Damian takes on a grand challenge

Banbridge-born Damian Tumilty (40), has been named as the executive head chef at Hastings new flagship hotel, the Grand Central in Belfast, which opened in June.

For Damian Tumilty, whose kitchen credentials have seen him don his whites in top quality venues around Ireland, his prestigious new post at Belfast’s Grand Central Hotel is a welcome challenge and one that sees him realise an ambition held since childhood – to work in a top-end hotel.

“It’s challenging obviously and every day brings something new,” the new executive head chef told LCN this month. “But things are really starting to move now. The Grand Central is the flagship for the Hastings group and it’s attracting lots of attention from people, everyone seems very impressed.”

The Grand Central is NI’s largest and most expensively constructed hotel. Situated on the site of the former Windsor House office building in Bedford Street, the 300-bedroom venue runs to 23 floors and cost £53m to develop.

Its hospitality offering includes and Seahorse Restaurant and lounge, The Grand Central Café and The Observatory on the 23rd floor, but there is no ballroom or banqueting facilities at the hotel.

Damian Tumilty, who launched his career in Newcastle’s Burrendale Hotel at the age of 16, says that he has been attracted to hospitality – and hotels in particular – since his early childhood when he would make pancakes in the kitchen at home with his granny.

“We used to go out for lunch with my parents on a Sunday and I always thought I would like to work in hotels,” he recalls. “That really intensified after we began to visit Kelly’s [hotel and spa] in Rosslare for the Easter holidays. Just the busyness and the buzz of that hotel, it really got to me.”

Damian studied home economics at school and then went on to Newry Catering College where he worked his way through to his advanced diploma in culinary arts. He then spent four years at the Burrendale before moving to a post a Conrad Gallager’s former Michelin-starred Peacock Alley in Dublin.

A job at the Yellow Door in Gilford brought Damian back across the border. He was still there when the restaurant became The Oriel and gained a Michelin star before closing in 2006.

His next 14 years were spent at the former Café Vaudeville in Belfast as executive chef and just before the venue changed hands in 2016, he moved to the French Village on the Lisburn Road, where he worked for a year. For the last nine months, he’s been helping colleagues at Belfast’s Shu restaurant out on a casual basis.

“I saw the job at the Grand Central advertised and I just went for it,” he says. “It was exciting, I knew it was something different and there’s no banqueting at this hotel, which suited me, that just not really my thing.”

Damian says that everything on the hospitality side at the new hotel is “getting to where it needs to be”:

“The most challenging part of the job is probably that we opened three restaurants within a week of each other. That’s no small undertaking,” he adds. “I now have three different areas where I really need to be and that can be very difficult at times, but we’re now getting to the point where we know people better, we can put them into the areas that suit them and where I can trust them to do a good job.”

Damian says that feedback from visitors to the much-anticipated new hotel has all been very positive: “It’s a very cool place and the café in particular, has been very well received,” he reports.

“I’m very happy that I’ve been able to take this challenge on and happy to see where it takes me in my career. Maybe someday I’ll end up working in Dubai or somewhere, I don’t know, but I’d like to think that eventually, I will be able to take a step back from cooking and get more involved in some sort of executive role, either here or somewhere else that’s just as big.”


The Seahorse Restaurant at Belfast Grand Central Hotel.

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