My sister and I are big fans of afternoon tea (as am sure regular readers could guess) however for her birthday I decided to shake thinks up and book us in to try the Bottomless Brunch on offer at Horatio Todd’s.
So what is Bottomless Brunch? Arriving in Horatio Todd’s in July of this year, it pairs bubbles and brunch for a winning combination. You simply pick an item from the Brunch menu, such as Eggs Royale, French Toast, or our choice, the Horatio’s fry, and wash it down with unlimited amounts of prosecco, Mimosas or Bloody Marys. There is a maximum of two hours per sitting; the staff keep track of how long you’ve been there with stop clocks on each table which are activated once your first drink hits the table. Once the alarm goes off you are offered a final tipple to drink at your leisure before calling it a day.
After experiencing my first Bottomless Brunch, I have to say afternoon tea has a serious rival for my affections. The food was delicious; the fry was the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon of bubbles. As we both have a bit of a sweet tooth, we also ordered desserts: a divine chocolate Guinness brownie and a wonderful raspberry and white chocolate semi freddo. I loved the novelty of the stop clock on the table and the option to sample all three of the tipples on offer (though I have to say after trying it, a Bloody Mary is not for me). In my opinion, what really made this experience exceptional was the fantastic service we received. Every member of staff was helpful and super professional, especially our waitress, Holly, who an absolute delight. She was efficient, bubbly, upbeat and injected so much fun into the afternoon. She constantly checked up on us throughout our two hour period and was quick to offer us a new drink once our glasses were getting empty. As a result we spent the day feeling like VIPs and I can honestly say we both came away from Horatio Todd’s with big smiles on our faces as, from start to finish, we had such an enjoyable and memorable experience.
It is now a running joke how much my sister Gail and I love afternoon tea and we really put our love for finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats to the test recently by indulging in not one, but two sittings during a long weekend.
First up, during a much anticipated weekend to see the gorgeous Frankie, our sister from a Geordie mister, we, joined by the lovely Suzy and Kirsty, headed for Tipsy Tea in 97 &Social. This cocktail and gastro bar, which is located in the Jesmond area of Newcastle Upon Tyne, combines innovative drinks and delicious food with a charming interior and relaxed atmosphere; I fell in love with it as soon as we entered. And with small and quirky touches, such as a moustachioed Mona Lisa, it oozed a fun vibe from the get go.
The menu was just as fun as the decor and with such offerings such as ‘The Limited Darjeeling’ tea (which combined a blend of Indian whiskey with Darjeeling reduction, mango juice and lemon, finished off with a hint of spice) to ‘It’s A Jamaica ‘Ting’ tea (which mixed Appleton white rum with Velvet Falernum, sorrel squash and sparkling Ting), all served alongside a fresh selection of sandwiches, scones, macaroons and sweet surprises, we were spoilt for choice. After much debate (I would have been happy to sample all of the teas if I am honest), I opted to share a double teapot of the ‘Old Blighty’ tea with Gail which included Tanqueray gin, elderflower liqueur, orange marmalade and Earl Grey tea topped with Fentimans Victorian lemonade. The teas were served in gorgeous China teapots, which really added to the afternoon tea vibe whilst the contents offered a quirky twist.
The pairing of the continental inspired cocktails with the delectable selection of food, as well as the addition of attentive service from our entertaining waiter, made for the perfect girly afternoon. And, at a very reasonable price (Tipsy Tea with a single teapot for one was £9,95; a double teapot for two was £15.95; and two double teapots for four was £29.95), I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you find yourself in the toon!
Our second sampling of all things sweet took place back in Belfast. For a while now we have been trying to plan a family trip to Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate, but we haven’t been able to get the timing quite right. However, as my sister and I had booked the Monday we returned from Newcastle off work, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to get the parents, as well as my brother in law and niece, together for a trip ‘up the hill’. As well as offering free tours inside this iconic landmark, Parliament Buildings also offers Afternoon Tea in its Members’ Dining Room on Mondays to Fridays from 2-4pm, and so we thought we would make a day of it and try both!
