Sisters’ Night

My sister and I recently organised a long overdue girls night and to make the most of the occasion we thought we would try two new(ish) spots to open in south Belfast: Bull and Ram, and House Belfast.

BULL AND RAM

The sister restaurant of the award winning Bull and Ram in Ballynahinch, Bull and Ram Belfast is located in the Queen’s Quarter of the city. We’ve both wanted to try this restaurant since it opened its doors at the end of last year but we only managed to get a date locked down for Friday night.

Our table was booked for 6pm and from the minute we arrived the service we received was exceptional. We were shown to a table by the window (perfect for people watching) and presented with two menus – an à la carte menu and a pre theatre menu (which runs Monday – Saturday 5-6.30 pm). The pre theatre menu had a varied choice and was great value for money (2 courses £17.50; 3 courses £21; or 3 courses and a cocktail £27) so we both opted for that option.

To start I ordered the braised chorizo with toasted sourdough whilst Gail went for the braised short rib and young buck blue cheese arancini. Both dishes were delivered promptly and smelt and looked divine. Whilst Gail enjoyed her arancini she said the chorizo had the edge which I whole heartedly agreed with; the wonderful combination of flavours really was a treat.

Braised chorizo and sourdough

For mains we both gave into temptation and ordered the dry-aged Himalayan salt chamber steak (for which there was a £3 supplement), served with beef dripping chips, onion rings and pepper sauce. Unequivocally this was the best steak I’ve had; it was cooked to perfection. My granda used to have an expression that when a bit of meat was cooked nice and tender you could ‘cut it with your nose’, I now fully appreciate what that means – it felt like the knife simply melted through the meat.

Dry-aged Himalayan salt chamber steak

After our mains we were too stuffed to get dessert so we opted for a cocktail to finish off our meal. We both enjoy an espresso martini and whilst they didn’t have any on the cocktail menu, Patrick, our fantastic server for the evening, said they would still be able to make them for us. When they arrived, they were chilled and smooth and the perfect conclusion to our experience.

From start to finish I loved everything about Bull and Ram. The staff were professional, attentive and dedicated to ensuring that you enjoy every aspect of your visit. The atmosphere is intimate and welcoming whilst caliber of the food and drinks is truly remarkable. I really have fallen for this restaurant and will definitely be back.

HOUSE BELFAST

A sisters’ night would not be complete without a nightcap (or three) and so we headed to House Belfast, the new kid on Botanic Avenue. Formerly Madison’s, this new venue, which offers food, drinks and accommodation, is unlike anywhere else in Belfast. When we arrived we were met at the door by a lovely member of staff who enquired if we were there for food (if you do fancy trying a bite to eat I would recommend booking a table in advance as it was absolutely buzzing when we visited). When we said we just fancied a drink however, he showed us to a table at one of the three bars in the downstairs area.

The vibe at House is eclectic and cool with fab accessories, cosy nooks, colourful bars and the pièce de résistance, an indoor cherry blossom tree; this really is one photogenic hot spot!

Rose Spritz (left) and Mariposa cocktails

Once we had a look over the drinks menu, we thought we would continue the cocktail theme with a Rose Spritz for Gail and a Mariposa for me. Both cocktails were colourful, fabulously presented and absolutely delicious. As the bar we were seated at specialised in whiskeys we thought this would be the ideal nightcap. With bottles on display ranging from Writer’s Tears to a classy Midleton 2017 this is pure heaven for any whiskey fan. Kyle, who was tending the bar, was an absolute legend; not only was he attentive throughout our visit but he was knowledgeable and professional and when it came to selecting a whiskey he gave us more of an insight into the ones we were interested in trying. In the end we sampled the Jameson The Distiller’s Safe and the Teeling Rum Cask Finish Irish Whiskey; both were beautiful.

As our evening came to a close I can honestly say it was a successful sisters’ night; not only did I get to catch up with my bestie, we also got to discover two outstanding gems in Belfast’s ever developing hospitality scene. With both boasting a superb product and faultless customer service, I would not hesitate to recommend Bull and Ram or House if you have yet to try them.

Posted: 11/02/2018

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Review: Jake O’Kane at the Waterfront Hall

My sister Gail (left) and me with Jake O’Kane after his hilarious Still Sittin on the Fence show at the Waterfront Hall. 

My parents are huge fans of local panel show The Blame Game as well as one of its  resident panellists: Jake O’Kane. After several unsuccessful attempts at trying to secure tickets to see the live recording of the show, they also tried to book tickets for Jake’s stand up appearance last year to no avail. And so, when my sister Gail saw the announcement of tickets going on sale for Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on the Fence series of shows at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, we knew we had found the perfect Christmas present for the parentals as well as an ideal family night out. 

The show ran from 9-13 January and we were lucky to book tickets for the four of us at the Saturday night show, which was consequently the last night of its run at the Waterfront Hall. 

