Belfast Masterchef- who was crowned winner?

If you were asked to make your signature dish, what would it be?

That was the challenge laid down to budding chefs at the recent Belfast Masterchef competition.

Part of the Feile an Phobail festival,  this competition was open to amateur cooks across Belfast who wanted to show off their culinary skills and, of course, be crowned champion!

I was invited along to the final earlier this month at Balmoral Hotel where the five finalists had to cook in front of a live audience, and then wait anxiously as renowned judges and the hungry crowd tried out their dishes.

So who were the finalists and what did they create?

First up was West Belfast councillor Matt Garrett who made Chicken Korma with home-made naan bread. There was a lot of banter on the night as he had, apparently, used shop-bought naan in the semi-final (shock!) but I am pleased to report that the bread was definitely made live on the night. It resulted in a very strong start with delicious flavours!

Next up was Paddy Tierney, a sports journalist from Armagh, who created Beef Stifado, a traditional Greek casserole. Paddy said he was inspired by a dish he had eaten numerous times on holidays. He had received some flack for the length of time it took him to make the dish in the semi-final but thankfully it was ready on the night and we tucked into lovely, tender beef.


Third to the table was local MP Paul Maskey, a party colleague of Matt Garrett so there was fierce competition between the two! Paul went for a Balsamic Glazed Caprese chicken which was set on a bed of sweet potato. This sweetness worked very well with the balsamic vinegar- nice one Paul!


Next up was Nisha Tandon, CEO of arts organisation ArtsEkta. Nisha delighted us with a Chicken Handi which she said she learnt how to cook from her auntie. This popular chicken curry is made in a handi cooking pan. This dish was delicious, full of the aroma of Indian spices!


Last up was Belfast woman Emma Sloan who works in the Controlled Schools’ Support Council. Of course we had to end with something sweet and Emma went for Tuile baskets dipped in dark chocolate, filled with diplomats cream and raspberries. This was finished with bitter chocolate savings and fresh mint! Wow! This dish not only looked professional, but the taste was amazing!


So, now it was time to pick my favourite! I honestly couldn’t decide between Number 1 (Matt Garrett) and Number 5 (Emma Sloan). So, in the end I bought two ballot tickets which meant two votes and I went for one each! The easy way out.

Soon the votes were counted and the winners announced:

The judges’ winner was….. Emma Sloan!

The audience winner was…… Matt Garrett!

My two favourites! Always knew I had good taste.

What a great night and well done to the winners. Check out my video for all the action from the night.

 

#TweetSeats lunch at Bullitt Belfast

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch…except there is at Bullitt Hotel in Belfast!

A few weeks ago I saw on Twitter that the hotel was giving away 10 free lunches every Tuesday in June and July- and all you had to do was tweet them!

The idea is that before 11am you tell them how many seats you would like and at what time and use the hashtag #tweetseats.

At 11am they will pick 10 seats to enjoy a free three-course meal.

So for example, a table of 6 and 2 tables of 2 would win one week, or a table of 4 and 3 tables of 2 would win the following week…you get the picture!

So I chanced my arm for myself and 3 work colleagues and I was delighted to win four free lunches!

The lunch, at Taylor & Clay restaurant, is from the 3-7-3 menu with all starters costing £3, mains costing £7 and dessert costing £3.

The starters include whipped goat’s cheese with beetroot and pomegranate, or the salt beef Caesar salad. I went for the Smokey chorizo with fennel cream and pickles.

The choice of mains include “Walled Garden Ribollita” (which is an organic vegetable and bean broth) or a flatbread kebab with spiced beef. I went for the Orzo pasta with hot Italian sauage, confit tomatoes and burnt onion cream.

Finally, from the dessert menu, you can pick apple and blueberry frangipane crumble or yoghurt and sesame cream with pink grapefruit. I went for the frangipane.

We had a lovely meal and couldn’t get over the fact we had won a three course meal each. I thought when their Twitter said a free lunch it would be one course!

The food and service was very enjoyable, with my favourite dish being the apple and blueberry frangipane!

There are only two Tuesdays left in July, so get in quick if you want to try and win! All you have to do is #TweetSeats- simple!


