Review: The Buddy Holly Story 

After several food posts, I thought it was time to give my stomach a rest and see what else Belfast has to offer, and so the invite to see The Buddy Holly Story at the Grand Opera House could not have arrived at a better time.
As it was Valentine’s night, my plus one had to be the husband, and I didn’t need to ask him twice. Whilst I love music from a bygone era, a trait very much inherited from my mum,  Keith is an old soul who I am convinced was born into the wrong musical generation. We both are fans of the Buddy Holly classics and were more than a little excited to see some of them belted out on the stage of the Grand Opera House. 

When we arrived, the venue was already packed, and the atmosphere was charged. As the curtain lifted we were immediately immersed in the world of Buddy Holly and The Crickets as the band go rogue on a Country and Western Radio Station by playing their take on the then controversial Rock ‘n’ Roll. This pretty much sets the tone for the show: Buddy Holly forged a career doing things his way; from the songs he played and how he played them, to refusing to get rid of his glasses, in fact opting for thicker frames, because no one else wore them on stage. He really was not like anyone else of his time. 

The Buddy Holly Story not only celebrates the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, but is a tale of romance, perseverance and tragedy, perfectly interlaced with humour and set against a backdrop of classic songs. As the story charts the life of Buddy Holly and The Crickets, from their first recording contract and their meteoric rise to stardom, to Buddy’s whirlwind wedding and the crossroads he faces in his career, the dynamic writing and electric performances kept me gripped from start to finish. 

The highlight of the show for me of course had to be the musical performances. In addition to acting, the actors all sang and played their instruments live throughout the show. From the raucous ‘That’ll Be The Day’ to the charming ‘Everyday’, it was hard not to dance along in your seat. However, for myself and a lot of the audience, it was impossible to stay seated for the elctric performance of ‘Johnny B Goode’. 

Alex Fobbester, who was tasked with the mammoth role of bringing Buddy Holly to life, really shone throughout. He managed to capture a progression to the character of Buddy. From his adrenaline fuelled performances, that were full of passion during the early days of recordings, to the flair and self-assured showmanship of his later performance, Fobbester wonderfully captured the evolution of Buddy the boy into Buddy Holly the star. The supporting cast were also phenomenal. From the exceptional comic timing of Celia Cruwys-Finnigan as ‘Vi Petty’, Thomas Mitchells as ‘Big Bopper’, Tom Sowinski as ‘Jackdaw’ and Matthew Quinn as ‘Hipockets Duncan’ to the fragility of Kerry Low as Buddy Holly’s wife ‘Maria Elena’, the pure energy of Jordan Cunningham as ‘ritchie Valens’, the pure sass of Miguel Angel as a Apollo performer, and the passion of Alex Tosh as ‘Norman Petty’, not to mention the fabulous Joe Butcher and Josh Haberfield as ‘Joe’ and ‘Jerry’ of The Crickets, this production was completely absorbing from all angles. 

This Valentine’s I discovered a new love: The Buddy Holly Story and if you are a fan of man himself, live music or exceptional story telling, I can not recommend it enough. It made me smile, laugh, dance and even shed a tear. 

The Buddy Holly Story runs at the Grand Opera House until 18 February, so catch it while.you can. For more information: https://www.goh.co.uk/

Posted: 14/02/2017

Alternative Picnic 

The amazing spread from Lynne Crowther; we were lucky Aslan didn’t devour the lot!

Last weekend I got to have a picnic with a lion! It’s not as dangerous as it sounds; the Lion in question was the Aslan sculpture at CS Lewis Square. My partners in crime for this epic adventure were fellow bloggers, Lynne Crowther of the deservedly award winning  eatingideas.com, and Lindsey of the ridiculously amazing blog  lindslikedthat

We set out on our expedition from the Dixon Playing Fields, opting to follow the signs for the CS Lewis trail along the Connswater Greenway. All was going swimmingly until we wandered onto a portion of the trail that isn’t finished and so, as we had no hard hats or swimming gear to continue over the river, we had to do a detour at Avoneil Leisure Centre. However, thanks to Lynne’s exceptional navigational knowledge we still managed to find Aslan and Co whilst we were still in one piece. 

