Tea x Two

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.

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(Left to right) Kellie, Suzy, Frankie, Kirsty and Gail.

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!

For more information: https://www.97social.co.uk

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.

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Afternoon Tea for one at Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate.

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).

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The view from the balcony outside the Members’ Dining Room.

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

Posted: 07/08/2017

A Month of Sundaes

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.

Posted: 06/07/2017

It’s my birthday – I can blog if I want to… 

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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!
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.
  6. 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! 

Posted: 22/06/2017

The Reunion 

Bronagh and Kellie – we got back together.

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. 

Chicken and chorizo hash.

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. 

Warm salted caramel brownie.

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.

French Village Cafe & Bistro.

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. 

Posted: 29/05/2017

Review: Million Dollar Quartet 

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. 

Posted: 1/5/2017

 

St Paddy’s Day Outing

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

Queen of the Castle 

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. 

The Game of Thrones door located in Ballygally Castle.

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. 

Keith and I at the Woodford Bourne drinks reception at Ballygally Castle. Picture courtesy of Duffy Rafferty Communications. 

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. 

The mouth-watering selection of food from the gourmet evening at Ballygally Castle.

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. 

Lady Isabella’s ‘ghost room’ in Ballygally 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. 

Pretending I’m a Queen for the day.

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. 

Above (picture courtesy of Keith Burch) and below: the beach located opposite Ballygally Castle.

Posted: 10/03/2017