When booking in for Afternoon Tea at 3pm, we were informed that a tour of the Buildings was scheduled for 2pm which would last for a maximum of 50 minutes, and so it would be over in perfect time for Tea. After clearing security on arrival, we picked up visitor passes at reception before joining the tour in the Great Hall. Mark, our tour guide, was extremely knowledgeable and engaging as he took us through the history of this remarkable building. From pointing out the several examples of the striking symmetry and symbolism in the architecture, to explaining the many uses it has undergone over the years as well as allowing us a behind the scenes look at the Senate and Assembly chambers, which you can usually only see on the news, the tour offered an informative and fascinating insight into one of the best known structures in Northern Ireland.
Tour done, and photographs a plenty snapped, it was time to make our way upstairs to the Members’ Dining Room for Afternoon Tea. We were shown to a table that was beside stunning floor to ceiling windows that offered fabulous views down the mile hill stretching from the front steps of Parliament Buildings to the bottom of Prince of Wales Avenue. As well as gorgeous views, the Members’ Dining Room boasts an opulent interior befitting such a noteworthy building. As well as tea and coffee served in individual pots, the selection of food on offer consisted of sandwiches (including smoked salmon; roasted Angus beef; Hillsborough honey roasted ham; organic duck egg and Heggarty’s vintage cheddar), fresh scones served with lashings of jam and clotted cream and a choice of pastries (including a Choux bun; Green Tea cone; mandarin and spiced fig tart; fig compote with mandarin curd and orange glee and a Macaron Éclair).
With a serving of decadent afternoon tea and a dollop of history, I loved every minute of our visit to Parliament Buildings. The highlight for me however, was being allowed onto the balcony outside the Members’ Dining Room to not only soak up a rare burst of sunshine but to also enjoy an unrivalled view of Belfast and its surrounding areas. If you haven’t been before, it is really a must do whether you live in Northern Ireland or are simply visiting.
The tour of Parliament Buildings runs Monday – Friday at 11am and 2pm (or on the hour from 11am to 3pm during the summer) and is free of charge. Afternoon Tea costs £15 per person (or two for £25, with a children’s option for £6). For more information visit: http://parliamentbuildings.org
Last Friday, I got to welcome the weekend in fabulous style as I attended the ‘Month of Sundaes’, a launch party held by Dale Farm ice cream brand, Mullins, to mark the opening of its unique Pop Up Ice Cream Parlour at Victoria Square, Belfast. The super sweet ice cream parlour, which is in residence at Victoria Square for July only to celebrate National Ice Cream month, boasts a limited edition menu that will ensure you enjoy a personalised treat guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
When I arrived at the Mullins Ice Cream Parlour, which is enclosed within the cutest white picket fence on the ground level of Victoria Square (outside House of Fraser), I was welcomed with a delicious peach Bellini. As I mingled through the crowd, in others words made a beeline for the ice cream bar, I spotted a number of people getting the scoop on the latest addition to Victoria Square, including Tiffany Brien, Dale Farm Ambassador; local radio personality Pete Snodden; Ulster Tatler’s Girl About Town, Nuala Meenehan; Eating Idea’s Lynne Crowther; Food NI’s Rachel Quigg and Belfast Travels’ Sarah McCurdy along with her hubby Barry and beautiful baby girl Niamh.
After staring longingly at the array of flavours on offer from Mullins, such as Max & Millie, Wildberry, Bubblegum, Cool Caramel and Peanut Butter Cup, to name a few, I eventually opted for a helping of the Cookies and Cream served in a chocolate dusted cone (you could also have it served on top of a chunky chocolate cookie or a sugar-dusted doughnut). With a sprinkling of honeycomb, from a selection of toppings including everything from candy floss and caramel popcorn to sea salt fudge and a range of biscuit crumbles, my creation was complete.
As I enjoyed my decadent treat and soaked up the buzzing atmosphere, my experience was made all the better as it was accompanied by the soulful vocals of local singer/songwriter Callum Stewart. As Callum sang hit after hit it was possible to believe summer was here regardless of the rain clouds looming outside.
