Galgorm Hotel- A night at the Spa

I’ve been back to work now after maternity leave since the start of August and I’m slowly getting into a good routine of getting both myself and Niamh out the door in the mornings.

It’s been a busy few weeks so sometimes you just need to take a break and relax. That came in the form of an invite to the Galgorm Hotel two weeks ago to try out their luxury spa.

I’ve stayed in the hotel before, but as it’s always been for a wedding, I had never made it along to the spa. I couldn’t wait to experience it, especially the snow room which I had heard about – and was totally intrigued!

I went with my mum and on arrival to The Orangery, we were treated to Prosecco and canapes while we told of a new treatment partner, BioEffect. The brand, which is from Iceland, is a luxury skincare range and the Galgorm is the only spa in the whole of Ireland to now offer BioEffect treatments.

After hearing about the range’s benefits and seeing a treatment being carried out, we headed over to a new section of the hotel’s renowned Thermal Village called Elements.

This is a 2 floor, 60-seat restaurant in the shape of a dome.  The idea is that if you fancy lunch and cocktails, you don’t even have to leave the spa now! There, we tried a sample of the dishes, both mains and desserts, and one of the Elements’ most popular cocktails, the Gin Daisy.

I’m hoping to take my mum away to the Galgorm in the New Year as a thank you for all her help on maternity leave, so Elements really got me excited for when we go and spend the day in the spa, and having a few cocktails at the same time!

Finally, we got to try out the Thermal Village for ourselves. We were in the Jacuzzi, hot tub, swimming pool, sanarium and most importantly, the snow room! If you’re wondering why there’s a room full of snow, its about enhancing blood circulation and is good for the respiratory system.

The spa is just first class! It was very different to be sitting outside on a cold evening, but in the warmth of the bubbling water! Many thanks to the Glagorm for letting me experience the Spa and Elements, and I can’t wait to get back next year!

The Orangery

Canapes on arrival

BioEffect treatment

BioEffect

Elements 

Spa restaurant Elements

Food and drink at Elements

Desserts in Elements

Thermal Spa

 

 

 

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Stix and Stones at Balmoral Hotel

I’ve been to Stix and Stones in Belfast City Centre numerous times since it first opened just over 3 years ago and always loved the “steak on a stone” experience. What better way to get your steak just how you like it by cooking it yourself!

At the start of August I visited the Balmoral Hotel for the Belfast Masterchef Challenge where we told the exclusive news that Stix and Stones Part 2 was opening…in the very place we were sitting! Yes, Balmoral Hotel!

I thought it was a fantastic idea. There are loads of people who want to experience Stix and Stones who don’t necessarily want to go into Belfast city centre, who prefer to eat locally, who want ample parking or who want to have dinner and a few drinks and be able to stay over too!

So, when I was asked if I would like to try the new restaurant last week, of course I couldn’t say no!

We arrived at 6pm so were able to avail of the Pre-theatre menu which is available Monday to Friday from 5pm to 6.30pm. You can get 2 courses for £15.95 or three for £18.95.

The starters include Minestrone Soup with warm bread, or Goats cheese with pickled pears, pear gel and filo pastry.

I went for the Stix and Stones Chicken wings which are served with a creme fraiche salsa, while Barry choose the miso glazed salmon with fennel, blood orange, quinoa and rocket.

I loved the starter- the chicken wings had a slight sweetness to the glaze which worked very well with the tangy sourness of the creme fraiche. Barry said his salmon was beautifully cooked and coated with the simple and delicate miso dressing. He said the hints of fennel were mild but enough to come through on the palette.

Then it was time for the main course. You can choose from the “On the Stone” selection and the “Off the Stone” selection. The “On the stone” menu includes the rump steak and the rump of Lamb, while the “Off the Stone” includes pan roast supreme of chicken, chorizo and three bean stew, or Gnocchi served with wild mushroom ragu, smoked garlic and pea shoots.

We both went for the ‘cook-your-own’ experience and I selected the 7oz matured rump steak which comes with a flat cap mushroom, slow cooked tomato, balsamic glazed beetroot and sauce.

Barry selected the 6oz Yellowfin Tuna steak which was served with roast butternut squash, chilli, soya beans and quinoa.

Soon we heard the loud sizzle of the meat as our waitress brought the hot stone down to our table and explained the best way to cook the meat, from the size of the strips to the time we should each strip for.