The idea for our sunny Sunday adventure evolved from a simple walking expedition to CS Lewis Square, as Lindsey hadn’t been before, to Lynne also generously offering to bring a picnic. When we arrived Lynne unpacked all the goodies she brought, setting up base camp at the foot of Aslan. And what a spread it was! From freshly baked scones to a flavoursome chutney as well as the must have Northern Irish staple of any alfresco experience, Tayto crisps, the treats kept coming from her amazing picnic backpack; Mary Poppins and her magic bag would have had a serious run for their money. 

We dined until we were fit to burst before we decided to mark the occasion with the longest selfie session ever (CS Lewis probably wrote The Chronicles of Narnia quicker than it took me to successfully take a photo of the three of us, where we all had heads, and Aslan, instead of the neighbouring tree, which in the sunshine looked like a lion to me).

Picture taken, it was time to visit the other statues before finding The Searcher sculpture, located beside Holywood Road Library, which I missed on my last visit to the Square. After another photo session, this time enlisting the help of a passerby so that we would be done before sunset, it was time to head back. I thoroughly enjoyed our ‘alternative’ picnic; there was a blue sky, a fantastic setting, amazing food courtesy of Lynne and unbeatable company which resulted in giggles galore! I feel the start of a new tradition coming on and as spring is on its way, I have my thinking cap on trying to dream up other locations perfect for our next picnic! 

Little Burch in danger of disappearing through the Wardrobe into Narnia.

Posted: 12/02/2017

You & Me Makes Tea

It was recently my desk buddy Gemma’s birthday. Ok, truth be told, it was over Christmas but it took until this weekend for my sister Gail, work wife Bronagh and myself to treat Gemma with a bubbly afternoon tea at Oscars Champagne Cafe in Belfast.

With our table booked for 2pm we arrived with empty tummies, more than ready for a cake stand worth of goodies. After we were settled at our table we were offered a glass of Prosecco as well as either tea or coffee. We were also offered a mouthwatering selection of sandwiches to select from. Between the four of us we selected; egg mayo, cajun chicken, tuna, ham and cheese, BLT, and prawns. I have been to quite a few afternoon teas and have rarely been offered to select the sandwich fillings, however I must say I loved this touch and it also highlighted they were made fresh on the day. 

Before too long our Prosecco was served and so it was time to cheers the birthday girl. 

The birthday girl, Gemma (left), with Gail, Bronagh and Kellie.

Whilst we waited on our food and hot beverages, we were able to soak up the atmosphere. Oscars, which is located mere minutes from Belfast City Hall, is a family run business which, in addition to afternoon tea, offers gourmet sandwiches, wraps and paninis, to name a few dishes. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and during our visit there were several parties sampling the afternoon tea as well as the lunch menu. 

After a while our hot beverages were served, in dainty Chinaware might I add, as well as our selection of finger sandwiches. Next to be presented was a stand filled with all kinds of treats, from scones with jam and cream, cupcakes, mini meringues, mini cheesecakes and chocolate and caramel brownies. The most important question was where to start? 

First up for us were the finger sandwiches. These were fresh and full of flavour. After sampling as many of the fillings as possible, it was time for the scones. There were a selection of flavours but I opted for a cherry scone. There was nothing mini about this – it was full sized and proud. It was soft, fluffy and worked wonderfully with lashings of cream and jam. After the scones we took a brief break to digest over our teas and coffees before getting stuck into the mini meringues. These were cooked to perfection and were crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. Next up we had the mini cheesecakes. We were slightly worried these would be too heavy but upon first bite my zesty lemon slice was light, delicious and perfectly sized. By this stage I only had room for one more dessert and so I opted for the chocolate and caramel brownie as it looked too tantalising not too eat. And it did not disappoint; I was in chocolate heaven! As we each had a cupcake left, our waitress very generously offered us a box so we could take them home with us. 

