How do you like our province?” or “which part of England do you come from?” from some of the people I run into in Belfast. And me descended from the ancient high kings and from one of the first Scots planter families in Fermanagh, begorrah. So your “Just highlighting the casual attitude on Slugger to anyone who is not “one of us” ….. and that can easily amount to racism.” strikes a very personal chord, when “one of us” is not even allowed to be “one of us”.

  • Brian

    What nonsense. Anyone who has spent any time in either place would know that Belfast is infinitely more nuanced and interesting.

  • Croiteir

    Just heard that Tensquare Hotel is hit the wall, perhaps she is feeing it tight in the depressed the local economy and is seeking an excuse to explain her flight? She is after all not the only restauranteur to flee the local market recently