Family day out to Tayto Park

Last Halloween I had my first experience of Tayto Park in County Meath. The theme park was running special Halloween-themed evenings and it was there I faced my fears and went on rides I’d been too afraid to go on before. See here for the evidence!

Therefore, when I was invited down last weekend with my family, I was intrigued to see what it was like from a very different perspective- i.e for families, with a 1-year old toddler, during the day, no ghosts or ghouls jumping out at me!

So, Barry, Niamh and I made on way down on Saturday, which incidentally was the opening weekend (due to a delayed opening because of stormy weather conditions the week before) and also the launch day of Ireland’s first driving school for kids, a joint venture with Nissan and Tayto Park.

We headed off at 7.30am and arrived at 9.00am (so a relatively short drive from Belfast) and went straight for a sneak preview of the driving school which was to open to the public later that morning. All kids enjoy a short video demo where they will learn the rules of the road before negotiating the traffic course. Now Niamh is obviously too young to drive (she’s just learnt to walk!) but she did enjoy seeing the other children whizz by and I got her in a car to get a quick snap.

We then had some breakfast in the Lodge Restaurant (there are numerous places to eat and drink around the park) before we headed out to explore what Tayto Park has to offer.

Our first stop was the zoo, home to a diverse animal collection, from chickens and goats, through to tigers and monkeys. Niamh is obsessed with animals and has already mastered quite the catalogue of animal noises so she was in her element. I think her favourite were the meerkats who popped up to say hello. There are a number of different shows such as the “World of Raptors” and the park also opens up the Farmyard petting area to visitors in the summer.

Once we’d spent an hour to two in the zoo, with Niamh shouting hello to every animal, we headed back down towards the attractions. Unfortunately Niamh was a little too small for some of the kids’ rides (you have to be 84cm) but we were aware of this before we went and had already looked up which attractions she could go on (there is a “How tall are you” sliding scale on the website. These included the traditional-style Steam Train which takes you around the park which she loved!

But, Barry and I were able to go on all the rides so we just took turns. Yes, I went on the very same rollercoaster I was scared off last time by myself! The Cú Chulainn is Europe’s largest wooden rollercoaster and reaches speeds of 100km per hour and a drop of 31 metres…gulp!

There is also a 5D cinema, extreme climbing wall, Viking Voyage water ride, as well as other attractions such as the truly scary “Rotator” (soaring 31 metres in the sky!)

We spent over 6 hours at Tayto Park and really could have spent longer had Niamh been able to go on a few more rides, so you can make a full day out of it.

The verdict? It is a totally difference experience with a toddler as I did things I hadn’t done before, like visit the zoo or go on the steam train. I loved seeing her face light up with excitement which made for a wonderful day out!

Disclaimer: We were guests of Tayto Park so received free entry, wristbands and breakfast. We paid for all other food, drinks and gifts.

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Timescape Belfast- can you escape?

Locked in a room and having to figure out how to escape in just one hour? Now, does that sound exciting or slightly terrifying?!

Well, that’s what we experienced at Timescape Belfast, a new escape room where the aim of the game is to work out how to ‘get out’ before it’s too late.

Escape rooms have become huge in recent years, with players using different rhymes, puzzles and codes to work out the next move. Think a mix of ‘Crystal Maze’ and ‘The Krypton Factor.’ It requires skill, logical thinking and most importantly, team work!

The theme of this Escape Room is Titanic- the Final Hour. Can you escape before the ship sinks? It may seem somewhat of a strange theme but it isn’t crass or insensitive. It could be the inside of any ship.

I went on a Thursday night with 2 other complete novices (teams are anything between 2 and 6 people) and we were locked in the room with one clue to help us on our way.

To be honest, for about 10 minutes we didn’t know where to begin! We just kept looking around us for inspiration.

But soon, we got the hang of it and we were cracking the codes together and apart. When we were stuck, we were able to avail of some clues which popped up on the screen, but players are asked beforehand if they would like them or not in times of need.

The time starting ticking away and when it got to 50 minutes I started to panic. Can we do this?! Or are we going to fail miserably?

Thankfully, we did it! With just 4 minutes to go…..phew!

It was such good fun and really got me interested in escape rooms. It’s great craic and perfect for team building. The high score to beat when we were there was just over 30 minutes….can you do it?

Indus Valley by Safa

Last week I was invited to the relaunch of Indus Valley restaurant in Coleraine.

Indus Valley was recently taken over by Ali Askar, who owns one of Belfast’s most popular Indian restaurants Safa and is the founder of the Irish Curry Awards, so my expectations for the place were high.

We were welcomed to the restaurant with a Tanqueray Gin reception (great start!) and we had a look around the refurbished premises before it was time for dinner.

I was delighted it was a buffet so I could try lots of different dishes rather than sampling one meal.

The starters consisted of Vegetable Pakora and Poppadoms, mains included Chicken Karahi, Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Bhuna, while we were served Pilau rice and Naan Bread for sides.

I did try it all and have to say, it was really delicious, particularly the Chicken Karahi. I would definitely order this as a full dish next time.  (Oh, and I went up for seconds on the Vegetable Pakora too!)

It was great to get chatting to Ali as he made his way around each table and the service was great. I had a really enjoyable night so if you’re up in Coleraine, make a point of calling in!

Harry’s Cushendall

I live in Cushendun at the weekends and always enjoy checking out the local food and drink offering in the Glens.

Last weekend we were invited to try Harry’s restaurant situated in Mill Street in the heart of Cushendall.

I had eaten in Harry’s before (last year), but was keen to try it out again as it was recently taken over by the restaurant’s chef Alistair McGregor.

Husband and wife team Alistair and Liane have been in charge for 10 months now, with a revamped menu and a new look and feel for the place.