I just love doing this- I think it is novel and fun and a different dining experience! My steak was gorgeous- a big juicy bit of meat which I cooked medium-well and devoured every bit. Barry thought his Tuna steak was fresh and delicious, and cooking it quickly over the high heat meant it didn’t dry out. Great!

Finally, we both went for dessert to round off a lovely meal. The desserts include Strawberry semi-freddo, Vanilla rice pudding or Lemon posset.

We went for our firm favourites- cheesecake, which was White chocoloate and Passionfruit- and anything with chocoloate in it, picking the Chocolate Tart served with a salted caramel macaroon and ice cream.

The tart is not the way to finish if you are looking for something light!! It was rich, dark and oh so chocolatey! Right up my street. The cheesecake was much lighter and more to Barry’s taste!

Overall, we had a great night out at Stix and Stones in Balmoral. It has only been open for a few weeks but I am already hearing that it has been very popular with both locals and people traveling from further away.

The atmosphere was lovely and the food was great so perhaps we might hear about Stix and Stones Part 3 in the future!

Starters- Chicken Wings and Miso glazed salmon

Mains- Rump steak and Yellowfin Tuna Steak

Dessert- White chocolate and Passionfruit Cheesecake and Chocolate Tart

Disclaimer: I was invited along to the Balmoral Hotel so the food was complimentary. I paid for all the drinks. All views expressed are my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armagh Food and Cider Festival- Part 4

The final two stops on our food tour of Armagh were to the Armagh Robinson Library (where I attended the pop up restaurant last year) and 4Vicars.

The two will, this year, play host to a “Harvest Supper and Concert” during the Armagh Food and Cider Festival in September.

Following a canapé reception in 4 Vicars restaurant, guests will be led by lamplight to the elegant setting of the Robinson Library to enjoy a short concert before returning for a harvest supper featuring the best of seasonal Food Heartland produce.

We were greeted to Armagh Robinson Library by two “interesting” characters who informed us about the customs and etiquette of the day!

Robinson Library is one of the oldest libraries in Ireland and we were shown some of the rarest collections of books and manuscripts, particularly those to do with food and travel, given us foodie bunch!

We then made the short distance to 4 Vicars, a restaurant which is the current holder of the Georgina Campbell award for ‘Best Casual Dining Restaurant’.

There, we were treated to the most delicious four course dinner introduced by each of the local producers- I honestly couldn’t fault a thing!

The first course was O’Chatten Smokery Lough Neagh pollan with carrot and sauerkraut slaw and a Cavanagh free range egg.

The second course was Tyndale Goat kid meat ball with yogurt sauce and Swiss chard from Crannagael House (which we had visited earlier in the day.)

We then had Kilkeel hake with Crannagael House fennel puree, fennel salad and Connemara air dried pork.

To finish, we had Plum and Almond tart with Crannagael House plums and homemade vanilla ice cream.

The food was simply amazing, a wonderful spread!

I have to admit I was sceptical about goat thinking it would be very tough, but it was tender and juicy- a surprise! Guests to the Harvest Supper are in for a treat if this was anything to go by.

Armagh Robinson Library- teaching us etiquette!

Music at 4Vicars

Cocktails and canapes at 4Vicars

O’Chatten Smokery Lough Neagh pollan

Tyndale Goat kid meat ball

Kilkeel hake

Plum and Almond tart

For more information on the Armagh Food and Cider Festival, visit http://www.armagh.co.uk/foodandcider

 

 

Armagh Food and Cider Festival- Part 3

The third stop on our tour of Armagh was to The Moody Boar, a restaurant recognised by the Michelin Guide and located in the grounds of the Palace Demesne.

With an ethos for fresh and local food, many of the herbs and vegetables they cook with are grown in their own gardens.

The Moody Boar was one of the eateries which had created a course during the pop-up restaurant in the Dean of Armagh Cathedral’s house and it really stuck out to me back then.

During this year’s Armagh Food and Cider Festival, guests can enjoy “Pairing under the stars“. This is a wine, cider, tapas and chocolate evening held within the Palace Greenhouse, pictured below. What a lovely way to eat looking up at the night sky!

We went to the greenhouse where the event will take place and the owner Sean Farnan plated up a dessert individually for us to enjoy. A take on the warm apple pie!

I can just imagine how nice this setting will be in the evening!

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Read more in Part 4

 

Armagh Food and Cider Festival- Part 2

The next stop on our tour was to the Armagh Cider Company, producers of a range of premium artisan cider and apple juices.

The Troughton family have been growing apples since 1898 on their 100 acre farm and their production process is from blossom right through to bottle.