I have been to Oscars before for afternoon tea and I was just as impressed the second time round. If I had to pick a fault, and it’s only a very minor one, it would only be that there was a TV above our table showing the rugby match which was slightly distracting, but that would be it. The service is exceptional, the food is fresh and delicious and the cafe is welcoming and relaxing. And, the company wasn’t half bad either! Oscars is somewhere I would definitely visit again and would not hesitate to recommend. 

PS. I have my (Red Velvet) cupcake the next day, and what can I say except it was amazing! 

Posted: 7/2/2017

Review: Taster Menu at The Boat House

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The Boat House, Bangor.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love food and so I was delighted on Wednesday night to be invited to sample a taster menu in The Boat House, Bangor, to mark¬†the venue’s relaunch as well as to celebrate the success of Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016.

This unique restaurant, which was formerly used to store lifeboats, hence the name, is located in a stunning building, which dates back to 1849, located beside the picturesque Bangor Marina. The building has had many incarnations, such as¬†home to The Harbour Master, Billy Caufield‚Äôs Boats and The RNLI, before becoming The Boat House restaurant. Formerly under the management of the¬†¬†Castel brothers, the establishment was re-opened in November by¬†experienced hotelier and restaurateur, Ken Sharp. Ken, who also owns The Salty Dog, a hotel and bistro a mere stone’s throw¬†from The Boat House, clearly knows his stuff and so¬†I was excited to see what the evening¬†and the venue¬†had to offer.

When I arrived, I was directed to the restaurant downstairs, which was already bustling with people enjoying a catch up along with a glass of Simonise Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rose. Guests at the event, which was organised by Serious PR, included Lynne Crowther from Eating Ideas, Jeff Meredith from Belfast Times and Wendi Kane from Belfast City Council to name just a few.

As we were invited to take our seats, I was excited to see what tasty treats were on the menu, which was created by head chef Tim Brunton. First up was homemade sour dough bread, which was served with Abernathy hand rolled butter and Broighter Gold Rapeseed oil. This certainly whet my appetite and I was tickled to discover I was seated with the lovely Will and Allison from Abernathy Butter, as well as Michele Shirlow from Food NI.

The next dish sent to tantalise the tastebuds was the fun, unique and super creative parmesan custard, which was served inside an egg shell. Served with a poppyseed breadstick, the flavours of this dish worked wonderfully together.

With my senses well and truly engaged, I couldn’t wait to try the next course, which was a tasting of local brassicas accompanied with a glass of Donaghadee Riesling. If, like me, you aren’t familiar with brassicas, they are a genus of plants in¬†the mustard family, which are¬†highly regarded for their nutritional value. Our brassicas, which included cauliflower and broccoli, were served with Fivemiletown goats cheese cream, basil emulsion and toasted mustard seed snow. This dish¬†was¬†an explosion of colour and I am pleased to say it tasted just as good as it looked.

Dish four was home-smoked Atlantic salmon, which was served with fine herb bavarois, verjus emulsion and black garlic oil, paired with a glass of Manzanilla Delicious En Rama, Saca de Primevera. I am only really beginning to appreciate seafood, and after this dish I am so glad I have finally got on board. The presentation was delightful and the flavours were perfectly balanced and ever so appealing.

I love duck and so I was thrilled to see that the next course was Skeaghanore duck breast with confit leg rolled in potato spaghetti, Iona Farm carrots, fondant potato and Armagnac and golden raisin jus. I was already excited to try this dish but when it was arrived, I could not have been more impressed with the presentation. Employing total culinary theatrics, the plate was covered in a mist filled glass dome, which created the perfect reveal when it was lifted by the waiting staff at the table. The dish was simply delicious and also perfectly complemented by a glass of mouth watering El Bon Homme.

It was time for a palate cleanser, which was in the shape of an amazing Perfect Pour Cask Aged Shortcross granita. This semi-frozen dessert was light, refreshing and the gin gave it a kick without being over powering.

The final course on the taster menu was Neary Nogs’ bean to plate with Madagascan Corolla bean, freshly prepared in Co Down, served with iced raspberries, gold,¬†and¬†a glass of Finca Antigua Muscatel. I have a sweet tooth and this dessert was pure heaven to me. The pops of red and gold on the plate made it look stunning, the taste really delighted me, the piece de resistance for me was a chocolate dome that, when cracked, oozed with a gorgeous¬†chocolate sauce. This was definitely the perfect end to a beautiful meal.

