I was very lucky to be able to attend a pop up restaurant event last week as part of Armagh’s food and drink festival. A bus was organised by LK Communications to take us to the event, which was music to my ears, especially as with my navigational skills, there was as much chance of me rolling up to one of the city’s orchards, rather than our venue for the evening, the stunning Armagh Public Library.
After hopping on the bus, it took a mere 50 minutes to arrive in the quaint streets of Armagh where we were welcomed by a cook and gentleman from a bygone era. These characters were hilarious and really set the tone for the evening. Inside, we were welcomed to the event by the lovely Neil Dalzell from ND Events, who told us out allocated table before directing us to a drinks reception upstairs, where guests were treated to the delicious concoction of Carson Armagh Cider with sloe gin, amidst the rare volumes of books housed in the library. After a few words from the Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Garath Keating, who is without a doubt the coolest politician in NI, and the delightful Dean Gregory Dunstan, Keeper of Armagh Public Library, it was time to eat.
We were escorted downstairs to the Dean’s living room and shown to our tables; the room was quaint and welcoming and made for a very unique setting. The professional and courteous waiting staff topped our glasses with MacIvor cider and once everyone was settled, we were served our starter, which was the concept of Gareth Reid from 4Vicars in Armagh. The dish, which was a local seafood platter with cider poached mussels, cured pollen, Applewood smoked Glenarm salmon and pan seared Lough Neagh eels, pickled cucumber, golden beetroot and lemon fennel dressing, was served with a cool glass of original MacIvor cider. The dish was a riot of colour and beautifully presented, whilst the explosion of flavours was wonderfully complemented by the crisp cider.
Next on the menu was the main, which was prepared by Simon Dougan, The Yellow Door, consisted of slow cooked raw cider and brown sugar cured pork rib with black pudding and apple fritter, celeriac cream, fried kale, wild mushrooms and Armagh crab apple gravy. The meat was tender and succulent whilst the black pudding and apple fritter was unlike anything I have ever tasted before. This was perfectly paired with a sweet and refreshing from Longmeadows cider.
The final dish of caramelised Armagh apple frangipane with vanilla custard and macerated blackberries, was created by Sean Farnan of the Moody Boar and was amazingly matched with the Plum and Ginger Mac Ivor cider. Dessert was a mouthwatering combination of flavours whilst the cider was absolutely delicious.
As the meal came to an end, I had a new found appreciation for apples. I had no idea that they were so flexible and could transform a meal as well as provide the perfect accompaniment to any dish, easily taking the place of wine. Armagh has really mastered the perfect apples and certainly know how to use them to optimum effect. In addition to fine dining in a exquisite venue, my other highlight from the evening was the amazing company at my table, or as we soon became known, the ‘table six crew’. My dining companions included bloggers @lindslikedthat, Lynne from award-winning eatingideas.com, and Sarah from belfasttravels.com accompanied by her husband Barry, and Belfast singer-songwriter Glass Wings. This group were genuine, friendly and had my face aching by the end of the night from so much laughing!
Whilst this was my first taster of the Armagh Food and Cider Festival, I will be sure to check it out when it returns next year. Until then I will be stocking up on apples and locally Armagh brewed cider!