Sisters’ Night

My sister and I recently organised a long overdue girls night and to make the most of the occasion we thought we would try two new(ish) spots to open in south Belfast: Bull and Ram, and House Belfast.

BULL AND RAM

The sister restaurant of the award winning Bull and Ram in Ballynahinch, Bull and Ram Belfast is located in the Queen’s Quarter of the city. We’ve both wanted to try this restaurant since it opened its doors at the end of last year but we only managed to get a date locked down for Friday night.

Our table was booked for 6pm and from the minute we arrived the service we received was exceptional. We were shown to a table by the window (perfect for people watching) and presented with two menus – an à la carte menu and a pre theatre menu (which runs Monday – Saturday 5-6.30 pm). The pre theatre menu had a varied choice and was great value for money (2 courses £17.50; 3 courses £21; or 3 courses and a cocktail £27) so we both opted for that option.

To start I ordered the braised chorizo with toasted sourdough whilst Gail went for the braised short rib and young buck blue cheese arancini. Both dishes were delivered promptly and smelt and looked divine. Whilst Gail enjoyed her arancini she said the chorizo had the edge which I whole heartedly agreed with; the wonderful combination of flavours really was a treat.

Braised chorizo and sourdough

For mains we both gave into temptation and ordered the dry-aged Himalayan salt chamber steak (for which there was a £3 supplement), served with beef dripping chips, onion rings and pepper sauce. Unequivocally this was the best steak I’ve had; it was cooked to perfection. My granda used to have an expression that when a bit of meat was cooked nice and tender you could ‘cut it with your nose’, I now fully appreciate what that means – it felt like the knife simply melted through the meat.

Dry-aged Himalayan salt chamber steak

After our mains we were too stuffed to get dessert so we opted for a cocktail to finish off our meal. We both enjoy an espresso martini and whilst they didn’t have any on the cocktail menu, Patrick, our fantastic server for the evening, said they would still be able to make them for us. When they arrived, they were chilled and smooth and the perfect conclusion to our experience.

From start to finish I loved everything about Bull and Ram. The staff were professional, attentive and dedicated to ensuring that you enjoy every aspect of your visit. The atmosphere is intimate and welcoming whilst caliber of the food and drinks is truly remarkable. I really have fallen for this restaurant and will definitely be back.

HOUSE BELFAST

A sisters’ night would not be complete without a nightcap (or three) and so we headed to House Belfast, the new kid on Botanic Avenue. Formerly Madison’s, this new venue, which offers food, drinks and accommodation, is unlike anywhere else in Belfast. When we arrived we were met at the door by a lovely member of staff who enquired if we were there for food (if you do fancy trying a bite to eat I would recommend booking a table in advance as it was absolutely buzzing when we visited). When we said we just fancied a drink however, he showed us to a table at one of the three bars in the downstairs area.

The vibe at House is eclectic and cool with fab accessories, cosy nooks, colourful bars and the pièce de résistance, an indoor cherry blossom tree; this really is one photogenic hot spot!

Rose Spritz (left) and Mariposa cocktails

Once we had a look over the drinks menu, we thought we would continue the cocktail theme with a Rose Spritz for Gail and a Mariposa for me. Both cocktails were colourful, fabulously presented and absolutely delicious. As the bar we were seated at specialised in whiskeys we thought this would be the ideal nightcap. With bottles on display ranging from Writer’s Tears to a classy Midleton 2017 this is pure heaven for any whiskey fan. Kyle, who was tending the bar, was an absolute legend; not only was he attentive throughout our visit but he was knowledgeable and professional and when it came to selecting a whiskey he gave us more of an insight into the ones we were interested in trying. In the end we sampled the Jameson The Distiller’s Safe and the Teeling Rum Cask Finish Irish Whiskey; both were beautiful.

As our evening came to a close I can honestly say it was a successful sisters’ night; not only did I get to catch up with my bestie, we also got to discover two outstanding gems in Belfast’s ever developing hospitality scene. With both boasting a superb product and faultless customer service, I would not hesitate to recommend Bull and Ram or House if you have yet to try them.

Posted: 11/02/2018

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Review: Jake O’Kane at the Waterfront Hall

My sister Gail (left) and me with Jake O’Kane after his hilarious Still Sittin on the Fence show at the Waterfront Hall. 

My parents are huge fans of local panel show The Blame Game as well as one of its  resident panellists: Jake O’Kane. After several unsuccessful attempts at trying to secure tickets to see the live recording of the show, they also tried to book tickets for Jake’s stand up appearance last year to no avail. And so, when my sister Gail saw the announcement of tickets going on sale for Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on the Fence series of shows at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, we knew we had found the perfect Christmas present for the parentals as well as an ideal family night out. 