My first experience at The Boat House definitely made an impression. Ken Sharp is clearly passionate about the food and drink industry and with a menu bursting with local produce, he is an incredible ambassador for what our wee country can offer. The full flavour food creations are also creative, unique and will leave you wanting to go back for more. The team at The Boat House also excel at pairing premium wines, which are available from local suppliers, with each dish so that all your senses are in for a treat. Good food and drink, in my opinion, require good service to make the experience complete, and the waiting staff, under the guidance of the fabulously professional Jonathan Quinn, are highly trained and very skilled at ensuring diners fully enjoy their experience in this this intimate and gourmet venue.

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Clockwise from top, left: The guests at The Boat House; Sourdough bread with Abernathy Butter and Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil; Parmesan Custard and poppyseed breadstick; Local Brassicas with Fivemiletown goats cheese cream; Atlantic Salmon; Skeaghanore Duck; Perfect Pour Cask Aged Shortcross Granita; Neary Nogs’ Bean; and Ken Sharp, proprietor of The Boat House, addressing guests.

For more information on The Boat House, visit: http://boathousebangor.com

 

Posted: 5/2/2017

 

By the Seaside 

Dunfanaghy town with Mount Errigal in the distance, as seen from Kilahoey Strand.

I love nothing more that a girly break with my sister Gail, however we haven’t managed to plan an adventure since we went to see Elf the Musical in Dublin two years ago. So, for Christmas, when I spotted a Groupon deal for Arnold’s Hotel in Dunfanaghy, Donegal, I snapped it up. 

We have been to Arnold’s before when I did a review for Ulster Tatler several years ago and both had such a great time we always said we would go back. With such a brilliant deal on offer, which included bed, breakfast and an evening meal, it seemed like the stars had aligned for us.

We opted for a one night stay and so on Saturday morning we left Belfast early to make the most of our adventure. The route to Dunfanaghy is very straightforward to navigate, although I have to say,  in all my days I have never encountered so many roundabouts; I was practically dizzy by the time we got there! However, before my head was completely spinning, I was delighted to see Arnold’s Hotel nestled on the main road through Dunfanaghy. 

Arnold’s Hotel

Once the car was parked (there is a car park behind the hotel as well as ample street parking out the front) it was time to check in and deposit our bags. The welcome at reception was friendly and professional and as we made our way to our room, the roaring fire in the lobby immediately reminded me why I had loved the hotel so much during my first visit.

I couldn’t have been happier with our room. I love the fact that parts of the hotel have been modernised but I adored that other elements retained a traditional charm; your room key, for example, is just that, an actual key. There is something comforting about that clunk of a lock turning to admit you to your new home for the night as opposed to the common beeping of electric locks we are all now so used to when travelling. Inside, our room was spacious, cosy and homely, however my absolute favourite thing about it was the stunning view of Kilahoey Strand, a Blue Flag beach that can be accessed opposite Arnold’s Hotel. 

The view from our room.

I literally could have looked at this view all day. However, the only thing better than looking at it through the window was to layer up and soak up the surroundings first hand and so it was to the beach for us.

We hit it very lucky with the weather and although it was chilly, the sun was out making it perfect walking weather. When we went exploring the tide was completely out and so we had a bit a trek to the water’s edge but it was really nice to stretch our legs after the two and a half hour long car journey. We weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the weather, there was a mixture of folk enjoying this stunning beach, from a young family flying a kite to several people out walking their dogs. 

The water’s edge at Kilahoey Strand.

Twinning – Gail (right) and me exploring Dunfanaghy.

Footsteps – evidence of our trek across the beach.

After several photos (the scenery is that beautiful, including an exceptional view of Mount Errigal) we decided to head back and see what else the town had to offer. As it was January a few shops were closed for holidays, however we had a brilliant time looking at the unique offerings in McAuliffe’s Craft Shop. With souvenirs in the bag we decided to pop into The Oyster Bar for a pint of the black stuff – when in Ireland, and all that. The bartender poured us a perfect pint and it was lovely to sit by the window and just watch the world go by.

