A foodie guide: More Belfast

NIBelfast This post charts my second visit to Belfast. This is a city that has rapidly become one of my very favourite UK cities, and I was thrilled to return at the end of last month. You can catch my first foodie guide to Belfast here

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Where to eat 

The standout meal of our visit was, by far, Ox. This restaurant has a reputation as being the place to eat in Belfast and we looked forward to our lunch there for days. I had high expectations, and I have to say, this was one of the best meals I have had in a very long time. It exceeded my expectations in every way. This is a very cool restaurant with a pared back, modern interior and lovely views of the river from the front. Staff were fantastic, and we enjoyed the tasting menu with matched wines to get a flavour of the food. Every single mouthful was savoured and was deeply memorable. I love the natural ethos of the restaurant, with its focus on superb ingredients and skilled cooking, plus natural breads and wines. This is not a restaurant that focuses on formalities and stuffiness. It’s all about what’s on the plate and in your glass, which is right up my street.

First, we were served with some fantastic wine, a Terraprima Massis del Garraf 2012 and some slices of superb homemade sourdough bread. Gluten free bread is made especially for diners, which is a lovely touch.

We started with some pan fried Turbot with romaneso which was perfectly executed. A nice touch is that the chefs work from an open-plan kitchen, and the chef responsible for preparing your dish brings it over and tells you what it is.

This was followed by a sublime plate of Finnebrogue venison, served with fermented kohlrabhi, black garlic and mushrooms for a bargain price of £8.50. Next, was Châteaubriand with shallots, crosnes and horseradish, which was heavenly. We finished with a caramelized apple pudding, with treacle and fig leaf ice cream. Ox is everything I want from a restaurant, and I hope to return again soon. Exciting cooking, supremely good ingredients and flavours, exciting wines and good value. What more could you want?!

Seafood lovers will enjoy a visit to Mourne Seafood – a Belfast institution. Fresh, local seafood is served aplenty, washed down with a wide selection of wines in this casual, relaxed restaurant. 

For a casual gluten free lunch in Belfast, the most surprising discovery was the Avoca café. For us, the formal café upstairs didn’t deliver, but the more informal self-service style café was actually very good. There was a huge range of scrumptious salads on offer, many of which were gluten free. This is good value, wholesome food at its best.

Next, where to drink. The bar at The Merchant Hotel is probably the most elegant spot in town to enjoy a cocktail. Although they’re not cheap, you get what you pay for in terms of ambience here. It really is full-on film set style glamour here, and is a really special way to spend an evening. 

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Finally, where to shop. St George’s Market is a superb indoor food market selling all kinds of excellent meat, fish and vegetables, much of which is sourced locally. There are a huge number of food stalls there too, which are a very popular choice for a breakfast or lunch. Stop by on a Saturday late morning for some shopping, food and live music.

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What to do

Belfast is famous for its Black Cab tours, and I took one by renowned Blue Badge guide Billy Scott, which was superb. Billy tailors each tour to your personal interests. He is both a fountain of knowledge and an absolute hoot. Interested in recent political history, Billy took me up to Stormont, and around some of the most significant and controversial locations in Belfast. It was truly an insight I would never have had without him. I highly recommend booking him. 

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Another highlight of the trip was a visit to Titanic Belfast. This is no museum; it is an experience, and a profound one at that. Beautifully presented, highly engaging and deeply moving – it should be another essential part of any visit to Belfast. Titanic Belfast is situated in the revitalized dockyard area of Belfast, famous for its ‘Samson and Goliath’ Harland and Wolff yellow shipbuilding gantry cranes which are a real Belfast landmark. The Titanic Studios, adjacent to Titanic Belfast are home to the Game of Thrones filming and offer regular studio tours.

Where to stay 

This time, we stayed at Malmaison in Belfast. It’s very centrally located, just five minutes from the main shopping area and Donegall Square. As you would expect from the Malmaison chain, this is quite a dark, funky, adult friendly hotel, which is famous for its glamorous cocktail bars and quirky buildings the hotels occupy. We really loved our Standard room at the hotel, which was very good value at around £100 per night for B&B for two adults. It felt really special and luxurious. What’s more, it was very wet and cold for one day of our visit, and it made a lovely base in the afternoon to retreat to, to warm up with a cup of tea and relax. Travelling is tiring! Breakfast at the hotel was good. It was very busy when we were staying, and we didn’t have the best experience service-wise, but the quality and choice of food is excellent, and I don’t feel our experiences are representative of the hotel overall.

