This week I had a lot of firsts, from family fun to nights out. Here is just a snippet of what I got up to.
WINE TASTING AT TITANIC HOTEL
I love wine, but know nothing about it, and so when I found out that Laithwaites were hosting a wine tasting at the Titanic Hotel, it seemed a fun way to spend an afternoon. Accompanied by mum, dad and big sis, we arrived to a welcome glass of Prosecco and a brochure detailing all the wines (and spirits) that were being showcased on the day. As we made our way around the room, sampling as we went, it was lovely to soak up the buzzing atmosphere in the Hotel’s Drawing Room. We also had the chance to explore a bit more of the Hotel and the wonderful exhibitions on display throughout, as we sipped our way through the days offerings, finding a few favourites along the way – I’m looking at you La Fonte D’oro. This was definitely something a little bit different; we had a great giggle, consumed a lot of cheese from Fivemiletown Creamery, and a few purchases were even made.
Excitement has been building since word came that Dippy the Dinosaur was making a visit to Belfast. We couldn’t wait to see the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplocodus skeleton. It’s free to visit the exhibition at the Ulster Museum but you need to book a time slot. When we arrived you could see why. Dippy is clearly a draw but the allocated time slots ensured that you were able to take it all in – and snap a few pix – without excessive crowds overshadowing the experience. Dippy is truly a wonder to behold and definitely worth checking out, whatever your age.
Myself a few of the ladies of work have been trying to find a few fun activities to try out after work. After a checking bowling off the list – where I am sure I broke a record for the lowest score – our next quest was golf. Not the Rory McIlroy variety, but more the crazy golf kind. We decided to try The Lost City Adventure Golf at Citywide Leisure and Retail Park. Containing two separate 18 hole indoor golf courses, this turned out to be a fantastic way to spend the evening. Each hole varied in difficulty but it was great fun from start to finish, whether it’s a hole in one, or a putt that takes nine attempts. Whatever the weather this is a fantastic outing for young and old alike and I will definitely be back.
Last night I enjoyed a long overdue sisters’ night. As it’s been a while since we grabbed a midweek bite to eat we decided to try somewhere different: Bao Bun.
Located on Botanic Avenue, this Bring Your Own establishment – which is ideally located for students, workers grabbing a quite fix during lunch breaks or catching up with friends in the evening – offers the option to sit in or take away.
Bao offers Taiwanese street food that’s fresh, tasty and healthy. The menu, located behind the counter, is clear and simple, meaning ordering could not be easier. The first step is to pick your base; although fries, rice and salad were on offer, we both wanted to sample the Bao Buns. Next up you pick your filling; we went for chicken but you could also select beef, pork or – for vegetarians – tofu or jack fruit. Next you pick your combo, which is a mixture of sauces and garnishes, which top off the creation; I went for the Mild combo (Hoisin, Asian Slaw, Pickled Cucumber, Coriander & Spring Onions) on both my Bao Buns whilst Gail settled on BBQ (Korean BBQ, Lettuce, Pickled Cucumber & Peanuts). We also decided to split a portion of Katsu Fries between us as well.
Your food is prepared in front of you, so you know exactly what’s gone into it. It’s prepared quickly, but still looks good, and before long we were tucking into our Bao Buns. They were light, fluffy and bursting with flavour. The buns are made with moderate gluten and so they were satisfying without leaving you with that uncomfortable bloated feeling. The Katsu Fries were also a gem of a find and we savoured every last bite.
As we were finishing our meal we were offered fried Bao Buns coated in cinnamon and sugar served with chocolate dipping sauce. They were amazing; I am drooling just thinking of them!
Bao Bun, Belfast is a superb eatery which offers fast food dining with a twist. Along with mouth-watering food, which can also be vegan friendly, it’s flexible allowing you to mix and match dishes or to order one of the meal deals on offer, meaning there’s something to satisfy all appetites. The staff are incredibly professional and welcoming and the interior is intimate and inviting – oh, and did I mention the food is amazing? I am already plotting when I can return!
I first had Tipsy Tea when I visited Frankie, my friend – and sister from a different mister – in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The concept of sweet treats paired with China teapots brimming with cocktails had me from the offset. I loved that experience so much that when I heard Tipsy Tea was coming to Belfast courtesy of Babel – the roof top bar of Bullitt Hotel – I was dusting off my tea cup in excitement. Of course, the only person to sample it with, was big sis and my afternoon tea accomplice, Gail, who had got me a voucher to try it a couple of months back for my birthday.
With the agreement to make a day of it, and to get our glad rags on, I couldn’t wait for a girl’s afternoon of pastries, cocktails and a long overdue gossip.
When we arrived at Babel, we were warmly welcomed by a member of staff who showed us to our table and then discussed the menu with us. Babel take care of the food so the only decision you need to make is which cocktail you would like; the gin cocktail Tipsy Tea is £29.50 pp or if you need some bubbles in your life the champagne cocktail option is £44.50 pp. We both went for gin with Gail selecting The Pickford Twist (Monkey 47 mixed with a variety of fruit infused flavours for a sweet and complex concoction) whilst I went for the Borrough’s Rose (Beefeater 24 combined with rose, lemon and camomile flavours for a refreshing finish).
