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

I’m On A Boat ⛴ 

The Mona, the Lagan Boat Company vessel we sailed on.

For a recent family day out we decided to try and do something we haven’t experienced before in Belfast. After much Google research, I came across the Lagan Boat Company. Established in 1998 by Derek Booker and Joyce Anderson, the company offers daily sailings upon which you can hear the ever changing story of Belfast’s rich maritime heritage and industry and how the Port has developed and changed from its ship building roots to a major tourist attraction. 

After collecting our tickets at the ticket office, a few minutes away from the ‘Big Fish’, it was all aboard The Mona to embark on The World’s Only Titanic Guided Boat Tour. We hit it lucky weather wise as we were treated to the sun shining and clear blue skies and as we were setting sail from Donegall Quay, my two-year-old niece was delighted to spy a seal playing in the water around the boat. 

As the boat, which was filled with families, friends and tourists soaking up the city’s history as well as the sun’s rays, set sail along Belfast Harbour, we were provided with unrivalled views of the the Harland and Wolff cranes, Samson and Goliath, as well as the Titanic Quarter. From the SSE Arena, to Titanic Belfast and the Titanic Studios as well as T13 it is remarkable to see how thriving this area, which was forgotten about for a long time, now is. 

The Titanic Quarter

It was also lovely to pass active fishing boats, as well as to spy other nautical draws to the area, such as The SS Nomadic and the new HMS Caroline. The highlight of the tour for me, however, had to be when the boat cruised along the Musgrave Channel. The Lagan Boat Company is the only pleasure craft operators that have access to this wonderful area where you can view Belfast’s large breeding seal colony. I was as excited as the two year old when we saw several seals resting along the shore as well as some mischievous pups having a splashing good time in the water. 

The seals relaxing in the Musgrave Channel.

As we headed back to Donegall Quay, with the sun shining, a refreshing breeze coming from the water and exceptional scenery that had me snapping picture after picture, it made me appreciate what we have on our doorsteps. I hadn’t heard of the Lagan Boat Company’s Titanic Guided Boat Tour before and so I wanted to spread the word for anyone else who isn’t aware of it as it is a fun adventure, made all the better by the friendly and professional tour guides, and I couldn’t recommend it more! 

The HMS Caroline.

www.laganboatcompany.com

Posted: 18/07/2017

Join the Fast & Furious Family

I am a huge fan of the Fast & Furious franchise. I remember when the original film was released in 2001, changing gears had never looked so bad ass. For someone who was learning to drive at the time, the film had me pumped with adrenalin and ready to hit the road. However, whilst the film made driving look epically cool, my chugging along in third gear was anything but. After several films in the series, and several years experience on the road for me, I finally felt it was the right time for me to put my driving skills to the test with the FF8 experience at Victoria Square. The unique green screen experience, which has been created by Universal Pictures Ireland ahead of the release of Fast & Furious 8, will be at Victoria Square for this weekend only; not only does it put you in the driving seat but it also lets you create your very own personalised #F8FeelTheSpeed video to share across your social media platforms.

I was literally first in line today to try the experience in Belfast and it was everything I hoped for. Danielle Hibbert from Clearbox Communications and the team from Universal Pictures Ireland could not have been more welcoming. I was slightly nervous before hand, but I was quickly put at ease and after a few run throughs of the script it was time to call ‘Action!’ The experience is incredibly good fun and it doesn’t take very long at all to complete. Although I now have my own personalised video of my stunt driving skills, which you can view below, I don’t think Hollywood is beckoning but at least I can say I got my 10 seconds of fame!

If you want to get into the mood for Fast & Furious 8, which opens in Irish cinemas nationwide on 12th April, get down to Victoria Square pronto and put the peddle to metal yourself! Participation is entirely free, but remember the FF8 experience is only at Victoria Square until Sunday 2 April!

https://youtu.be/tp8T7EUcAsw

Tickets for Fast & Furious 8 are available now via www.fast8.ie

Posted: 31/03/2017

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

We Are Scientists 

Last night I dusted off my lab coat, got the Periodic Table out of storage and put on my protective eyewear to attend LaTe LaB3 at the Ulster Museum

LaTe LaB is just one of over 100 events which took place across the province for the NI Science Festival. With experiments, science shows and live music, all set under the watchful gaze of a ‘living fossil’, this promised to be a science party with a difference. 

My companions for this experiment with the elements were my husband Keith, and friends; Andy, Mark, Paul and Beth. When we arrived at the Ulster Museum we were reduced to childhood levels of excitement by the giant bubbles that were drifting through the night sky. There was already a lengthy queue of people wanting to get their science on but once we entered we were welcomed with a glow stick bracelet, a tube of bubbles (which I am treasuring!) and an element badge (I was Fe – or Iron – for those who were wondering). We were also given a programme of all the events that were taking place throughout the Museum and so it was time to explore.

From printing your own art and finding out the difference between G&Ts and MRI scans to stargazing with Armagh Planetarium, it was hard to know where to start. Our first port of call however enjoying some tunes from a lab coat wearing DJ, before donning some light refracting glasses that made the world look that bit more colourful and magical. From here it was time to imbibe some ‘Chemistry Cocktails’. From a flavour morphing daiquiri to a colour changing margarita, who knew science could taste so good?

As we worked our way through the different experiences we got to do a lot, including; witnessing a hilarious live science show that saw Andy and Mark ‘switch brains’ as well as the scientist (accidentally) make his German accent disappear; play ping pong on special custom-made CNC-machine-milled table that reacted to where the ball landed; watch how dry ice can provoke colour change and make smoke rings; as well as enjoy a demonstration that truly highlighted the explosive power of hydrogen. 

My personal highlights from the night, however, were watching Andy literally holding a ball of fire in his hand, getting the chance to sample delicious ice cream made before our eyes with liquid nitrogen, and getting imprisoned in a giant bubble.

As the night came to close I can honestly say I have never enjoyed science, or the Ulster Museum, so much. From learning new information in a fun way to getting to participate in science shows first hand, LaTe LaB3 was as entertaining as I hoped it would be. I am already getting my lab coat dry cleaned in the hope that LaTe LaBs returns next year, as this is one experiment I would really love to repeat! 

Posted: 25/03/2017

Alternative Picnic 

The amazing spread from Lynne Crowther; we were lucky Aslan didn’t devour the lot!

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 The Chronicles 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! 

Little Burch in danger of disappearing through the Wardrobe into Narnia.

Posted: 12/02/2017

Review: Taster Menu at The Boat House

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The Boat House, Bangor.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love food and so I was delighted on Wednesday night to be invited to sample a taster menu in The 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.

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Clockwise from top, left: The guests at The Boat House; Sourdough bread with Abernathy Butter and Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil; Parmesan Custard and poppyseed breadstick; Local Brassicas with Fivemiletown goats cheese cream; Atlantic Salmon; Skeaghanore Duck; Perfect Pour Cask Aged Shortcross Granita; Neary Nogs’ Bean; and Ken Sharp, proprietor of The Boat House, addressing guests.

For more information on The Boat House, visit: http://boathousebangor.com

 

Posted: 5/2/2017