Getting there

We flew from into Belfast City airport with Flybe, which run regular return services from a number of UK destinations. Our return flights from Southampton were around £150 each for a return Economy Class ticket.

Our car was hired from Enterprise in Belfast City Centre. They offer a free pick up and drop off service and deserve to be commended for their super friendly service. Car hire for over 25s for a small car is around £50 a day, and there is an option to add an additional no-claims waiver onto your rental charge, which we took. 

Taxis to and from Belfast city centre to Belfast City George Best Airport are only around £7-10 a way if there is no traffic, and should take around 15 minutes. Belfast International airport is further away, around 30 minutes drive.

Thank you to Northern Ireland Tourist Board for inviting me over and making all arrangements for me.

 

A Foodie Guide to Londonderry and County Antrim

Antrim coast

At the end of last year I visited Belfast with the Guild of Food Writers. You can read about here. It was a trip that left a deep impression, by the outstanding quality of ingredients and produce coming from the local area, the superb places to eat and the warmth and kindness of the people I met. 

This visit left me with a taste for more, and I recently returned for a longer trip, to dig beneath the surface, and discover the gastronomic delights of Londonderry and County Antrim.

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There are a number of ways of getting to Northern Ireland – by plane to Belfast or Londonderry, or by ferry, to Larne, most likely. My first stop was Londonderry in the North West, situated on the River Foyle, and just 5 miles away from the border with County Donegall. The drive over from Belfast took around an hour and a half, up over the snow topped Sperrin mountains, which is a great drive.

Londonderry

Londonderry is a most interesting city. A walk around the city walls is an essential part of a visit, taking you high up around the city, able to take in panoramic views across both sides of the city.

The food scene is small in Londonderry, but there are some very good things going on here. I think the best lunch in town is from Pyke n Pommes, a food truck situated on the river Foyle, run by enthusiastic foodie Kevin Pyke. A converted truck is home to this small but thriving food business, where Kevin and his team cook a creative range of street food dishes, freshly made and served hot, with a smile, from the truck every day. What makes this particularly special is the sourcing of the ingredients used, with all produce coming from well-within a 15 mile radius, including locally reared Wagyu beef. We enjoyed a steaming hot lunch on a cold day of braised wagyu sirloin, served with perfectly cooked local vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes. Watch this space – this is an exciting year ahead for this small business. 

Pyke & Pommes

For dinner, we visited Browns on the Waterside. There are a couple of Browns restaurants in Londonderry, which seems to be another thriving local business.

Browns was a brilliant choice for dinner. It is clearly a local favourite and it was packed out with people coming here for a special meal and having a great time with friends and family. It had such a jolly feel for a restaurant of its calibre, and it was a really great experience to visit a restaurant with such a warm and genuine celebratory feel. The food was excellent, with many ingredients locally sourced and beautifully cooked. Browns manages to fill a much-needed space – not fine dining but superb cooking, beautifully presented and served in a smart, but friendly and unintimidating environment for a fair price. Head Chef Ian Orr is a talented man, creating some seriously good, well-sourced dishes.

We stayed a couple of miles out of Londonderry at Beech Hill Country House Hotel which has hosted many world famous stars and politicians over the years. The hotel is very comfortable and the Reception staff are extremely helpful and friendly. The best tip for keen foodies is to skip breakfast and head into town. The Legenderry Warehouse No 1 is excellent, with local Bailies Coffee served, and a wide range of delicious locally sourced homemade treats for breakfast. It’s a really good find.

Londonderry is a great place to start a tour of Northern Ireland’s Coastal Route, which is widely recognised as one of the best drives in the world and really is a must if you are in the area for a couple of days. Three hours will give you enough time to complete the drive, although it’s a great idea to allow a day or even more to take it all in. 

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There are so many superb places to stop along the Coastal Route, including Dunluce Castle, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Rathlin Island, Glenarm Castle and more. 