 

 

 

 

Destination Delicious- Browns Restaurants

At the recent Tourism NI ‘Year of Food and Drink Awards’, Derry /Londonderry was named as ‘Destination Delicious’.  (Another name for the area!)

The Award recognises the city’s reputation for excellent local produce and eateries, and last week I was lucky to join fellow bloggers and media in trying out exactly what the area has to offer.

We left Belfast and made our way to Browns in Town (23 Strand Road) where there was a fantastic showcase of Destination Delicious food and drink producers. I chatted with, and tried samples from, the likes of Brendan Gallagher meats, Donnybrewer Butter, Kee Fruits, Northbound Brewery, Quiet Man Whiskey and Dart Mountain Cheese.

I particularly loved the cheese so I had to find out where I could buy it in Belfast- Sawers Deli in College Street, by the way!

It was then time to head to Browns in Town’s sister restaurant, Browns Restaurant & Champagne Lounge (1 Bond’s Hill) where we were first treated to a live cooking demo by chef Ian Orr.

Ian has created a bespoke menu in celebration of ‘Destination Delicious’ and it was this very menu we were about to tuck in to.

For the first course we shared a selection of homemade breads served with the Donnybrewer butter we had just sampled at Browns in Town. The rich and creamy butter is churned in a traditional batch churn at the company’s Eglinton farm. The breads were  swiftly followed by a fantastic dish consisting of Loughview Farm Egg with Errigal Bay Scallop and Pomegrante.

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Sticking with seafood, it was time for the third course- Donegal Prime Crab with Apple and Cucumber. The crab tasted incredible paired with the apple jelly and was served with Lapostolle Chardonny.

The final course before the dessert was my favourite, Beef Cheek from Brendan Gallagher with Northbound Beer and Kee Fruit Mixed Beetroot. That beef! It just fell apart at the touch- delicious. This was served with Tomero Malbec supplied by R&R Wines and Kolsch style Lager from Northbound Brewery.

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The final course was Rhubarb Parfait with Long Meadow Cider, which looked as beautiful as it tasted! Loved the presentation! This was matched with dessert wine, Sichel Sauternes.

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We then boarded the bus and made our way to Ardtara Country House in Maghera. This boutique hotel is owned by the Browns Group and has previously been named as one of the best places to stay in Northern Ireland. Here we had a nightcap of tea/coffee and dulce de leche shortbread bites.

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We arrived back to Belfast at midnight after what was a fantastic evening celebrating the best of the best food and drink in Destination Delicious!

Browns is a restaurant group which prides itself on using the freshest, local produce. No wonder it was named the ‘Best Restaurant in Co Derry’ for the eighth year running at the Irish Restaurant Awards just days after our visit! Well done guys!

 

 

 

 

Slieve Donard Sunday Carvery

Slieve Donard hotel in County Down is one of my favourite places for afternoon tea but I’d never tried their Sunday Carvery offering until a few weeks ago!

Barry and I took a day trip down to Newcastle to try out their all-you-can-eat buffet (music to my ears!)

The carvery is served every Sunday from 12.30pm-2.30pm and costs £38pp.

With beautiful views of the Mournes and the beach, and a great selection of food on offer, we spent a lovely afternoon there!

Check out the variety:

Great selection of cold starters

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Ready for the main feast!

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Sweet tooth time!

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Finn Lough Bubble Dome

A few weeks ago Barry and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary! How fast has that been?

At the beginning of 2016 I started to see lots of articles online about the new “bubble domes” at Finn Lough Resort in Fermanagh and I was blown away- how incredible did these enchanting snow globe-like rooms look?!

I decided to look into them and saw that it was £195 B&B for one night so I knew, at that price, I was only going to book it for something special, rather than just a night away from Belfast.

So way back on 6th January I booked a night in a bubble dome for our first anniversary at the end of July. (We only had to pay £50 deposit in January and then pay the remaining £145 upon check out.)

So after a long 7 month wait, we headed down to Fermanagh on Sat 30th July. The resort is situated in Aghnablaney, only a few minutes from Pettigo (so at one point we saw a sign saying “You are now entering Donegal” and thought we were lost!) But we made our way there and checked in at the reception where we jumped on a golf buggy and were driven to our bubble dome.

