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

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The Food Hall Belfast

There’s a new food hangout in the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast- the Food Hall located in York Street!

As the name suggests, Mount Charles’ latest offering brings together a number of different cafes under one roof, with a large, open seating area so that diners can pick and choose from the range.

I went along to the opening night, thanks to Ohh Social, a Northern Irish 2-4-1 mobile app, and sampled the goodies from each of the four cafes.

So what’s on offer? Well, there’s Juiced– a healthy smoothie bar- and Made- serving the likes of soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps.

If you fancy something sweet, there’s La Creperie serving a brilliant range of crepes and muffins. I went for the Nutella and Strawberry crepe……oh my! Delicious!

Finally, there’s Ripple, to get your yummy ice-cream fix, especially if the weather has been as good as the last few days!

I love the idea of friends all able to get different food/drink items but still sit together (I’d be the friend that would go straight for the buns rather than the healthy smoothie!)

Check out the video and pics below from the opening night.

And if you want to try some of the items, download the Ohh social app where there are offers such as ‘two for one’ wraps, milkshakes and ice-creams!



 

NI Food and Drink Interview Series: Shortcross Gin

Fiona and David Boyd-Armstrong, founders of Shortcross Gin and Rademon Estate Distillery 1.jpg

A few weeks ago I attended the BBC Good Food Show at the Waterfront Hall where I got talking to one of my absolute favourite gin companies, Shortcross Gin, distilled right here in Northern Ireland.

Shortcross Gin is distilled at Rademon Estate Distillery in Crossgar and in fact, the name Shortcross comes from the Irish for Crossgar, “An Chrois Ghearr”!

Thanks to Fiona-Boyd Armstrong, MD of Shortcross, who took ten minutes of her time (in what was an extremely busy afternoon, might I add) to talk to me for my NI Food and Drink Interview Series.

Thanks for your time today Fiona. So can you tell me about how Shortcross started?

When my husband David and I got married in 2011, we wanted to open up our own business, and I had always dreamt about opening a distillery. I was a quantity surveyor and David was an engineer but for two years we travelled around the world, to Europe, America and Asia, and that’s when we visited numerous distilleries. We also did distilling courses, both hands on and theoretical, and so the idea was set.

And when did the company begin?

We ordered our equipment in January 2013, which arrived that summer, and we did recipe development for six months before the first gin was released in early 2014.

You say it was a dream of yours to open a distillery – why gin in particular?

Well, we love gin! When we started there was really only one other Irish gin on the market so for us it was an opportunity to create something very special. The support locally that we have had in just two/three years has been unbelievable.

How would you describe Shortcross?

We forage our botanicals, elderflowers, elderberries and apples, and we also use our own water from the estate. We wanted to take our inspiration from the gardens and forests, so our gin is reminiscent of those surroundings.

You’re very well known here locally, but I saw recently that you’re just launching in airports across the U K – are you surprised at the success further afield?

We are now exporting across Europe – to Spain, France, Holland, Germany – and also to Dubai, so it’s an exciting time for us! We’re also delighted to have been awarded many global and local awards including Spirits Business Global Gin Masters Awards 2016, International Wine & Spirits Competition 2016 and Great Taste Awards 2016.

Can you tell me a bit more about your plans for further product development?

Back in February of this year we released a Cask-Aged Gin which was resting in a Bordeaux wine barrel for three to four months. That was a small release of just 600 bottles and that sold out in ten days! We hope for another release of our Cask-Aged Gin before Christmas and also another Wild Clover edition. Wild Clover is an important botanical used in Shortcross Gin so we wanted to bring it to the forefront. In addition to that, we have started to distil our own whiskey and we have filled our first barrel. Whiskey needs to be laid to rest for a minimum of three years and one day… so it’s sleeping now!

Finally, is there a perfect way to serve gin? Is it lemon, is it lime, is it lots of ice – what’s your opinion?

I think the garnish should accentuate the gin. For us, we think orange zest works very well as does orange frozen in ice cubes. Pink grapefruit and basil are also very complimentary, but at the end of the day, it’s down to personal taste! Whatever works best for you!

Thanks again to Fiona! As there’s just 10 weeks until the wee one makes an appearance I can’t wait to have my first Shortcross Gin in 9 months come January!

For more information on Shortcross Gin, please visit www.shortcrossgin.com

shortcross-gin-3-bottles

 

 

 

Armagh Festival of Food and Cider

Last night I spent a fantastic evening in the presence of foodies, cider lovers and even the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh,  The Very Rev Gregory Dunstan!

It was part of the Armagh Festival of Food and Cider which is currently running from 5th to 9th October celebrating the best of local produce, restaurants, orchards and breweries.

The event was a pop-up restaurant in the Armagh Public library (and, as we discovered, the Dean’s very own house!)