Once seated, the audience’s funny bones were warmed up by north Belfast comedian Terry McHugh . From his relocation to Co Tyrone with his ‘culchie’ wife to his daily shenanigans as a father of three (you’ll never think of an iPhone in the same way) to his unbreakable mother who has survived seven mild strokes, two major ones and tried to walk off a heart attack, McHugh’s take on family life is unique and highly amusing and by the time he left the stage a smile was already firmly in place on my face. 

Whilst I enjoyed a really good chuckle at Terry McHugh, I literally howled with laughter once Jake O’Kane took to the stage. The show is a loose end-of-the-year review, looking back at what made 2017 memorable – for all the wrong reasons. His repertoire of material combines so many subjects, such as local and international politics, from the fall out of Brexit to his campaign to harass MLAs on a daily basis on twitter; the pitfalls of being ginger; recent health scares; the legacy of a mixed marriage; and why you should never, ever, swim with dolphins. The end result: pure, unadulterated hilarity. From start to finish I crackled so much my stomach ached. And I wasn’t the only one. The audience were constantly exchanging tear filled glances whilst practically doubled over from laughing so much. 

Jake O’Kane’s end-of-the-year shows has become an annual must-see and now I know why. With the structure, material and timing to make the audience laugh with total abandon for the full duration, Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on Fences is, in my opinion, a comedic masterpiece; this is one comedian that I would happily watch again and again. 

For more information on Jake O’Kane and his upcoming gigs visit: https://m.facebook.com/jake.okane/

Dining at Cyprus Avenue 

During the Christmas break my Geordie sister (from a different mister), Frankie, came for a visit to Belfast. Everytime she comes to town my sister Gail and I try to think of somewhere new to try whilst she’s here. This time Gail suggested Cyprus Avenue for lunch. 

Located on Upper Newtownards Road, beside the Avenue made famous by Van Morrison, Cyprus Avenue is a gorgeous restaurant that blends together deep teal tones with exposed brick work and dark wood to create a wonderfully warm and inviting space. We were seated in a booth towards the back which gave us the perfect spot to soak up the atmosphere in the restaurant as well as to peruse the offerings on the menu. 

It is very clear that local produce is very important to the restaurant. Not only is the menu filled with it (with dishes comprised of such delights such as Strangford mussels and Finnebrogue venison) but there is fantastic artwork adorning the walls by AJ Laird Art, which showcases the suppliers Cyprus Avenue works with on a regular basis; this is such a wonderful touch to the decor which also helps illustrate the ethos of the restaurant. 


After we pored over the menu we decided to have the breads and tapenade to share as a starter. It was fresh and delicious and the perfect way to whet the appetite. 

BBQ boneless beef ribs

For mains Frankie and I ordered the BBQ boneless beef ribs served with roast corn, CA slaw,  and Corey’s seasoned fries. Gail opted for Darren Rogers’ pork, apricot, treacle, Leon’s veg and confit potato. When the beautifully presented mains were served, it was a testament to how well they tasted that all conversation at our table seemed to cease. The ribs were succulent and tender and the slaw proved a wonderful accompaniment. The fries were full of flavour and so moreish. Gail thoroughly enjoyed the pork dish which was cooked to perfection and superbly matched together a wonderful mix of flavours and textures. 
Darren Rogers’ pork dish

Although seriously tempted by dessert (the idea of the warm caramel shortcake and Valhrona chocolate brownie sundae had me practically salivating whilst Gail was very intrigued by the Cyprus Avenue cheese on toast with mushroom ketchup), we were too stuffed and so opted for a selection of coffee and herbal teas (served in gorgeous glass pots) to conclude our meal. 

Cyprus Avenue is a wonderful spot. With beautiful surroundings, quality and locally sourced food and fantastic service, the overall experience was superb. Whatever the occasion, wether a girly catch up, a family meal or an intimate dinner for two, Cyprus Avenue should definitely be on the menu!

Sisters reunited: Kellie, Gail and Frankie 

Posted: 06/01/2018 

SIX 4 GOOD Opening 

Christmas came early yesterday when I got the chance to check out the new SIX 4 GOOD store, located on the upper level of CastleCourt Shopping Centre, Belfast. Whilst this may just look like a fabulous accessories store on the surface, this is a charity shop with a real difference. 

The SIX 4 GOOD store is stocked to bursting with an excellent selection of jewellery, hair accessories, hats, bags, scarves, purses and more, that has been generously donated by European brand SIX, free of charge, so that profits from all sales go directly to Oxfam Ireland to support the charity’s work worldwide. How amazing is that?! 

The SIX 4 GOOD store in Belfast is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and is part of an ongoing corporate partnership with SIX, a brand of the Beeline fashion group, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of jewellery and accessories, and Oxfam Ireland. The result is spectacular. The bright, spacious interior, combined with fabulous, high quality products at a very affordable price (SIX 4 GOOD knock approx a third off the recommended retail price) make this a destination shop for those wanting to purchase something special for themselves or as a gift for a loved one. And for those struggling to find stocking fillers or Secret Santa presents, you are sure to find something perfect in store. During my visit I picked up some fabulous, on trend, gifts for Christmas and of course a little treat for myself, a chunky knit snood whose purchase could not have been timed any better after today’s snow fest! 