The accommodation itself is one large see-through dome, complete with four poster bed, coffee machine and a small table and chairs, as well as two smaller areas which are the entrance and the bathroom (yes, the shower and toilet aren’t see-through! Phew!).

There are lovely little extras such as robes and slippers, bottled water, homemade traybakes, as well as both heating and air-conditioning.

That evening we explored the extensive grounds of Finn Lough and made our way along some of the woodland trails. We then went back and relaxed for the night as the sky darkened and the beautiful stars appeared! There is no TV or Wifi so it was a good chance to “get back to nature” without being distracted!

The next morning we made our way up to the resort’s restaurant to have our breakfast which was included in the price- 2 full fries! They were tasty and didn’t feel greasy. (The waitress explained to us how, with the resort having a polytunnel, they grow as many organic vegetables as they can so the food felt very fresh.)

Friends and family have asked me if people can look in at you but each dome has its own private area, which is gated off, and looks onto forest ground rather than open space! Never once did I feel exposed (maybe if the bathroom was out in the open!) and I really loved lying in bed looking at the trees and stars. It was incredible to see.

It was a really different but great way to celebrate sticking each other for one year!

Bubble Dome

Barry in the bubble dome

Four poster bed

View of the sky from the bed


 Grounds at Finn Lough

Lying in bed looking up!

Fry the next morning

 


Dinner at Malmaison Hotel Belfast

Last week Barry celebrated his birthday and we booked in to the Malmaison Hotel in Belfast for dinner.

The boutique venue, situated in Victoria Street, is home to a 60-seater brasserie popular with locals as well as tourists staying in the hotel.

When we arrived we were shown to our table by Colm who attended to us the whole night.

The a la carte menu has a good mix of starters, ranging from £3.50 (Italian olives), up to £12.50 for the pan roasted sea scallops. Some of the other dishes included corn-fed chicken terrine (£7.50), classic prawn cocktail (£9) and fillet steak tartare (£10).

To begin Barry selected the tempura of calamari and prawns, while I picked the fougasse with garlic butter (a soft and spongy flat bread), big enough for us to share with just the right amount of juicy garlic butter.

For mains we could have selected from two menus; ‘Grille’ featuring dishes such as Black Agus grain fed Ribeye steak and grilled fresh sea trout, and the ‘Mains’ with dishes which included Ibérico pork cutlet and lobster risotto.

We decided to share two dishes from the Grille menu, as Colm has recommended the Mal Burger (£16.50) and I also really wanted to try the Chickpea, lentil and bean burger (£14).

The Mal Burger is served with sweet cured bacon, Gruyére cheese and burger relish, while the Bean Burger comes with roasted red pepper, spiced yoghurt and pommes frites. What a great choice!

Despite the fact they were a little messy to cut in half, we both really enjoyed getting to taste them both. My favourite was the chickpea, lentil and bean burger!

Finally we were shown the dessert menu and Barry decided to just opt for a coffee. When I saw they had light raspberry cheesecake, I couldn’t resist. The cheesecake came served in a type of cosmopolitan cocktail glass. It felt richer and thicker than the name might suggest (which I actually prefer!) but I managed to finish it all off!

Earlier that evening Colm had asked us why were out and I told him it was Barry’s birthday. To our surprise, along with Barry’s coffee, came a lovely selection of petit four with a “Happy Birthday” message! I thought it was a very thoughtful touch and one which reinforced the excellent service we had received from our waiter all night.

All in all, we had a very enjoyable experience. The venue felt intimate and Colm was very knowledgeable about the food and Malmaison’s own wine.

Thanks to Malmaison for a great night out for the birthday boy!

 

 

Fabulous Fashion Teas at The Merchant

As someone who is a huge fan of afternoon tea, I had never been to the Merchant Hotel’s acclaimed high tea offering. This week I was invited to their “Fabulous Fashion Tea” event, combining, as the name might suggest, afternoon tea with the world of fashion.

The Fashion Teas are now in their 9th year, with the shows taking place every spring/summer and autumn/winter season.

Guests enjoy a fashion show whilst sipping Champagne and sampling a range of tasty sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and a large selection of succulent sweet treats. (There’s also the chance to shop at the pop-up boutiques from the weekend’s featured retailers and designers.)