My evening was rounded off perfectly with a Jaw Box gin, ginger beer and honeycomb cocktail (I have never sampled this combination before but it was so tasty I will definitely be trying it again!) and a photo shoot at the eye-catching photo wall located beside the ice cream parlour. Bursting with bright flowers and candy hues, this eye-catching installation is the perfect spot for a selfie or photo with all your besties (be sure to tag your snaps with #MakeMyMullins). I was lucky enough to get to speak to Mags McAlpin who created the wall for the Mullins’ space. In addition to this piece of magic, she was filling me in on her latest project, the ‘Summer Beach Party’ themed Twilight Market at St George’s Market on 1-2 August.
The Mullins Pop Up Ice Cream Parlour is the perfect way to enjoy a slice of summer, regardless of the weather outside. With limitless flavour combinations and tantalising toppings I thoroughly recommend you pop in to this pop up ice cream parlour whilst you can!
For full social coverage of the launch event, check out the August issue of Ulster Tatler, on sale 21 July.
Today is the one year anniversary of when I started this blog and so it seems very fitting that on this day I attended the #AnswerTheCall with No Alibis event, which was held at the Black Box, Belfast. It is fitting because the #AnswerTheCall series sees Bushmills® Irish Whiskey partnering with creators, thinkers, artists, entrepreneurs and adventurers to celebrate their stories and inspire others to fulfil their true calling.
For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to write. As a child I had a notebook bursting with weird and colourful short stories. As I got older, I always wanted a career than incorporated working with words, and so I was over the moon when I got a job at Ulster Taler magazine. Although my daily work involves writing and editing, I found that as I have gotten older, writing in my spare time has seriously dwindled, and so I started the blog a year ago with the aim that it would help me find a discipline to write on a regular basis; a year and 89 posts later, I am very proud to say Little Burch is still growing and that I have stuck to my goal of at least one post a week.
Like my inspiration to start a blog, all ideas, no matter how big or small, need to start somewhere and once upon a time, 400 years ago, the Old Bushmills Distillery™ was also just starting out on its own journey, which was to be one of the first distilleries in the world to make both single malt and blended Irish whiskey. This innovation and fearlessness, which has saw the distillery grow, evolve and stay true to its roots, has inspired the launch of the #AnswerTheCall campaign. Not only does this campaign shine a light on Bushmills’ superior produce, today for example, guests were treated to a delectable serving of BLACK BUSH® and white lemonade as well as a smooth and rich BLACK BUSH® Old Fashioned cocktail, but it also aims to showcase the talents and stories of those who have defied convention to boldly answer their call and create a legacy of their own. True to this mission, today’s event in the #AnswerTheCall series, entitled Whiskey & Words, could not have found a better subject than David Torrans, owner of No Alibis Bookstore.
No Alibis is Northern Ireland’s only specialist crime bookstore as well as one of the country’s few surviving independent bookstores. On a personal level I stumbled across the shop when I studied an American Noir module at Queen’s University Belfast. A number of the titles on the curriculum were available in the shop and I, to this day, remember going in armed with my list of required reading and encountering David for the first time. He offered me tea and Viennese Whirls whilst he took my list off me and gathered up all the reading materials I required. Instantaneously it was obvious that this was a shop unlike any other and David Torrens was a book seller like no other; not only is he passionate and knowledgeable about literature but he has also created a unique and inviting environment in which all literature aficionados are welcome to talk books, to get a recommendation of authors they might like as well as to consume their latest read in a nook away from the hustle and bustle of day to day living. Since my first visit, I have been back to the shop time and again, not only to buy books and soak up the unique atmosphere, but also to attend several of the events David has hosted over the years; from local writers such as Stuart Neville to international bestsellers like Linwood Barclay and literary legends like James Ellroy, No Alibis has attracted some of the most influential names in modern literature.
Whilst the events David hosts offer the perfect chance for readers to find out more about the journey of some of their favourite authors, today’s event, which saw David in conversation with professor, journalist and one of my favourite authors and columnists, Ian Sansom, offered the opportunity for the audience to find out more about David’s journey. From 1990 David was a dedicated bookseller but in 1997 he took the risk to venture out on his own and start his own bookstore. Inspired by the iconic The Mysterious Bookshop and Partners in Crime Mystery Booksellers, to name a few, David knew he wanted to start a bookstore that focused primarily on the crime genre, and so No Alibis was born in 1997. Twenty years later No Alibis is still standing and although the intervening years have featured good times as well as tough times, David has successfully continued to grow and evolve the business whilst blazing his own trail and creating the bookstore he always dreamt of.
