This Wonderful Little Place … Bad Hofgastein, Austria

Celebrity chef JEAN-CHRISTOPHE NOVELLI is opening a restaurant in Belfast next month but for FAMILY HARMONY, he heads for the Alps …

Annen Café, Bad Hofgastein

Things are happening in Belfast – there is so much investment going on in the city. The food scene here is phenomenal, very different to how it was 30 years ago when Paul Rankin was the first chef in Northern Ireland to get a Michelin star. The quality of the local produce is at another level.

I haven’t had a Michelin star myself for a long time. When you get a star they don’t tell you why, when you lose a star they don’t tell you why. You have to be consistent, that I know. Michelin star dining can be a bit stuffy though. I have young children now [Jean, 9, and Valentino, 2, who has thankfully recovered from a brain tumour] so going out to eat is a bit of a mess – you should see what we leave on the floor behind us, it’s horrendous. I understand why there is a movement to more relaxed dining.

The terrace at Annen Café

One of my favourite places in the world to eat with my family is Annen Café, in Bad Hofgastein, which is about 1,700m above sea level in the Austrian Alps. We were on a driving and camping holiday when we first found it and we had no other option – everywhere else was fully booked. The views were incredible and the children were happy.

One of the most unbelievable restaurants on the planet was Tragabuches in Ronda, Spain, but it has sadly closed. The chef, Dani Garcia, was a genius – a mix of Basil and Manuel in Fawlty Towers, and the service was impeccable. I miss it.

Jean-Christophe Novelli with Grand Chef Jim Mulholland

Jim Mulholland, formerly of Ballyrobin Country Lodge, will be my “grand chef” at Novelli at City Quays and with his techniques I know he will really make a name for himself. It’s very exciting for me to be part of a project as big as the AC Hotel Belfast, the first Marriott in Ireland, and to be opening my restaurant within it. We want to ensure the standard of everything is so high that people will be coming back for years.

Novelli at City Quays, Belfast

I haven’t been on television for a while because I don’t want to spend time away from my family. My maximum is two days. My fiancée [Michelle Kennedy] and I are getting married later this year and I don’t care what we eat, as long as we’re together. I often get asked about my last meal but the truth is I’m only concerned with whom I will be sharing it.

Novelli at City Quays is opening next month.

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