The service was swift and we were promptly served our individual pots of ‘tea’ alongside our shared double tier afternoon tea stand filled with all kinds of delights. With sandwiches with chicken, brie and beef fillings, paired with coffee and lemon mini eclairs and, my favourites, salted caramel and chocolate donuts, the food went down a treat. The only thing I did miss was a good, old fashioned, scone, but that’s just me.
Babel is somewhere I definitely recommend for a visit. Boasting an excellent outdoor space with stunning views of Belfast as well as a chic and inviting interior, and the fabulous living wall behind the bar which ensures cocktails are freshly garnished, it is ideal for any occasion. And, while there, do give Tipsy Tea a whirl, whether just out for a girly catch up or for a celebration, it really is the perfect way to catch up over a very special cup of tea.
Whilst I was studying at Queen’s University, Belfast – many years ago -my second home rapidly became the Students’ Union. During this time, I made so many memories in the enclaves of this building, from lunchtime pub quizzes in the Speakeasy to late night gigs in Mandela Hall. It was the place where friendships flourished; from hanging out with my childhood bestie, Helen, watching music videos and sipping alcopops as her sister Heather tended the bar, to solidifying new friendships during our traditional Thursday night sessions with our ‘uni friends’ Suzan and Adrian who introduced me to Keith (who I quickly realised was more than a friend but had no idea he would become my husband years later).
My love for the Students’ Union did not stop once I graduated. I’ve been to countless gigs there since; I became a huge fan of Air Punch when it launched over two years ago and succeeded at making power ballads cool again; and I’ve worked up a sweat in the Snackbar on a regular occurrence during weekly zumba classes with Jade Rodgers. And so August has been an emotional month as the Students’ Union I know – and love – shut it’s doors for the last time. The building, which has made a mark over the past 50 year, is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new construction which will open in 2021. Although this will be great for future generations, my heart hurts to think of all the memories that will get buried in rubble.
And so, it seemed only right to say a proper goodbye to the building that formed such a monumental part of my formative years. When it was announced the last Air Punch (the Pride Edition) was to be held in Mandela Hall on the 4 August, I had to get a ticket. From cheap drinks to amazing anthems, it was a night of pure celebrations. We laughed, we danced and we sang along and once home time rolled round, the chant of ‘one more tune’ could not be ignored, with the music ratcheting back up with Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out Of Hell’.
The DJ played hit after hit, the stage was stormed by members of the Students’ Union staff and as the sounds of Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’ brought the festivities to a close, it was the perfect ending to a remarkable era.
Goodbye Queen’s Students’ Union, thank you for the memories.
Several months ago I attended an event by Tourism NI to celebrate the Causeway Coast (and Belfast) being named the number one region to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In addition to celebrating all that’s great about our wee country – and there’s a lot – I was super lucky to win a night’s stay for two in one of the Causeway Coast’s hidden gems, Blackrock B&B in Portrush. With this week’s long weekend we thought there was no better time to visit and enjoy a change of scenery.
HOW TO GET THERE
I always over-estimate how long it takes to get to Portrush but by car it only took us an hour an 15 minutes. Blackrock B&B, which is Portrush’s first 5 star B&B, has car parking facilities on site but is also located a stone’s throw from Dhu Varren train station, making it incredibly easy to get to if you don’t drive or you fancy leaving the car at home.
The award-winning Blackrock B&B offers boutique accommodation with an interior that fuses a fresh and modern style with a nautical vibe that makes you feel immediately at home on the coast. The B&B is owned by Nicola Neill whose attention to detail and overall hospitality is second to none. She welcomed us on arrival and offered to help with our bags. Once we were checked in she showed us to our ensuite bedroom, which was called Ramore as it boasted an amazing sea view on Ramore headland in addition to West Strand Beach and Portrush Harbour, before giving us a tour of the property including the snug – which has a gorgeous balcony perfect for lapping up the view – the dining room and the guest lounge which has Sky TV, cosy seating and – my favourite – an honesty bar!
Nicola then left us with a bowl of marinated strawberries and fresh cream as well ice cold glasses of lemonade to enjoy on the snug’s balcony; what a welcome!
Portrush is made for exploring so once refuelled we decided to go for a wander. In our room there was a very thoughtfully curated guide to local attractions, restaurants, and activities, as well as phone numbers for local taxi firms, to help you make the most of your time. If that’s not enough Nicola is great at recommending places to dine or to visit depending on what interests you, so if you are new to the area or it’s been a while since your last visit it’s great to have someone to hand who has such a wealth of local knowledge.