I attended the 1pm event today which was showcasing the David Yurman range from Lunn’s Jewellers. David is one of the biggest jewellery designers in the US and his stunning range is available exclusively in the UK and Ireland at Lunn’s of Queen’s Arcade, Belfast.

What a delight it was to see some of David’s spectacular creations, all while enjoying the mouth-watering food and drink. Tickets to the Fabulous Fashion Teas are £35 per person and include a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, afternoon Tea, a goodie bag and access to the pop-up boutiques.

If you love food and fashion, this is for you!

Afternoon Tea

Sweet Treats

Scones with strawberry preserve and clotted cream

Fashion Show- David Yurman at Lunn’s

Lunn’s Jewellers Fashion Show

David Yurman collection

 

 

Barberstown Castle, Kildare

A few weeks ago Barry and I spent the weekend in County Kildare in a beautiful 13th Century Castle! (It’s not every day you stay in a castle!)

The hotel, Barberstown Castle, is nestled in 20 acres of gardens and was built as a fortress to protect the people of Barberstown from the attack of Ui Faelain, who tried to burn the town back in 1310.

Since 1288 Barberstown Castle has had 37 owners including one Eric Clapton! Yes, the singer owned it from 1979 until 1987. Now that’s a story!

In fact, each room is named after one of the previous owners and we were in Room 34 (“Sir John Fanning”) after the owner in 1288. The Castle was first converted into a hotel in the early 1970s.

We had a massive bedroom, complete with four poster bed and a seating area so we felt extremely comfortable during our stay. The room came with little perks such as branded bottled water and dressing gown and slippers. We were even able to order room service every time we wanted tea/coffee at no extra cost.

One highlight was the five course dinner, priced at €55 per person. To begin with we had an amuse bouche to stimulate the appetite and then I selected the free range egg served with grilled leek, onion soubise and black truffle, followed by chargrilled Irish Beef fillet, celeraic, ox tongue with onion and red wine.

For my fourth course I selected the “Mexique” dark chocolate, kumquat jelly, cocoa biscuit and Tonka chocolate sauce, and finished off with petit fours served with tea and coffee. For me, the dinner was exquisite- every course was bursting with flavour and I couldn’t fault a thing. A real treat.

Below are just some of the highlights of our brilliant stay. Check it out if you want a bit of luxury for a special weekend away!

Barberstown Castle- our bedroom

Four poster bed

Sir John Fanning- owner of the castle in 1288

Barberstown Castle


Castle grounds

Breakfast selection

Breakfast

Lounge with grand piano

Amuse bouche

Free range egg served with grilled leek, onion soubise and black truffle

Chargrilled Irish Beef fillet, celeraic, ox tongue with onion and red wine

“Mexique” dark chocolate, kumquat jelly, cocoa biscuit and Tonka chocolate sauce

 

 

 

 

 

Dufferin Coaching Inn, Killyleagh

A few months ago I was intrigued to receive a series of mystery keys in the post!  Who did they come from? And what did they mean?

12027766_380389898837245_4486382519313676423_n.jpg Mystery keys

Fast forward a number of weeks and all was revealed- the keys were part of the launch of the new look Dufferin Coaching Inn on High Street in Killyleagh. The boutique B&B, which was celebrating 10 years in business, had undergone a £10K refurbishment and had just been named as one of the best places to stay to Ireland. Of course, with that accolade, I wanted to try it out!

So, last weekend, Barry and I made the short journey to the County Down village for an overnight stay in the award-winning guesthouse. The seven-bedroom B&B is somewhat of an iconic building in Killyleagh, first serving as an Ulster Bank, with many of the stunning original features still very much in place.

We arrived at around 3.30pm and were greeted by the owner Leontine, who gave us a quick tour of the house, including the living room complete with a roaring fire and the bright breakfast area, before showing us to our room.

And what a room it was! We were told it is the most popular room because of its size, the large four poster bed and the bathroom complete with whirlpool bath! The deep red and cream colour scheme really complemented the original features, such as the window shutters. The room came with a range of toiletries and tea/coffee making facilities, as well as slippers and dressing gown! Bliss.

We settled in before heading just next door to the Dufferin Arms for our dinner. The pub areas were completely packed, probably because of the traditional music session taking place! We made our way down to the restaurant for dinner and as it was only about 5pm, we were the first ones there.