The Whiskey and Words instalment of #AnswerTheCall series was a truly inspiring event that highlights that, like Bushmills Irish Whiskey and David Torrans, you should not let people stand in your way when it comes to embarking on your own journey to follow your passions, achieve your dreams and answer your own call.
For more information on the #AnswerTheCall series, which will collaborate with other local talents such as; Whitehead based tattoo artist Willy G, one of Belfast’s best known street artists, Visual Waste, and Kevin Pyke, owner of Derry based Pyke ‘n’ Pomme, an acclaimed street food style eatery, visit: http://answerthecall.co.uk
Last Friday I wined and dined in a castle… with a ghost!
After a very hectic work week my husband, Keith, and I escaped the hustle and bustle of Belfast for the scenic haven of Ballygally Castle for a gourmet evening of wine pairings courtesy of Woodford Bourne. The weather was atrocious and so once we got parked we were delighted to find a cosy refuge inside. From thrones at reception to a stunningly handcrafted Game of Thrones door, the medieval spirit was very much alive.
After a quick freshen up we headed to the Woodford Bourne drinks reception. Our first tipple was Prosecco Conti d’Arco NV which was matched with a selection of delightful canapés including a chilli egg combo that was served in an eggshell, goat’s cheese and beetroot cones and pâté on toast. As we tucked in we spoke to Fiona Brown of Duffy Rafferty Communications, and Norman McBride, general manager of Ballygally Castle about the Castle’s friendly ghost, Lady Isabella, whose ‘ghost room’ is located in the tower of the original building.
After we had worked our way through the canapés, we were invited into the stunning Kintyre Ballroom for the next stage of our food and wine journey. This room is an exquisite setting which enjoys panoramic coastal views. After we were seated, we were poured a glass of Moreau Rose D’Anjou. The knowledgeable and incredibly humorous Denis Broderick, Wine & Food Development Consultant with Woodford Bourne NI, was tasked with introducing each wine on the night. With such charisma, he really made each offering come to life prior to us sampling it. To complement the Moreau Rose D’Anjou we were served a warm and velvety celeriac velouté accompanied with Broighter Gold truffle oil with crispy guanciale flat bread. The soup was served in a dainty cup and saucer and packed a serious punch of flavour.
Next up was a fresh and crisp glass of Marques de Riscal Rueda paired with a gorgeous concoction of Lemon Sole stuffed with Portavogie prawn mousse with a spelt and wild garlic risotto. I was surprised by how much I loved this course; I lapped up every last morsel.
Before our main dish, we were served a beautifully presented Shortcrust Gin Granita. This was sweet and refreshing, the perfect palate cleanser.
Next up was the course I was most excited about: trio of local beef which included Carnbrooke Cannon Fillet, Hannon Pulled Brisket Suet Pudding and Jacobs Ladder paired with a glass of Château de la Ligne which is produced from local business man Terry Cross’ French vineyard. This course did not disappoint, the meat was tender, succulent and flavoursome whilst the wine was rich and elegant; even my husband, who is not a red wine drinker, thoroughly enjoyed this selection.
Although I was quite full after the main, I can’t say no to dessert and my tastebuds thanked me once they sampled the next offering: Coco, Avocado and Red Quinoa Parfait matched with a glass of Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro. This was pure decadence and I savoured every mouthful.
As if that was not enough, we had one final course: Fivemiletown Goats Cheese mousse with port jelly served with a glass of Churchill’s Reserve Port. This was a dish of contradictions matching the savoury with the sweet and all though I could not finish mine, there was lots of empty plates around me.
By this stage I really was fit to burst and so I jumped at the chance to work off some of the food with a walk to the ‘ghost room’. As we ascended the spiral staircase there was definitely a noticeable drop in the temperature. The room, which retains its original setting, tells the fate of Lady Isabella and how she became the resident ghost of the Castle. This really is a fascinating room, and whilst it certainly gave me goosebumps, I thoroughly recommend a visit if you are a guest in the Castle.
After a fabulous mix of fine wines and scrumptious food, mixed with a bit of history, it was time to call it a night.
