Antonio Carluccio wants to open Italian restaurant franchise in Belfast

Celebrity chef Antonio Carluccio wants to open one of his restaurants in Belfast Italian food chain Carluccio's wants to open in Belfast and grab a slice of the city's vibrant restaurant scene, according to a commercial property firm.

CBRE's Belfast managing director Brian Lavery spoke as the company published an optimistic update on the economy and the commercial property market.

Belfast's restaurant scene was healthier than ever, CBRE said, with at least two new openings in the city's Howard Street, and Italian food chain Carluccio's looking for premises in the city - plans first highlighted in the Belfast Telegraph around two years ago.

No-one from Carluccio's was available for comment - but in September 2011, chief executive Simon Kossoff told the Belfast Telegraph that the company envisaged opening in the city "at some time in the future".

CBRE added the London-based Italian food chain had bought out its franchise in Dublin and now planned to open new eateries in Dublin and Cork, as well as Belfast.

Separately, a well-known individual in the restaurant trade, whose name is being kept under wraps, has also signed up to occupy 60 Great Victoria Street, the former home of Restaurant Victoria and Bourbon.

In its bi-monthly research, CBRE said the Northern Ireland economy had grown at a faster rate than anticipated this year, with estimates for growth revised up from 0.2% to 0.5%, and growth of 1.8% forecast for next year.

A spokesman said: "Against this backdrop, the second half of 2013 has certainly been considerably busier than the first half in the Northern Ireland property market, with an increase in the volume of properties being released for sale over recent months.

"2013 has seen the first signs of recovery emerging in the Northern Ireland commercial property market."

The investment market was also witnessing more activity, thanks to interest from UK investors. A Tesco Extra store in Newry was sold by developer Turkington Holdings for £30.3m - 10% above the asking price - to asset management company Scottish Widows Investment Partnership.

CBRE said: "Most of the demand for institutional grade investment properties of this nature is emanating from UK investors, who are increasingly looking for opportunities in regional markets such as Belfast.

"There has been a steady volume of letting activity in the occupier markets over recent months."

However, CBRE said it was hoped that Belfast city centre would witness a more peaceful run-up to Christmas this year than last, when protests over the flying of the union flag at city hall caused shoppers to desert the streets.

"With the annual Christmas market at city hall and an ice-rink planned for Custom House Square, it is hoped that political tensions can be kept at bay and that flag protests planned over the coming weeks won't deter from what promises to be a busy Christmas trading period across the region."

Office activity had also been steady, and CBRE welcomed news that a 83,000 sq ft office building at City Quay in Belfast Harbour had won planning permission.

Retail activity had also picked up, with beauty company Kiehl's opening in Victoria Square, Clinton Cards re-opening in Donegall Place and HMV re-opening in Newry.

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