We were welcomed to the venue with a drinks reception which was a range of ciders and sparkling apple juice, whilst taking in the stunning venue which houses hundreds of rare books including the original Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

We then made our way down to the Dean’s living room (yes, really!) where tables and chairs had been set out for us ready to enjoy the night ahead.

The evening was to consist of a four course meal cooked by renowned local chefs, Gareth Reid from 4 Vicars, Simon Dougan from Yellow Door and Sean Farnan from Moody Boar, with each course matched with ciders and apple juice from Long Meadow Cider and McIvors Cider.

The first course, created by 4 Vicars, was a local seafood platter with cider poached mussels, cured pollan (one of Ireland’s rarest fish), Applewood smoked Glenarm salmon and pan seared Lough Neagh eels. It was served with pickled cucumber, Golden beetroot and lemon fennel dressing. I had advised the organisers beforehand that as I am pregnant, I wouldn’t be able to eat certain seafood so they were very accommodating in providing me with a gorgeous fresh and colourful salad. Barry told me the seafood platter was exquisite and he particularly enjoyed tasting the pollan.

The second course was slow cooked raw cider and brown sugar cured pork rib. It came served with black pudding and apple fritter, celeriac cream, fried kale, wild mushrooms and Armagh Crab apple gravy. This dish was created by Yellow Door and the pork rib was beautiful- the meat just fell off the bone and was paired perfectly with the apple gravy. This course was matched with Long Meadows medium cider which is a crisp, sharp cider and as I was told, very easy to drink.

The third course, from Moody Boar, was caramelised Armagh apple frangipane with vanilla custard and macerated blackberries. The fragipane was moist and not too heavy, while the vanilla custard was light, almost cream-like. This course was served with MacIvors plum and ginger cider which received huge complements from my companions at the table. We finished our meal with a fourth course of tea and coffee.

The evening was a spectacular feast celebrating local food and drink and I know we all came away having thoroughly enjoyed the event. This is the second year the festival has featured a pop-up restaurant and the interesting venue really made the evening. Thanks very much to the Dean for opening up his home to us and for the event organisers for the invite to the event!

Mingling in the library

First course

Second course: slow cooked raw cider and brown sugar cured pork rib

Third course: caramelised Armagh apple frangipane 

Brilliant company in the Dean’s house!

 

Love NI Meat: Tourism NI BBQ

As the NI Year of Food and Drink continues, we are now in August which is celebrating the best of NI meat!

Last night as part of #LoveNIMeat month, Tourism NI held a BBQ at the National Bar in Belfast to showcase some local suppliers.

We were treated to chicken kebabs and burgers from McAtamneys Butchers, sausages from Hannan Meats, as well as breads and salads from local bakery, Irwins.

The BBQ was washed down with a range of local beers from Hilden Brewery and Clearsky Brewing.

It was lovely to catch up with friends and taste some excellent produce from Northern Ireland! Thanks to Tourism NI for introducing me to some gorgeous food and drink!

 

 

 

Grace Foods: Aloe Refresh

It’s always a lovely surprise to be sent some sample food and drink for you to try out! A few days ago, bottles of a new drink called Aloe Refresh from Grace Foods arrived at my door.

I had never tried any Aloe Vera drinks, partly because it reminded me too much of my after-sun cream! Silly, I know.

So, this was the perfect excuse to  give it a go! I had been sent two bottles – one original flavour and one mango flavour! (There are three flavours to choose from, the other being strawberry.)

The juices are made with real aloe vera pieces and, to my surprise, 100% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin C!

So, what did I think? I thought the drinks were very refreshing and would definitely quench your thirst! Nice!

What I would say, though, is I think you  would like Aloe Refresh if you’re a fan of drinks with pulp, or “orange juice with bits”! It has a similar constituency, so it’s not a smooth drink. My favourite was mango- such a great taste!

A bottle is £1.39 (RRP), gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians. Many thanks to Grace Foods for introducing me the world of aloe vera drinks!


 

Starbucks Belfast Christmas Party

Everyone always says a sure sign it’s Christmas is the arrival of the Starbucks Red Cups!

I was delighted to be have invited down to Starbucks Christmas party at Corn Market in Belfast last week to try out their festive food and drink offering!

Upon arrival, I was greeted with loads of yummy treats before a one on one session with Coffee Master Ben.

He talked me through the different coffee regions and the many flavours which come through the drinks because of where the beans come from.

It was then on to the coffee tasting! First we took in the look and smell, then ‘slurped’ the coffee to spray it around the palate and get the aroma up into the nose.

We finished with sipping the coffees and pairing it with treats, such as chocolate brownie, to enhance the flavour. It was very different, as I’ve been on many wine tasting sessions, but never coffee tastings!

I was then able to try the honey almond hot chocolate, ginger bread latte, toffee latte and even eggnog!

It was a fun night so thanks to the team at Starbucks Belfast!

Ben taking me through the coffee tasting


Christmas hot chocolate and coffees


 Trying out the Christmas offering

 Starbucks Christmas treats

 Starbucks Christmas treats