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To break the journey, I stopped at Harry’s Shack at Portstewart for lunch. This is a small, newly opened restaurant set in a newly build wood and glass building on the edge of the beach, which is owned by the National Trust. Far from a traditional Trust restaurant, this is one of the most exciting openings of late in Northern Ireland, and indeed, the UK. Donal Doherty and Derek Creag, the team behind Harry’s Shack, serve up some seriously well-executed cooking using great quality produce and fantastic ingredients. Allergy suffers are very well catered for with plenty of choice on the menu.

Harry's Shack

Tap water was brought to our table when we arrived, without prompting, in a beautiful jug from local Moville Pottery. In fact, almost all of the tableware used in Harry’s Shack is indeed from there, and very beautiful too. It may seem unusual to mention the plates before the food, but to me this underpins how much thought and care has been put into every little detail of the business, and that, is a very good thing. Returning to the food, well, it was all superb. I started with a cone of whitebait, which were served piping hot, crisp and perfectly seasoned. Paired with a small dish of superbly balanced Marie Rose sauce, it was an excellent start to the meal. My guest chose a pork and pistachio terrine which was very good, too. Chunky pieces of meat, studded with pistachios and a delicious chutney served on the side made it a most satisfying starter. 

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For the main course, I had to try the fish and chips, which felt like the natural choice given our location. Every element was executed with skill; crispy, crunchy chips with a fluffy interior, juicy, flaky fish encased in golden, crunchy batter, and a dish of homemade mushy peas on the side. Pretty much perfection. The other main we chose was a gorgeous fish stew, made with hake, chickpeas, tomatoes and a saffron yoghurt to top. It was scrumptious, and made for a truly nourishing and satisfying lunch, tasting great and made even better in the knowledge you were eating a bowl full of delicious goodness. Sadly, we were too full for pudding which was the only disappointment of the lunch. A Bailies coffee set us up for the journey ahead and we continued on our journey. 

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Our next stop of the day was our final stop. Giant’s Causeway. One of the Wonders of the World, this extraordinary basalt rock formation is really worth seeing. The site is operated by the National Trust and entry is around £10-15 depending on the type of ticket you require, and of course free for members. The weather changes so dramatically on the Antrim coast and so a visit can mean you will see the Causeway in a number of different light conditions, from glorious sunlight to moody, stormy conditions are all possible within the hour as we found, with a little snow thrown in too, so be sure to take your camera to capture the sensational views. Those fancying a bit more of a walk can follow some longer trails, and those unable to walk far can take the minibus provided down to the stones for a £1 a way.

We made a night of it, and stayed at the Causeway Hotel which is right next to the visitor centre and set high up on the cliff tops with really lovely views. Owned and operated by the Trust again, it is a simple but very cosy recently refurbished hotel that is extremely warm and welcoming, yet relaxed – I didn’t feel uncomfortable presenting myself at Reception on arrival having been soaked through to the skin in an unexpected hailstorm. There is a restaurant on site, and bar meals are available in the cosy, relaxed bar area, with roaring log fires. The food is not bad – dinner is more pub-style fare – but served by highly trained, very friendly and professional staff. Breakfast is very good, and the smoked salmon and scrambed eggs is recommended. This is a convenient and comfortable base to make the most of the Causeway, and we couldn’t resist popping down for another quick look in the morning before we departed. 

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Next stop, is Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which is a Victorian rope bridge, erected by salmon fishermen in search of the best fish they could possibly catch. Quite a feat indeed, and worth a short diversion from the coastal route to see, and indeed cross.

Bushmills is a town just a few miles away and home to the famous Bushmills Whiskey distillery. They run a number of tastings and tours and are a must for whiskey lovers in the area.

The drive from here back to Belfast takes you along the dramatic, rugged and beautiful coastline, running just a dozen miles or so as the crow flies from the Scottish Islands. It takes you up high over the hills, down over towering viaducts and round many twists and turns. Even at a leisurely pace, you are no more than two hours from Belfast, which is a great place to spend a few days either at the start or end of a trip. As I covered so much in my second visit to Belfast, I decided it deserves its own post, which you can find here.

Getting there

We flew from into Belfast City airport with Flybe, which run regular return services from a number of UK destinations. Our return flights from Southampton were around £150 each for a return Economy Class ticket.

Our car was hired from Enterprise in Belfast City Centre. They offer a free pick up and drop off service and deserve to be commended for their super friendly service. Car hire for over 25s for a small car is around £50 a day, and there is an option to add an additional no-claims waiver onto your rental charge, which we selected.

