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.
Anyone who reads the blog regularly may know about the ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ afternoons that I enjoy with my sister Gail and my oldest friends Heather, Helen and Suzan. Whilst our lunchtime dates are often in the company of three little ladies (Lucy, Rachel and Ruby), who are the newest members to the group, mummies and aunties alike thought we were long overdue for an adult only catch up.
I first came across Yum, on Stranmillis Road, Belfast, when enjoying the pre-theatre menu before a trip to the Lyric Theatre with my culture buddies Andy and Mark. The cosy atmosphere, fab food and special offers made it the perfect spot for a catch up with the girls and so we booked a table for last Friday night. When we arrived we were shown to our table by the lovely Louise, who, although clearly swamped as the restaurant was busy, was welcoming, friendly and professional. After looking over the menu it was hard to ignore the exceptional offer of a 3 course meal for 2 plus bottle of house wine or 4 beers for £42. As there was five of us, we had a slight predicament, however this was quickly remedied by the quick thinking of Heather: both Heather and Helen and Gail and myself ordered the three courses and a bottle of wine, whilst Suzan ordered two courses for £15.95. As Helen and Suzan didn’t want three courses each, they split a starter and we shared the two bottles of wine between the five of us – simples!
The menu is bursting with delicious sounding options and we were spoilt for choice. I opted for the Crispy Asian Sesame Chicken, Sticky Asian Sauce & Napa Salad to start, which was colourful, flavoursome and had a lovely spicy kick. For mains I wasn’t alone in thinking the Daube of Beef, Garlic & Rosemary Dauphinoise Potato, Crispy Root Vegetables & Guinness Jus sounded amazing as four of the five of us ordered it! The beef was tender and melt in the mouth whilst the potato was moreish and I simply could not get enough of the Guinness jus. Although after two courses I was starting full, I could not say no to the cheesecake of the day, which on Friday was one of my all time favourites, Oreo. Served with a luscious dollop of ice cream in a brandy snap basket, this really was the perfect sugar rush to end the meal.
It was too early to call it a night and so we headed to House bar, which is about a five minute walk from Yum, for a night cap. As we reminisced about the nostalgia of our youth as well as swapped stories about the shennanigans the little ladies get up to, I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of our first full throttle girls night in two years. There is nothing like fine food, good drink and the best friends in the world to put a glow in your heart and a smile on you face. Here’s to the next one!
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.
So when it comes to birthdays in your 30s, it’s hard not to feel a little down about how old you are getting and evaluating what have you done with your increasing years on this earth. Today is my birthday and so I am refusing to do that and so this is why my birthday was the best:
I woke up to a load of birthday messages from my family, close friends and a gorgeous video message from my two-year-old niece that put a smile on my face before the day even began.
I was working this morning and when I arrived in the office I was greeted by a desk decorated with confetti filled balloons by my lovely work colleagues – I am tempted to keep my work space like this all year round!
Once it hit 11am (aka tea break time) I heard a chorus singing Happy Birthday before being presented by the most awesome Green Day birthday cake from my amazing desk buddy Gemma. She certainly knows how to make a girl feel special.
I finished on a half day and as I had been showered with some lovely gifts, I thought it was only right time give something back and so I met my sister to donate blood at the NI Blood Transfusion Service at Belfast City Hospital.
After our good deed for the day, we headed to treat ourselves by visiting The Gallery on Dublin Road, Belfast for lunch. This building is impressive on the outside but simply stunning on the inside. With walls adorned with fabulous artwork, ceilings boasting exquisite chandeliers and floor to ceiling windows ensuring it is bathed in natural light, it is already my new favourite place in Belfast. The customer service was professional yet personal, the food was delicious and portions were immense and the prices were reasonable. And, with a bill with a personalised birthday message, I can’t wait to go back.
I got to spend the evening with the husband sipping chilled Cava and generally getting spoilt with a fabulous present (tickets to see the Pixies, my face has fallen off with excitement), a homemade dinner and a Red Velvet cake. I’m a happy girl.
So from start to finish I have had an amazing day and yes, I am getting older, but I am doing it whilst riding a sugar high and being surrounded by an amazing family, husband and group of friends! Sure, you couldn’t ask for any more!
Sometimes it’s not always easy to make true friends in the work place; making the transition from colleagues to friends can be tricky. However when I joined Ulster Tatler many years ago, I didn’t have that problem when I met Bronagh. We bonded over Green Day, a love of books and Jared Leto. Over the years Friday night cocktails became a regular occurrence. More thought went into birthday and Christmas presents. And we eventually took the final step into establishing a fully fledged friendship: travelling to a different country together (you know you must really like someone when you get to that point!).
After over a decade working together, Bronagh started a new job two months ago. Whilst I was devastated to lose my ‘work wife’, I was delighted she found a new challenge she wanted to explore. And although we no longer see each other every work day, we have vowed to ensure we get a ‘cocktail night’ in the diary at least once a month.