Our pints of Guinness at The Oyster Bar.

After we had supped up, we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. Before our meal we thought we would enjoy an aperitif. We ordered two espresso martinis from the hotel’s Whiskey Fly Bar. As we were opting to sit in the lobby, our bartender invited us to go ahead and take a seat and offered to bring the cocktails to us when they were ready. When the cocktails arrived they looked that good that a fellow guest asked what they were so she could order one for herself.

As we finished our drinks, we made our way to the Seascapes Restaurant, which enjoys a classic and inviting decor. The waiting staff were very attentive throughout our meal, and were happy to offer recommendations, not only about the food but also what to do in the local area. The menu was extensive and we were both spoilt for choice, however after much deliberation we opted to share nachos for a starter and both selected the steaks with pepper sauce and chunky chips for main. Both dishes were wonderfully presented; the nachos, which were smothered in chilli beef and cheese packed just the right punch, whilst the steak oozed flavour and were perfectly complemented by the rich and tasty pepper sauce. We were positively fit to burst and had to say no to dessert but decided to finish our meal off with an Irish coffee each. Once again, they were excellently prepared and were the perfect conclusion to our dining experience. 

Our food and drink at Arnold’s Hotel.

As it was still early we decided to enjoy a nightcap by the fire in the lobby, which was pleasantly full with guests of the hotel, diners fron the restaurant and patrons of the Whiskey Fly Bar. After we we felt totally relaxed, not to mention spoilt,  it was time for bed. 
We awoke the next morning to a hint of red sky on the horizon and so it was time to fuel up with breakfast before heading out for a farewell wander on the beach. The hotel offered both a buffet of cereal, fruit, porridge and pastries as well as a hot breakfast menu. As we were both still quite full we opted for the mini Irish breakfast. It was just the right portion size and was full of flavour, the perfect start to the day. With tummies full it was time to blow the cobwebs away with a final walk down Kilahoey Strand. After a few more snap shots we headed back to the hotel to check out before hitting the road back to Belfast. 

A fond farewell to Dunfanaghy.

Although it has been two years since our last girly break, I can honestly say it was worth the wait. Dunfanaghy is a stunning location; as soon as you leave the car and breath in the sea air on arrival, you can instantly feel all your stresses fading away. Arnold’s Hotel is a wonderful base for a visit to this part of the world. The hotel is a family run establishment and you can tell that a lot of care goes into every aspect of Arnold’s. The staff are incredibly friendly and welcoming; the customer service couldn’t be faulted. With a traditional feel to the interior and exceptional views of the beach, as well as delicious food and drinks, a trip to Arnold’s eally does make you feel like you have escaped to another world. 

Posted: 31/01/2017

Just Keep Swimming

The swimming facilities at the new look Olympia Leisure Centre.

I am a fully fledged water baby. Since I was a kid I have loved swimming. My summers were spent, from dawn to dusk, at the beach near my parents’ house. From the sun drenched to the more common rain soaked summer days, nothing could keep me away from the ocean, whether it was jumping off rocks, swimming into waves or trying to perfect the ultimate underwater handstand.

As I got older and moved to Belfast to study and then work, I got out of the way of swimming. Well, that is until a childhood friend of mine, Heather, who I spent summers with at the beach along with her sister Helen and my sister Gail, suggested we get the gang back together for weekly swims at the Robinson Centre in east Belfast. I loved these weekly swimming sessions, to be honest as much for the swimming as the gossiping between lengths, and so when news broke that the Robinson Centre was closing I was devastated. There was a pool shaped hole in my life and I didn’t know how to fill it Рand then I visited the Olympia Leisure Centre on Boucher Road. Not only was I able to continue swimming, it is also located super close to the Ulster Tatler office and so it couldn’t be easier to fit a visit in.

I have been a regular swimmer there for a couple of years now and as news emerged they were building a new Olympia leisure complex as part of the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, I couldn‚Äôt wait to visit it. Just after Christmas the new facility, which opened at a cost of ¬£21.75 million, was unveiled with a soft opening before being officially opened this week by Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston. The complex combines leisure facilities such as a 25m pool and learner pool, 120 station fitness suite, spin studio, four-court sports hall and 3G pitch but also with the exciting addition of a Coffee Corner and luxury day spa, which is the first of its kind inside a council centre.