The next morning when we woke up, the weather had not improved much but we decided to explore the rest of the grounds before we headed back to Belfast. After a photo session on the Thrones, it was time for the outdoors. With luscious gardens, a delightful foot bridge, a small island and a rumbling river of its own, Ballygally boasts a setting that is truly picturesque and unique.
After we checked out we couldn’t resist a walk along the beach opposite the Castle. Although it was raining, it was impossible not to feel happy when soaking up such a stunning setting. With views of Scotland, this really is one of Northern Ireland’s breathtaking scenic spots.
Has we headed the 40 minutes back to Belfast, I was delighted with our discovery of such a gem on our doorstep. When life gets too much, this is definitely the perfect place to escape all your stresses and I for one cannot wait for a return visit.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love food and so I was delighted on Wednesday night to be invited to sample a taster menu inThe 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’s 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.
For more information on The Boat House, visit: http://boathousebangor.com
Anyone who knows me or follows the blog, knows about our Ladies Who Lunch days when my sister Gail, and besties Helen, Heather and Suzan, meet up at each other’s houses for lunch. We each bring a course and we, along with the little ladies, baby Rachel, Lucy and Ruby, who have also joined the group, eat until we can eat no more. For the festive season, however, we thought we would shake things up a bit and arrange a Ladies Christmas Dinner, were the little ones stay with their daddys and their mummys and aunties let someone else do the cooking.
During the summer Gail and I dined in Miel et Moi on the Lisburn. The food was amazing and so when it popped up on my Twitter feed that they were doing a Christmas menu, we decided this would be the perfect place for our inaugural Ladies Christmas Dinner. And in what seems like a blink of an eye, Christmas trees are filling out windows, festive tunes are taking over the airwaves and the time for our first Christmas dinner of the season arrived last night.
When we arrived at Miel et Moi, it was already starting to get busy. The five of us were seated at a cosy table towards the back. As we caught up on how everyone was, our waitress, the lovely Elspeth, came to take our drinks order, as well as to confirm our food order which I had pre ordered last month. Just hearing the dishes again made my mouth water.
The atmosphere was great in the restaurant, with everyone getting into the Christmas spirit. Whilst we waited on our starters, we couldn’t resist pulling the Christmas crackers that adorned the tables. Christmas hats firmly in place, we were in the middle of telling our naff Christmas cracker jokes when the first course arrived. With options that included salmon, vegetable broth and pigeon, my starter of choice was the Chicken Caesar Salad. Bursting with chunky pieces of tender chicken, fresh and crispy lettuce and crunchy croutons, drizzled in a delicious and creamy salad dressing, this was a superb start to the meal and although the portion size was quite substantial, I did not leave a bite behind.
After ample time to allow our starters to settle, it was time for the main course. I tend to avoid turkey and ham at Christmas dinners as I don’t want a poultry overload before the 25th and so my selection was the steak, which was served with pepper sauce and chunky chips. The dish was wonderfully presented and smelt almost as good as it tasted. Although my steak, which I had ordered medium, was cooked a tad more than my personal preference, it was succulent, juicy and a real treat for the tastebuds.
Even though I was feeling festively full, it was time for the highlight of any trip to Miel et Moi, dessert time. The patisserie changes its desserts on a daily basis and so rather than a menu, they invite you to choose your sweet of choice from the patisserie counter. With lemon meringues, black forest gateaux and chocolate mousse to name a few, this is what heaven must look like for any one, such as myself, who has a sweet tooth. I selected the chocolate and salted caramel tart; I tasted it on my previous visit and there was no way I could leave without sampling it again. It was even better than remembered with the crunchy base mixing with the rich chocolate and gooey caramel to create a decadent masterpiece that I devoured.
Christmas is the time to eat, drink and be merry and I certainly kicked December off by ticking all those boxes. Miel et Moi is the perfect spot for a girls night out; with excellent service, melt in the mouth food and desserts that are on a whole new level of indulgence, it’s impossible to leave without a smile on your face. The only thing that can make good food taste even better, is great company and after a night out with my oldest friends I could not think of a better way to kick-start Christmas. Here’s to a new Ladies Lunch tradition – same time, same place, next year Ladies!