Friday was our most recent catch up and so the mission was set to find somewhere amazing for dinner as well as an epic spot for some dancing afterwards. For food we went to the French Village Cafe & Bistro on Botanic Avenue. The family run business, which also runs a wholesale bakery and patisserie on Montgomery Road as well as French Village Patisserie & Brasserie on Lisburn Road, Belfast, has made a name for themselves for producing homemade baked goods, and so when we visited we knew dessert was on the cards, even before we were seated.
After a look at the menu it was clear that French Village offer a selection of main dishes that sound just as tantalising as the desserts. I was tempted by the Dexter beef burger, however after a guilt trip from Bronagh about how cute Dexter cows were, I opted for the chicken and chorizo hash served with peppers, onions, spinach and sautéed potatoes. After it arrived, I appreciated the guilt trip because the chicken and chorizo hash was not only beautifully presented but it was bursting with an amazing array of flavours. To be honest, my mouth is watering now just thinking about it again.
After cleaning my plate it was time for the hard task of picking a dessert. They all sounded delicious, but there was no way I could resist the warm salted caramel brownie. It was gorgeous; the combination of flavours and textures worked superbly well together to create a dish that was rich, decadent and completely satisfied my sweet tooth.
If you haven’t been to French Village Cafe & Bistro before, I would whole heartedly recommend it. As well as a quality selection of dishes and professional service, the venue, which exudes a rustic charm and eye-catching decor, is also BYO making is the ideal spot for a catch up over a bottle of wine.
Once our stomachs were fit to burst, it was time to find a destination to dance off some of the delectable calories. We decided to go to Howl, the Friday club night at Love and Death on Ann Street. It was £5 entry, and the door staff had me thinking we made the right call, because not only very welcoming but one of them had on a t shirt of the legend that is Ron Burgundy – he’s kind of a big deal don’t you know! Our first impressions were confirmed when we got into the club. The club opens from 10pm – 3am and whilst some DJs wait until later in the night to play the good songs, we danced from the minute we arrived until it was time to go home. From the Chemical Brothers to Prince and Black Box to Paul Simon, there was a real mix of music but I loved it all!
As well as good tunes, the staff were friendly and the venue also offers a range of drinks offers making it the perfect spot, especially during those periods when pay day seems like a long time away!
From start to finish I had the best time. With good food on the menu, the opportunity to dance until I could dance no more and especially getting back together with my ex work wife, this is what Friday nights were made for.
My family are my favourite people in the world and when we get a chance to all get together for a night out, I am truly at my happiest. So it was happy days indeed on Saturday night when we got together for a night out in Belfast. Our first port of call was dinner, and so with the idea of trying somewhere different we headed to The Crown Bar Dining Rooms. I am a huge fan of the iconic Crown Bar and so I was definitely intrigued to see what the restaurant, which is located upstairs, had to offer. The interior boasts a classic and warm ambience, whilst the staff are professional yet incredibly friendly (from booking the table right through to settling the bill, I could not fault the service we received). The menu had a fabulous mix of dishes, however, I sampled the chicken, chorizo and cider pie which was served with mash, vegetables and gravy. The portion size and presentation was impressive and whilst there was not as much chorizo as I would personally like, it was still a very tasty meal.
The combination of the food, the superb selection of drinks, excellent service, welcoming atmosphere and fantastic location created a brilliant experience and I would definitely visit again.
Next up was a visit to the Grand Opera House, Belfast, where I got to indulge my love for the theatre and for music when we attended the final night of Million Dollar Quartet. I had high hopes for this production and I was not disappointed.
Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of record executive Sam Phillips, who founded the legendary Sun Records, and the night he made rock ‘n’ roll history when he brought Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins together to play for the first and only time on December 4, 1956.
As well as impressively singing and playing their instruments live, each member of the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ superbly executed their roles, from Ashley Carruthers, who gave an animated performance which perfectly captured the frenetic energy of Jerry Lee Lewis to Matthew Wycliffe, as Carl Perkins, who exuded the intensity of a musician struggling to recapture the same level of success and fame he once had. Robbie Durham took on the role of Johnny Cash and whilst he bore an uncanny physical resemblance to his namesake, he also gave a wonderful performance that showed a vulnerability to Cash veering from being a musician who wanted to progress his career to being a man who was loyal and reluctant to turn his back on Phillips, who kick-started his career. Ross William Wild was tasked with portraying Elvis Presley and whilst he effortlessly captured his voice, he also added a physicality to his performance which captured Elvis’ larger than life persona.
The biggest name on the cast list however was Jason Donovan whose portrayal of Sam Phillips was the lynch pin to the production. From narrating the story to introducing each song on the impressive set list, Donovan was responsible for taking the audience back in time to this iconic moment in history. With a flawless Southern drawl, an assured and committed stage presence as well as a faultless and passionate performance, Donovan fully engaged the audience (well, apart from one rude heckler who interrupted a key scene, although even this did not put Donovan off his stride). For me Jason Donovan was the perfect person to bring the remarkable character of Sam Phillips to life on stage.
With a raucous set of classic hits, from ‘Walk the Line’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes ‘, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire’, an insanely talented cast and a superbly assembled production, Million Dollar Quartet is a wonderful show that will entertain you, transport you back in time and get you off your seat and on your feet for a dance. If you get a chance to catch this performance, I can’t recommend it highly enough.