I recently visited these new premises with my desk buddy Gemma, and I have to say I was more than impressed with the new state-of-the-art facilities, which are operated by GLL, the charitable social enterprise which manages the ‚ÄėBetter‚Äô leisure centres for the council. The reception area is modern, boasting a glass frontage, high ceilings and spacious surroundings. The reception desk is easy to find and once we got our bearings it was time to head to the changing area. The gendered changing rooms of old have been replaced with a unisex ‚ÄėChanging Village‚Äô, which has single cubicles as well as family rooms for changing in as well as an abundance of lockers for storing your belongings.

Once ready to take the plunge, we made our way to the pool, which is spectacular and ultra modern. One of the major downfalls in the old pool, for me personally, was that there was only one lane dedicated for swimming lengths. The people in this lane were often very experienced swimmers so I avoided it as I didn’t want to be that slow poke holding other people up. As a result, if you were a slow or medium paced swimmer wanting to do lengths, you had to swim across the main body of the pool which, especially when it was busy, was extremely difficult as you would be vying for space with other swimmers, instructors trying to offer lessons and children who wanted to play water based games. The new pool, much to my delight, has three lanes which caters for all swimming levels; slow, medium and fast, as well as a main area catered for swimming lessons as well as people who want to relax in the pool as opposed to swimming lengths. Additionally, due to the partitions between lanes, water rippling is kept to a minimum and so the water mainly remains calm, which offers a truly relaxing experience when you are swimming lengths Рthis really is the spot to work off the stresses of a day in the office. The pool also has a state-of-the-art moveable floor, which allows the depth to be altered depending on what it is being used for, whether for general swimming, galas or diving.

After my first dip into the new Olympia, I can honestly say I am excited by this space, which is part of Belfast City Council‚Äôs leisure transformation programme that is aiming to reshape leisure and encourage more people to get active across the city. Although I have yet to check out the fitness suite, I am confident that judging by the pool, it will be every bit as high tech and enticing. The face of Belfast is rapidly changing and with the successful opening of the fabulous new Windsor Park, and now the cutting edge new look Olympia, it is safe to say this is one fit city.

To find out more, visit the Better website www.better.org.uk/newolympia

The fitness suite at Olympia.
The luxury spa, the first of its kind in a Northern Ireland council centre.
The spin studio.
The chic Coffee Corner

Images courtesy of GLL.Posted: 17/01/2017

New Music Video from The Logues

 

Last year the fabulous Michelle McTernan introduced me to critically acclaimed Tyrone folk rockers, The Logues, when they promoted their highly anticipate new album ‘Coming of Age’ at the Belfast Empire. I would not say I am the biggest fan of folk rock but after seeing this band, who have¬†been described as psycho ceilidh and whiskey-soaked folk, live, I truly was converted and I danced the night away. So, needless to say I was a tad on the excited side today when I received an email from Michelle telling me the band had released a video¬†for their new single ‘Yvonne John’, which has already gone viral receiving over 35,000 viewers in less than a week.

The video (see link above), is a fun and energetic affair which really puts¬†our wee country on¬†the music map with scenes shot in key locations around Northern Ireland, such as Dergfest, Castlederg; Lanyon Hall, Cookstown and even on an open top Belfast City Sightseeing Tour (a first for any music video!). With fans from all over Ireland, the UK, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, the US and even the Middle East, where the lads will be performing their annual Dubai St Patrick’s Day festival, lapping up this new offering, the band are really ‘folk rocking’ all over the world.

The Logues, who are signed to Ireland’s most respected live music agency AMA Music Agency, are a band definitely worth watching. Last year they earned a well respected number two slot in the ‘Folk Album of 2016‚Äô¬†and after such a warm response to their new video, it already looks like 2017 is going to be even bigger and better year for The Logues.

So what are you waiting for, check out the new video now to see what all the hype is about!

 

Posted: 19/01/2017