Blackrock B&B is mere minutes from Portrush promenade so you can be paddling your feet on the beach before you know it. We headed this way to enjoy a scenic walk into town. The Harbour, Barry’s Amusements and the town’s Main Street are all within a short walking distance. Nicola had also told us about local artist Adrian Margey who was hosting an official opening of his summer exhibition in his studio on Mark Street. I am very familiar with Adrian’s work as he is a regular face in UlsterTatler and so we popped in for a visit. We were lucky enough to not only get to see some of Adrian’s work – which are exquisite – but also to get the chance to chat with him and his wife EvanaBjourson, who is also a very talented artist.
Portrush is a foodie heaven with so many options to choose from, however after our walk we headed to Kiwi’s Brew Bar which offers simple but delicious food and local craft beers. The atmosphere in the bar was great, with the England vs Belgium match on when we called in and the promise of live music later. This was my first visit to Kiwi’s but I definitely would recommend it.
During the evening we decided to head to the Atlantic Bar, coaxed by the promise of an 80’s night. Although the bar’s exterior is a bit run down, it was definitely worth a visit. The bar was busy, the music was great, and there was plenty of space for a dance.
THE BED AND BREAKFAST
When we arrived back to the B&B I was delighted to see Nicola provided a turn down service. I am not a great sleeper when I stay in new places but the bed in our room was so cosy – and with the opportunity to watch the waves crashing on the shore from it – I was seriously tempted to stay there indefinitely. However, I was persuaded to get up by the promise of breakfast. Nicola had kindly given us a breakfast menu on arrival and we could select what we wanted and the time we wanted it and she would have it ready for us – pure luxury. We were treated to a starter of fruit, yoghurt and granola along with our pick of fruit juices, tea or coffee, fresh bread and locally sourced jams and condiments. For our main Keith had the Blackrock fry and I had opted for the Blackrock bap which was bursting with flavour – as well as bacon, egg and tomatoes. The food is beautifully presented and tastes heavenly.
With our appetites fully satiated it was time to return to Belfast. I loved everything about our visit to Blackrock B&B. Nicola is the perfect host and made us feel like family. The luxurious accommodation is simply stunning and the location could not be better. There’s so much more I could say but I think you really need to visit and experience Blackrock B&B for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
If you are looking for the perfect escape in the upcoming weeks, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the cinema to see Zoo.
Last week I had the pleasure of not only mingling with the cast and crew — including Penelope Wilton, IanMcElhinney, ArtParkinson and AmyHuberman who was accompanied by her husband, rugby legend BrianO’Driscoll – but also getting to see a preview of the film during its gala premier at MovieHouse Belfast.
Pictured top left: Amy Huberman, Penelope Wilton and Brian O’Driscoll
Top right: The young cast of Zoo.
Bottom left: Kellie Burch, Art Parkinson who plays Tom in Zoo, and Gail McNair.
Bottom right: Penelope Wilton, who plays Denise Austin in Zoo, and Kellie Burch.
Zoo, which is based on true events, tells the story of Tom, a young boy who forms a strong bond with Buster the elephant after he is homed at Belfast Zoo. When the Blitz of WWII threatens the lives of the animals, Tom and his friends embark on a desperate quest to rescue Buster.
The film, which was written and directed by Belfast-born Colin McIvor and features an all-Ireland cast and crew, tells a wonderful story that will make you laugh, make you cry but ultimately make your heart soar. Partly filmed on location in Belfast and featuring a superbly talented cast including some young faces who I’m sure will be the big names of the future, this is an important tale about hope, courage and loyalty.
So if the sun is getting too much for you, escape to the Zoo for a tale that will enchant you from start to finish.
Zoo is showing in cinemas across Northern Ireland now.
I don’t know about you, but when the sun is out I find it very hard to motivate myself to do much. So for me, I’m all about summer life hacks. One of the best I discovered is the KISS Products range of nails and lashes which ensure you can nail your beauty game even if you don’t have the puff to do much else.
I have been a huge fan of the KISS imPRESS manicures for a while now, which transform your nails in mere minutes, and so I was excited to attend last night’s KISS Summer Party on the rooftop garden of The Merchant Hotel to get a sneak peak at the latest summer styles in both nails and lashes.
To get to know the products even better the fabulous KISS team had a pop up nail and lash bar set up to let guests try out their favourites of the new styles! I made a beeline for the nails and spent ages trying to narrow it down as the colours and designs are all so pretty. I eventually opted for the KISS gel fantasy nails in Rush Hour, which are a nude colour with gorgeous silver glitter accents. They were on in no time and I have to say glittered gorgeously in the summer sun.
Whilst I didn’t have time for a lash over, the team at KISS kindly gave us all a wonderful goodie bag with nails and lashes to sample at home – I seriously can’t wait to try them all out!
KISS really have beauty on the go perfected. From salon quality nails that take minutes but last ages to lashes that promise pure drama (I’m looking at you Lash Couture Triple Push-up Collection) this is a cost-effective, long-lasting product range that will ensure your summer has never looked so good.
KISS Products and imPRESS Manicures are available from Superdrug.