The show ran from 9-13 January and we were lucky to book tickets for the four of us at the Saturday night show, which was consequently the last night of its run at the Waterfront Hall. 

Once seated, the audience’s funny bones were warmed up by north Belfast comedian Terry McHugh . From his relocation to Co Tyrone with his ‘culchie’ wife to his daily shenanigans as a father of three (you’ll never think of an iPhone in the same way) to his unbreakable mother who has survived seven mild strokes, two major ones and tried to walk off a heart attack, McHugh’s take on family life is unique and highly amusing and by the time he left the stage a smile was already firmly in place on my face. 

Whilst I enjoyed a really good chuckle at Terry McHugh, I literally howled with laughter once Jake O’Kane took to the stage. The show is a loose end-of-the-year review, looking back at what made 2017 memorable – for all the wrong reasons. His repertoire of material combines so many subjects, such as local and international politics, from the fall out of Brexit to his campaign to harass MLAs on a daily basis on twitter; the pitfalls of being ginger; recent health scares; the legacy of a mixed marriage; and why you should never, ever, swim with dolphins. The end result: pure, unadulterated hilarity. From start to finish I crackled so much my stomach ached. And I wasn’t the only one. The audience were constantly exchanging tear filled glances whilst practically doubled over from laughing so much. 

Jake O’Kane’s end-of-the-year shows has become an annual must-see and now I know why. With the structure, material and timing to make the audience laugh with total abandon for the full duration, Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on Fences is, in my opinion, a comedic masterpiece; this is one comedian that I would happily watch again and again. 

For more information on Jake O’Kane and his upcoming gigs visit: https://m.facebook.com/jake.okane/

Dining at Cyprus Avenue 

During the Christmas break my Geordie sister (from a different mister), Frankie, came for a visit to Belfast. Everytime she comes to town my sister Gail and I try to think of somewhere new to try whilst she’s here. This time Gail suggested Cyprus Avenue for lunch. 

Located on Upper Newtownards Road, beside the Avenue made famous by Van Morrison, Cyprus Avenue is a gorgeous restaurant that blends together deep teal tones with exposed brick work and dark wood to create a wonderfully warm and inviting space. We were seated in a booth towards the back which gave us the perfect spot to soak up the atmosphere in the restaurant as well as to peruse the offerings on the menu. 

It is very clear that local produce is very important to the restaurant. Not only is the menu filled with it (with dishes comprised of such delights such as Strangford mussels and Finnebrogue venison) but there is fantastic artwork adorning the walls by AJ Laird Art, which showcases the suppliers Cyprus Avenue works with on a regular basis; this is such a wonderful touch to the decor which also helps illustrate the ethos of the restaurant. 


After we pored over the menu we decided to have the breads and tapenade to share as a starter. It was fresh and delicious and the perfect way to whet the appetite. 

BBQ boneless beef ribs

For mains Frankie and I ordered the BBQ boneless beef ribs served with roast corn, CA slaw,  and Corey’s seasoned fries. Gail opted for Darren Rogers’ pork, apricot, treacle, Leon’s veg and confit potato. When the beautifully presented mains were served, it was a testament to how well they tasted that all conversation at our table seemed to cease. The ribs were succulent and tender and the slaw proved a wonderful accompaniment. The fries were full of flavour and so moreish. Gail thoroughly enjoyed the pork dish which was cooked to perfection and superbly matched together a wonderful mix of flavours and textures. 
Darren Rogers’ pork dish

Although seriously tempted by dessert (the idea of the warm caramel shortcake and Valhrona chocolate brownie sundae had me practically salivating whilst Gail was very intrigued by the Cyprus Avenue cheese on toast with mushroom ketchup), we were too stuffed and so opted for a selection of coffee and herbal teas (served in gorgeous glass pots) to conclude our meal. 

Cyprus Avenue is a wonderful spot. With beautiful surroundings, quality and locally sourced food and fantastic service, the overall experience was superb. Whatever the occasion, wether a girly catch up, a family meal or an intimate dinner for two, Cyprus Avenue should definitely be on the menu!

Sisters reunited: Kellie, Gail and Frankie 

Posted: 06/01/2018 

Feeling Festive at The Heritage Killenard 

Gail and Kellie at The Heritage’s grand staircase.

Christmas can be a stressful time. With getting gifts for your loved ones, writing cards, decorating the house and trying to arrange catch ups with all your friends, by the time 25 December rolls round, you are exhausted. This year however, my sister and I came with a plan to take back Christmas: a spa break at The Heritage Killenard.