We went for the lunch menu which is served from 12-5pm and offers a range of starters, main courses, burgers, salads and sandwiches.

The starters (priced from £4.75 to £6.50) include the Chef’s Soup of the Day, Duck spring rolls, and Hot and Spicy chicken wings.

As a cheese lover, it was the Crispy breaded brie which caught my eye, and my dish came served with a light salad and sweet and sour sauce. The warm brie oozed out once cut open – just how I like it.

The competition for the best Seafood Chowder is fierce in the Causeway Coast and Glens so Barry had to go for the Chowder served with wheaten bread. He said the Chowder, which uses local seafood, was delicious with large chunks of fish.

For mains I decided to go for a dish on the ‘Daily Specials’ board. It was the start of December and I was yet to have my first Turkey and Ham of the season.

In hindsight I didn’t need a starter as well as the Christmas dinner because gosh, was it huge! Talk about good big country portions! I couldn’t finish it, I’m ashamed to say!

Barry went for a much more sensible lunchtime offering- the colourful Harry’s open prawn salad.

Other mains include Beer battered scampi, 8oz rump steak, creamy chicken carbonara and Harry’s veggie burger with chilli jam.

We really enjoyed our lunch and the comfortable, homely setting of Harry’s. If you’re visiting the Glens over the festive period and fancy a good feed, then try out their Christmas dinner!

Crispy Breaded Brie

Seafood Chowder

Harry’s Open Prawn Salad

Turkey and Ham Christmas Dinner

Translink Tasty Travel Tours

Translink has a range of day tours from Belfast including shopping at Kildare Village or Tayto Park fairground in County Meath. But they will soon be starting food and drink tours due to their rising popularity in Northern Ireland.

I was very lucky to get the chance to be on one of the pilot tours, named Tasty Travel Tours, to see what’s on offer!

We met at Europa Bus Station before boarding the bus to go to our first stop, Indie Fude in Comber.

Indie Fude is an independent supplier of produce from around the island of Ireland, from cheeses and meats, to oils and chocolate. Some of the local producers include Balinteer Farm, Love Olive, Burren Balsamics, North Coast Smokehouse and Suki Tea (amongst many, many more).

At Indie Fude we were treated to a cheese tasting in the store’s dedicated “Cheese Room” before exploring the shop where I picked up some local favorites – Abernethy Butter, Broighter Gold Rapeseed oil, Corndale Farm chorizo and Eastcoast Seafood smoked chilli cheese.

We then headed to the home of the award -winning ShortCross Gin at Rademon Estate in County Down. I was really excited to tour the distillery as it’s one of my favourite gins, but first we were served lunch by The Edible Flower.

Having run a successful supper club in their East London home, Erin & Jo founded The Edible Flower in 2016 back in Northern Ireland. The Edible Flower is a fork to fork supper club and catering company so the food was delicious, as you can imagine.

We then did a tour of the distillery, which was fascinating, before learning how to serve the best G&T with a gin masterclass!

This 6-hour long tour was a great insight into local food and drink and I think the concept is a great move for Translink! I’ll let you know when they are up and running!

Check out all my videos from the day.

Indie Food

Lunch by The Edible Flower

Shortcross gin

Touring the distillery

Indie Food purchases

Bonamargy Friary, Ballycastle

On our trips to Ballycastle we often pass ruins of an old Francisan friary.

At the end of September we decided to explore them a little more, as you are able to walk in and around them which I thought would be fascinating.

Bonamargy Friary was built around 1500, but many of the features are well preserved, including the cloister, gatehouse, altar and church.

The remains of Sorely Boy MacDonnell, a Scots-Irish chieftain, are said to reside there.

The friary is also supposed to be haunted by the “Black Nun” Julia McQuillen, who lived there alone in the 17th Century after it was no longer in use.

Some say she fell to her death while others say she was pushed and that’s why her ghost still haunts the grounds. (Thankfully we didn’t experience anything sinister!)

It was a really interesting place, full of  history. Have a look at some of my pictures:

Tomb from 1630

Brunch at The Gallery

The Gallery cafe and bar opened its doors on the Dublin Road in Belfast a few months ago.

Since then, I have seen many pictures of its stylish interior, elegant crystal chandeliers and most importantly, mouth-watering food!

I was invited down to try out the new breakfast menu which is served from 8am. My mum and I went at 11am on a Wednesday morning and were shown a seat beside the window.

The place was relatively busy with locals drinking coffee, as well as three American tourists who were praising the food. Good start!

The breakfast menu is priced between £4.95 for the Gallery Organic Porridge which is served with a mixed berry compote and honey, to £9.95 for the New York Breakfast, which was to be my choice after a recommendation.

Other breakfast dishes include French Toast, Homemade stacked pancakes, Smoked Salmon and Eggs, Poached Eggs and Avocado, and of course, the Gallery Ulster Fry.

I was torn between the Ulster Fry and the New York Breakfast, but I was told the New Yorker was really good – so I put my trust in them!

The New York Breakfast is two poached eggs served on a toasted bagel, with baby spinach, smashed avocado, Halloumi, cream cheese, sun blushed tomatoes and pastrami.

When it came I wasn’t disappointed in my choice- it was filling, it looked elegant, it combined different flavours and textures and most of all, it was really, really tasty!

My mum went for the Eggs Benedict which is two poached eggs served on sourdough toast, with honey roast ham and Hollandaise Sauce. She, too, was impressed with her brunch and said the Hollandaise sauce was zingy and creamy but not too thick.

The Gallery is chic with an impressive arty decor, and fits in really well on the Dublin Road. I’m looking forward to seeing what else it has to offer.

New York Breakfast

Eggs Benedict

Stylish arty interior at The Gallery