Taxis to and from Belfast city centre to Belfast City George Best Airport are only around £7-10 a way if there is no traffic, and should take around 15 minutes. Belfast International airport is further away, around 30 minutes drive.

Thank you to Northern Ireland Tourist Board for inviting me over and making all arrangements for me.

Pheasant with chorizo and butter beans

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 This is a recipe I’ve been meaning to share with you for a while. With a book to finish and a lot of work on, I’m sorry I’m sharing this with you now, after the shooting season has finished. 

I’m a big fan of one-pot cooking, and this casserole is one of my favourite recipes to cook for a shoot lunch. People seem to love it, and it makes a very warming, nutritious and flavourful lunch. What’s particularly nice about it is that it’s quite a light casserole – no thick sauce or stodgy ingredients, yet it is richly flavoured. It is a welcome lunch after a cold morning outdoors, but not one that will leave you feeling like you need a snooze after eating it.

I am a country girl and enjoy all wild meat and game, but I know many of you are reluctant to cook pheasant, particularly because it can so easily become very dry indeed. This is a great way of cooking pheasant, as it keeps it moist, helped along the way with plenty of white wine and the fat from the chorizo.

You’ll notice I don’t use the drumsticks. I think it’s best to roast these, either in a slow oven or the bottom oven in the AGA, and make them into stock, rather than put them in the casserole. This is because of the tendons, which creep out of the meat when it’s cooking and aren’t a pleasant addition to the dish.

Pheasant doesn’t need hours of cooking to become tender. It needs to simmer gently over a low heat, and I prefer to leave it on a very low heat for at least four hours, to allow the flavours to mingle. This can be done over a low heat on the hob, in a slow cooker or, if your Le Creuset will fit (the 30cm does, but the 40cm does not), in the bottom oven of the AGA.

Some of you, I know, will have quite a stash of pheasant in the freezer, and this is a great way to use a brace up. If not, most butchers will continue to sell frozen pheasant throughout the spring. If you haven’t bought it before, I urge you to try this delicious wild meat. You might be surprised to find that a brace (two birds) is cheaper than a single chicken, and the shot will have been removed and the bird prepared.

I hope you enjoy what is one of my very favourite and most popular recipes in my shoot lunch recipe collection.

Pheasant with chorizo and butter beans
Serves 8
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292 calories
6 g
44 g
23 g
13 g
8 g
112 g
640 g
2 g
0 g
14 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
112g
Servings
8
Amount Per Serving
Calories 292
Calories from Fat 203
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 23g
35%
Saturated Fat 8g
38%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 12g
Cholesterol 44mg
15%
Sodium 640mg
27%
Total Carbohydrates 6g
2%
Dietary Fiber 1g
3%
Sugars 2g
Protein 13g
Vitamin A
0%
Vitamin C
6%
Calcium
2%
Iron
6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  2. 2 large white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  3. 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  4. A brace of pheasant, butchered, with the thighs and the breasts halved and used with the skin removed.
  5. Salt and pepper
  6. 400g cooking chorizo, sliced
  7. 1 x 400g tin butterbeans, drained and rinsed
  8. 1 bottle dry white wine
  9. 2 bay leaves
  10. A large sprig fresh thyme
  11. Plenty of fresh flat-leaf parsley to serve
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the onions and cook gently for around 5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add the pheasant and fry until lightly browned. Remove these ingredients from the pan and place into a large casserole dish or a slow cooker. When cooking for a shoot lunch, I use a very large Le Creuset – either a 30 or 40cm size.
  2. Now, place the chorizo into the frying pan and fry to lightly brown around the edges. This should take around 10 minutes. Be careful not to turn the heat up too high or else the chorizo will burn.
  3. Transfer the chorizo to the casserole or the slow cooker and add the butterbeans, wine, bay leaves and thyme. Cover and cook over a slow heat until the pheasant is very tender. The cooking liquor should reduce, but you can always give it a blast with the lid off on the hob to reduce it further, should you wish.
  4. Serve generously topped with fresh parsley and some mashed potato or some delicious fresh bread and a green salad.
beta
calories
292
fat
23g
protein
13g
carbs
6g
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Charlotte's Kitchen Diary http://www.charlotteskitchendiary.com/