Situated in the Laois countryside, this 5 star hotel encompasses a spa with thermal suite, a health club with leisure pool, walking trails, a golf course and children’s play areas; there is really something onsite that will appeal to all visitors.

The road to Laois.

When we set off from Belfast to Co Laois, it was the morning after a total snow fest, however thankfully by Saturday morning the roads south were clear and three hours later we arrived at The Heritage. 

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We were booked in for the Tea, Treats and Overnight Stay package and once we checked into our room, we dropped off our bags and made our way to the Thermal Suite at the spa. Encompassing tropical showers, foot salt baths, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, this was the perfect place to relax after the drive. It was hard to think the relaxation could get any better, but it did when we were treated to a half hour back massage and a half hour facial. I honestly think what unfolded during that hour was the best massage and facial I have ever had. Not only did it relax the knots in my back and leave my face feeling soft and supple, but my therapist was fantastic at explaining what she was doing, the benefits it would have and how to maintain a healthy back and keep my skin in better condition going forward.

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Once the stresses of everyday life had melted away, it was time to get showered, changed and ready for part two of our indulgent getaway: festive afternoon tea. Served in the Lounge, we were seated by the fire and were perfectly located to soak up the festivities. The afternoon tea consisted of a selection of finger sandwiches, fruit and plain scones, and several sweet treats such a Christmas log, coconut macaroon in the shape of a snowman, mini mince pies and chocolate gateaux, all washed down with a glass of mulled wine.

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Once we could eat no more, we explored the hotel, from the stunning winter scenes at the entrance to the ceiling high Christmas tree as well as the gorgeous and cosy reading nook. We were hoping to explore the Fairy Garden outside but as it was chilly we opted to enjoy a few drinks at the Slieve Bloom Bar instead.

The ‘winter wonderland’ views we woke up to.

When it was time to call it a night, we retreated to our beautiful twin room where we slept the night through in plush and snug beds. When we awoke the next morning it was to a winter wonderland as snow had fallen overnight. The scenery looked truly magical however we thought we would need to head back to Belfast sooner rather than later as the snow was falling pretty heavily and was forecast to be on the rest of the day. So to fortify us for the journey home we headed to the Arlington Restaurant for breakfast. You could choose from a cooked breakfast off the menu or help yourself to the hot buffet, as well as to a selection of cereals, cold meats, pastries and breads, including a terrific gluten free section. With a plate of sausages, eggs, tomato, mushrooms and hash browns demolished, it was time to pack up and hit the road. As we checked out we were each given a bottle of water at our reception for our journey back to Belfast which I thought was such a thoughtful farewell from the Hotel.

From start to finish I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my stay at The Heritage Killenard; from the delicious food, luxurious treatments, stunning accommodation and I have to say the most professional staff who really made you feel like a VIP, it was a fabulous experience. My sister are already plotting a return visit to this wonderful haven – and who knows, maybe even a new Christmas tradition has been born! 

Posted 23/12/2017

SIX 4 GOOD Opening 

Christmas came early yesterday when I got the chance to check out the new SIX 4 GOOD store, located on the upper level of CastleCourt Shopping Centre, Belfast. Whilst this may just look like a fabulous accessories store on the surface, this is a charity shop with a real difference. 

The SIX 4 GOOD store is stocked to bursting with an excellent selection of jewellery, hair accessories, hats, bags, scarves, purses and more, that has been generously donated by European brand SIX, free of charge, so that profits from all sales go directly to Oxfam Ireland to support the charity’s work worldwide. How amazing is that?! 

The SIX 4 GOOD store in Belfast is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and is part of an ongoing corporate partnership with SIX, a brand of the Beeline fashion group, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of jewellery and accessories, and Oxfam Ireland. The result is spectacular. The bright, spacious interior, combined with fabulous, high quality products at a very affordable price (SIX 4 GOOD knock approx a third off the recommended retail price) make this a destination shop for those wanting to purchase something special for themselves or as a gift for a loved one. And for those struggling to find stocking fillers or Secret Santa presents, you are sure to find something perfect in store. During my visit I picked up some fabulous, on trend, gifts for Christmas and of course a little treat for myself, a chunky knit snood whose purchase could not have been timed any better after today’s snow fest! 

If you are planning on getting into the Christmas spirit in Belfast city centre, I urge you to check out SIX 4 GOOD for yourself. This unique store will not only have accessories to make you look good, but the profits raised from your purchases will help those in need through Oxfam Ireland. I don’t think there is any better excuse to start spending this festive season – I already have a wish list for my return visit, which trust me, will be very soon! 