Upon arriving, we were treated to mulled cider from the owners Philip and Helen Troughton before getting a tour of the factory and shown how cider is made. It was great to see how every single part of the production took place right in that factory.

Once the tour was finished we were introduced to a team from Groucho’s on the Square, a family-run pub in Richhill.

During the festival there will be an event called Groucho’s at the Orchards during which the pub will be popping up at the Armagh Cider Company to offer a food sharing and cider pairing evening. As well as tucking in, guests will be able to roam the orchards during peak harvest season.

Groucho’s had kindly laid out some nibbles for us to try as well as a cocktail containing  apple juice made in the very factory we were standing in!

The cocktail was Boatyard Gin (made in Enniskillen), Armagh cider company apple juice, Burrens Balsamic (raspberry and fennel) and caramelised apple. So good!

Some of the range of ciders and apple juices

Touring the factory


Groucho’s on the Square- Gin and Apple Juice cocktails

Read more in Part 3

Armagh Food and Cider Festival- Part 1

Last year, as part of the Armagh Food and Cider Festival, I had dinner in the home of the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

The pop-up restaurant was in the Dean’s living room (yes, really!) which is in the Armagh Robinson Public Library.

It was such a memorable event and one which really opened my eyes to the produce available across the Orchard County.

This year the festival is back from 21-24 September. The four day event will take place at orchards, restaurants, and other beautiful venues throughout the County.

I was lucky to get a sneak peek of some of the events taking place last week in a great day down to the Food Heartland!

The first stop on our #TasteofArmagh tour was to Crannagael House, a Grade 2 listed Georgian house surrounded by gardens, parkland, woodland and an apple orchard.

The owners, John and Jane, put so much effort into growing their own fruit and vegetables that they now supply the fresh, local produce to Armagh restaurants.

At Crannagael, we visited an on-site teepee to chat to local food and drink producers including Long Meadow Cider, Burren Balsamics, Harnett’s Oils and MacIvors Cider. We spent time talking to them about the produce and of course, sampled the goods along the way. We were also treated to a delicious brunch by The Yellow Door, an award-winning deli in Portadown.

During the festival there will be an opportunity to dine on the lawns of Crannagael House. “A Night in the Orchard” is all about food, cider, music and company. Ticket prices include a cocktail reception on arrival, a three course dinner with wine, and beer or cider to complement.

Crannagael House

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Orchard at Crannagael House

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Long Meadow Cider

Burren Balsamics

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Harnett’s Oils

MacIvors Cider

Brunch by Yellow Door

Read more in Part 2.

 

Tesco Taste Northern Ireland- Thompson’s Tea

As I write this I have just finished my first week back at work after maternity leave. I was off for seven months after having a beautiful baby girl Niamh on New Years Day.

As any new mums know, having a cup of tea, never mind a hot cup of tea (!), can be a real luxury. Quick, she’s sleeping- put the kettle on! So, when Tesco NI asked if I would like to try some Thompson’s Tea, of course I had to say yes.

Thompson’s Tea is a Northern Irish tea blender whose range includes Punjana Original Blend, Titanic Blend and Irish Breakfast Blend. I received the Thompson’s Signature tea and Green Tea with Lemon.

Stocked up with the tea bags, I decided to host an afternoon tea party on my last day of maternity leave to say thanks for all the help I had received over the past few months. It was also my birthday so another perfect excuse for cake!

I’ve written on my blog numerous times about my love of afternoon tea so I wanted to give my own a go, including baking for the occasion.

To start, for the savoury layer, I made wheaten bread to be served with honey roast ham, mature cheddar and tomatoes. While the wheaten bread was in the oven, I whipped up some vanilla scones, which I served with butter and jam.

To finish Tesco kindly supplied me with some lovely sweet treats from local producers, Howells Florence Cake and Genesis Crafty buns.

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But of course, the best bit of any afternoon tea is…the tea!

I opted for the Signature blend which was a strong, full bodied cup of tea, without being too bitter. Thompson’s Tea have stated it is “tea like it used to taste”, because they have recreated the family’s original blend from way back in 1896. It’s a rich, flavoursome cup of tea and actually reminds me of loose leaf tea. Lovely!

The verdict? Well the afternoon tea went down a treat! Even my baking got some rave reviews!

Now, quick she’s sleeping, I’m off to enjoy another warm cuppa!

 

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Post originally appeared on Tesco NI website: https://www.tasteni.com/eat-me-drink-me/belfast-travels-takes-a-tea-break-from-motherhood