We had a quick look at the menu before the waitress came over to tell us about the specials of the day. In the end it was the special burger which won us over, complete with chorizo, smoked cheese and tobacco onions. It wasn’t long before our dinner came and also before the restaurant area started to fill up. The burger was stacked up high but we both finished ours, with clean plates all round.

It was then back the Dufferin Inn and we settled in for the night. The next morning we headed to the breakfast area and helped ourselves to the cold selection, which included cereal, freshly made bread and wheaten, fresh fruit salad and yoghurt. We were told to ring a bell if we wanted hot food and shortly after ringing the bell into the kitchen, a lovely lady arrived to take our order. Barry went for the full fry, while I choose sausage and egg. The side accompaniment of stacked up soda bread and potato bread was a great wee touch!

Before checking out, I really wanted to see the B&B’s connecting Dufferin Hall, as it was the part which had undergone the £10K transformation. (I was also intrigued because I recently got married myself and the Hall is known for its romantic wedding setting.) The hall was spectacular, with its stone steps and walls, and stained glass door panels. Do check it out if you’re looking for a wedding venue with a difference!

It was then time to check out and I was glad to get the chance to say goodbye to Leontine before we left. We had a nice night away and felt very at home. It’s an historic building in the shadow of the beautiful Killyleagh Castle but it doesn’t feel dated. The B&B is only 30 minutes away from Belfast so great for a short staycation!

Dufferin Inn

History of the building still evident

   Our room complete with four poster bed

Sitting area with warm, inviting fire   
Dufferin Arms for dinner

Burger of the day

 Breakfast area  at Dufferin Inn

 Breakfast- cold selection

 Breakfast fry


 Tour of the building- old safe still in place
 Dufferin Hall- 1837


 Dufferin Hall- lovely setting for wedding pictures

 Dufferin Inn- seats about 100 guests for dinner

 View from the B&B- Killyleagh Castle

Breaffy House Resort, Co Mayo

Last weekend, I had my second trip this year (yes I know it was only the second weekend in January but I can’t help myself!)

Barry and I headed down to County Mayo to spend Friday-Sunday at Breaffy House Resort, which is situated just outside Castlebar in 90 acres of woodland.

We left Belfast about 4pm and, with a few leg stretch stops in-between, we arrived at about 9.30pm that night. It was obviously dark when we arrived but we could tell the hotel was an stunning and impressive old building. We  checked in to our standard double room which we felt was very spacious with a good-sized bed (King perhaps?)

The long drive meant we didn’t explore the hotel that evening but it was up early the next morning to head down for breakfast. The dining area was separated into two buffets- one ‘cold food’ section with breads, hams, cheeses, cereals and pasties, and one hot ‘food section’ with typical fry items such as eggs, sausages, bacon and beans. I had a fry and, because I was on my holidays, treated myself to a sweet pastry to finish. (As if I needed an excuse!)

It was then time to explore the grounds and to walk off the big breakfast. Barry and I headed off towards the “forest walk” trail. It was a dry but cold morning so we spent about 1 hour walking around the parkland.

As part of the deal, we were welcome to a complimentary spa treatment each in the hotel’s “Breaffy Spa”. Barry wasn’t keen on receiving one so I was lucky to have both. We could pick from three different treatments and I selected the 30 minutes Dry Float (normally €30) and the 20 minute Hydro Bath (again, costing €30). The Dry float felt like I was on a warm cosy water bed, while the Hydro Bath was a specialised bath with over 200 jets messaging from shoulders to toe.

After I had both spa treatments, I joined Barry in the hotel’s lesuire facilties which included a 20 metre indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna, jacuzzi and steam room. Bliss! (An really enjoyable afternoon!)

We then headed back to the room to get ready to go down to the restaurant for dinner. Again, as part of the package, we were able to avail of main course each. I selected the Roast Irish beef served with potatoes and vegetables, while Barry chose the spinach and ricotta ravioli. We decided not to have a dessert and instead went to check out the hotel’s Healy Mac bar where we had a few pints of Healy Mac’s own beer. The bar has a good atmosphere so we stayed for a few hours.

We enjoyed our stay at Breaffy House, particularly the pool & spa! A nice weekend!