Posted: 8/12/2017

Aurora Dance Studios’ 1st Birthday 

What do you get when you combine dancing, pizza and processco? Aurora Dance Studios’ 1st Birthday party! Tucked in beside Boots on Fountain Street, Belfast, this studio has become a hotspot for dance enthusiasts of all capabilities and I was excited to check it out for myself during its recent celebrations. 

Kellie Burch getting some dancing tips from Aurora Dance Studios’ founder Erin Lyle

On arrival I was greeted by Aurora Dance Studios founder Erin Lyle. Whilst petite in size she is big in passion and her enthusiasm for dance and fitness is contagious. After discussing what makes her studio unique: flexible and diverse classes to suit all schedules and budgets, she pointed me in the direction of some tasty treats to mark the special occasion. With Processco and cocktails mixed to perfection by The Sagart (who you can find on Chapel Lane) and pizza perfection by Pizza Boutique (located on Castle Street), it was the absolute best way to discover some fab local businesses in the area. 

Once we were fed and watered it was time to get a taster of what is on offer at Aurora with a short session of Burlexercise. Combining Burlesque inspired dance elements with cardio and weights, this is a super fun way to up your fitness levels and to tone up. Erin is a very professional but approachable instructor; she clearly knows what she’s doing but you are made to feel very comfortable even if you don’t (take it from me who tripped over myself before turning in the wrong direction on several occasions). As well as Burlexercise, Aurora also offers Rebounding (exercising combined with trampolines),  Latin Fitness, Dance Fitness, Yoga, Ballet Fitness, Boxing, to name a few – there really something to get people of all capabilities moving. In today’s busy world it is often difficult to commit to a class and so as well as memberships, Aurora also operates a drop in policy, not to mention the fabulous 30 minute lunch time sessions, meaning it’s no longer impossible to squeeze exercise classes in to even the most hectic schedules.

Now I’ve seen what Aurora has to offer, I will definitely be getting my dancing shoes on again in the near future. And with the Christmas party season in full swing, what better way to work off those excess mince pies and festive bubbles than with a fun-filled danceathon.

Happy birthday Aurora, here’s to many more!
Posted: 22/11/2017

Joe Hill: In Conversation 

Joe Hill reading an excerpt from Strange Weather

Every once in a while, you stumble across a writer whose works resonate with you. Before you know it you are buying everything you can with their name on it so that you can immerse yourself in the worlds they’ve create for as long as possible. That is how I felt when I first read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. The book tells the story of aging rock legend Judas Coyne who has an eccentric hobby: buying oddities of the macabre variety. With a cannibal’s cookbook and a used hangman’s noose in his possession, he jumps at the chance to procure a ghost. Delivered to his door in a heart-shaped box, Judas soon begins to regret the latest addition to his ghastly collection. Heart-Shaped Box was a heart-stopping, refreshing, unique and vividly imaginative debut novel, and once I had finished it I was completely hooked on Hill.

Since my first encounter, I have delved time and again into the worlds crafted by Joe Hill and I’ve loved every trip, so I was beyond excited to hear that he was coming to Belfast. Organised by No Alibis bookstore, the event, which was hosted at the Ulster Museum, saw Joe Hill read an excerpt from his new book, Strange Weather, which is comprised of four short novels; ‘Rain’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Snapshot, 1988’ and ‘Aloft’. Joe then joined Matthew Craig in conversation where they discussed his writings, from his novels to his Locke & Key comic book series, hus influences as well as his views on social media, how real world events effect his works and the process of transforming his writings for the small screen. 

Whilst I love every event No Alibis organises, this was a very special night. Joe Hill is fascinating, astute, engaging and so, so funny; laughter regularly rippled throughout the audience and whilst he said on the night that he has to remember not everyone finds things funny that he does, I think when it comes to his humour, Belfast is definitely on the same page. He’s also incredibly generous with his time, he happily answered oodles of audience questions (awarding the best three with Strange Weather umbrellas), as well as taking the time to chat to guests as he signed and dedicated their books and posed for photographs. 

Keith Burch, Joe Hill and Kellie Burch at the Ulster Museum as part of the Strange Weather book tour.

In his own words, Joe Hill is a reader before a writer, and I think that’s what makes him one of our generation’s finest storytellers. With a distinct literary voice and an uncanny ability to paint remarkable pictures with his words, he has an exceptional talent to allow readers to totally lose themselves in the memorable narratives he creates. So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, I will be adrift amongst the clouds of Hill’s making. 


Strange Weather is out now. For the latest No Alibis events visit: www.noalibis.com

Posted: 12/11/2017