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.
Last St Patrick’s Day the sun was blazing and I went on an adventure with my sis and wee bro-in-law, as well as their tiny human, to Slieve Gullion. This year we were scratching our heads as to somewhere that would be just as scenic. However, then we looked at the weather and for once it was 100% accurate: not only did it rain, there was lashings of the stuff. And so, plan B was thought up and put into action.
Step one of plan B: lunch. There is an amazing array of eateries in and around Belfast so when it comes to food you really are spoilt for choice. We opted to try the Eastpoint Entertainment Complex in Dundonald. With a cinema, Funky Monkeys, enough restaurants to satisfy any craving, not to mention Dundonald Ice Bowl across the road, this is the perfect place to spend a rainy day. We made a beeline for Blue Chicago Grill which boasts cosy booths and a blues/jazz feel. We were warmly welcomed before being seated by the window. The menu is extensive and offers everything from pulled pork to American style chicken dishes. I was immediately sold by the Philly Cheese Steak which featured strips of steak, onions and peppers smothered in cheese and served in a warm ciabatta with French fries. It tasted as good as it sounded and although I couldn’t finish it all, it wasn’t through a lack of trying.
Once our stomachs were fit to burst it was on to our next stop of the day: Connswater Shopping Centre for some retail therapy. I haven’t been to Connswater before but I was impressed by the selection of shops on offer. And, with a few sales on I managed to pick up a couple of bargains in Peacocks not to mention my favourite purchase of 2017: an Elf t-shirt from New Look that was reduced to £4. That’s me ready for Christmas!
With my purse alot lighter it was time to progress to step 3 of Plan B: test out the new Starbucks Drive-Through at Connswater. I love a gimmick and I won’t lie, the idea of Drive-Through coffee totally tickled me. The person who took our order was so friendly and upbeat and our order was ready very promptly. I got the mocha, and it was the perfect balance of hot chocolate and unadulterated caffeine. I loved the coffee stopper they also put in the hole of the lid, it was very cute and more importantly very practical; take it from someone who has managed to throw coffee around themselves before with the lid on.
As I sipped my delicious coffee and made my way home it was with a smile on my face. Although this year was a St Patrick’s with a difference I enjoyed every minute. Getting to spend time with some of favourite people enjoying my favourite city, sure what could be better? Posted 21/03/2017
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.
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 TheChronicles 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!
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.
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!