A wholesale reworking of one of Belfast's most prominent out-of-use churches is now complete.
Last night 300 guests were invited to the launch of a restaurant in the old Ulsterville Presbyterian Church.
The celebrations featured an electric violinist, DJ and an all-female orchestral group specially flown in from London.
The plush eaterie, called Saphyre, is in the rear of the building, near a new boutique.
It follows the earlier transformation of the main body of the church – which first opened as a place of worship nearly 90 years ago – into a showroom for high-end furniture.
The restaurant has been built in the space where the now-demolished church hall had been, alongside the boutique for wedding gifts and other paraphernalia.
Bird feathers had been the inspiration for the 56-seater restaurant's "emerald green, inky blue and ochre yellow" decor, said Kris Turnbull, the 33-year-old businessman behind the redesign of the church.
Mr Turnbull said getting a Michelin star was not his primary goal: "If that comes our way, it is a big bonus."
Bookings for December were already half-full, he said.
The whole Lisburn Road site was bought off the Presbyterian Church after it fell out of use. The congregation has since moved to Windsor.
"It's been a real privilege," said Mr Turnbull. "Two years ago it was standing empty and derelict, and we've brought life back into it. I'm so pleased."
Mr Turnbull, now living in south Belfast but originally from Moira, had been involved in the Church of Ireland youth movement in his younger days.
He had previously said that he felt no conflict between the site's old use (when it was a place of Christian worship) and its new use (as a commercial venue for the well-heeled), saying that "the ﬁrst line in the Bible is 'In the beginning God created'. The concept of being a creative industry and creating things is an awesome parallel to have with an old church".
Dinner main courses cost between around £14 and £27. The News Letter has previously noted the high value of some of the items in the showroom, which can run into thousands of pounds.
Mr Turnbull said: "I've been designing and working in this industry for 14 years. I had the option to go to London and work in Chelsea with the Russians and the Arabs. I've chosen to base myself in Belfast.
"Ultimately what I've experienced with my clients is if you show a client quality and a really good product they do want to pay for it."
He has more plans for the site next year, but said: "I'm not going to give them away just yet."
Last night's launch was invitation only, but from today the restaurant and boutique are open to the public.
by Adam Kula
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