If you are planning on getting into the Christmas spirit in Belfast city centre, I urge you to check out SIX 4 GOOD for yourself. This unique store will not only have accessories to make you look good, but the profits raised from your purchases will help those in need through Oxfam Ireland. I don’t think there is any better excuse to start spending this festive season – I already have a wish list for my return visit, which trust me, will be very soon! 

Posted: 8/12/2017

Joe Hill: In Conversation 

Joe Hill reading an excerpt from Strange Weather

Every once in a while, you stumble across a writer whose works resonate with you. Before you know it you are buying everything you can with their name on it so that you can immerse yourself in the worlds they’ve create for as long as possible. That is how I felt when I first read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. The book tells the story of aging rock legend Judas Coyne who has an eccentric hobby: buying oddities of the macabre variety. With a cannibal’s cookbook and a used hangman’s noose in his possession, he jumps at the chance to procure a ghost. Delivered to his door in a heart-shaped box, Judas soon begins to regret the latest addition to his ghastly collection. Heart-Shaped Box was a heart-stopping, refreshing, unique and vividly imaginative debut novel, and once I had finished it I was completely hooked on Hill.

Since my first encounter, I have delved time and again into the worlds crafted by Joe Hill and I’ve loved every trip, so I was beyond excited to hear that he was coming to Belfast. Organised by No Alibis bookstore, the event, which was hosted at the Ulster Museum, saw Joe Hill read an excerpt from his new book, Strange Weather, which is comprised of four short novels; ‘Rain’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Snapshot, 1988’ and ‘Aloft’. Joe then joined Matthew Craig in conversation where they discussed his writings, from his novels to his Locke & Key comic book series, hus influences as well as his views on social media, how real world events effect his works and the process of transforming his writings for the small screen. 

Whilst I love every event No Alibis organises, this was a very special night. Joe Hill is fascinating, astute, engaging and so, so funny; laughter regularly rippled throughout the audience and whilst he said on the night that he has to remember not everyone finds things funny that he does, I think when it comes to his humour, Belfast is definitely on the same page. He’s also incredibly generous with his time, he happily answered oodles of audience questions (awarding the best three with Strange Weather umbrellas), as well as taking the time to chat to guests as he signed and dedicated their books and posed for photographs. 

Keith Burch, Joe Hill and Kellie Burch at the Ulster Museum as part of the Strange Weather book tour.

In his own words, Joe Hill is a reader before a writer, and I think that’s what makes him one of our generation’s finest storytellers. With a distinct literary voice and an uncanny ability to paint remarkable pictures with his words, he has an exceptional talent to allow readers to totally lose themselves in the memorable narratives he creates. So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, I will be adrift amongst the clouds of Hill’s making. 


Strange Weather is out now. For the latest No Alibis events visit: www.noalibis.com

Posted: 12/11/2017

Poppies: Weeping Window 

The Ulster Museum, which is nestled beside Botanic Gardens and boasts a stunning and unique architecture, is one of my favourite spots in Belfast. From the wonderful exhibitions it houses, including collections of art, history and natural science, to the special one off events it hosts, from science festivals to book launches, everytime I visit I discover something new. 

Over the weekend, after much anticipation, I got to attend the latest, and possibly one of the most iconic exhibitions to visit Ulster Museum – Poppies: Weeping Window. Brought to Belfast by National Museums Northern Ireland and the Belfast International Arts Festival, Weeping Window is one of two sculptures by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper marking the centenary of the outbreak of war. This beautiful sculpture comprises several thousand handmade ceramic poppies cascading from a high window to the ground below; the final result is simply stunning. 

Weeping Window, which was originally part of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation housed at HM Tower of London in 2014, will be on display at Ulster Museum until 3 December; if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough. 

Posted: 8/11/2017

NOIRELAND COMES TO TOWN

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Since I first uncovered crime writing, I instantly fell in love with this adrenaline pumping genre; whether it is a police procedural novel, a heart stopping thriller or, dare I say it, a novel written from the perpetrator’s point of view, I will never tire of delving into the murky depths of this fascinating and hugely engrossing style of literature. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard about NOIRELAND, a three-day crime fiction festival which was recently held at the Europa Hotel, Belfast, to celebrate and showcase the amazing talent emerging from Ireland as well as to explore crime writing from across the world, and looking at the impact Ireland has had on the genre.

The Festival, in addition to a series of talks from authors such as Benjamin Black, Adrian McKinty, Stuart Neville, Arne Dahl and Sophie Hannah, to name but a mere few, also offered workshops for budding crime writers. Unfortunately I was unable to take advantage of the ‘Weekend Rover Pass’, which gave access to all the talks taking place over the weekend, however I was lucky enough to attend three fabulous events: Line of Duty – In the Spotlight, Robert Crais In Conversation, and Playing in the Dark – Aidan Gillen Talks Crime With Brian Gilloway.

Since series one, I have been a dedicated fan of Line of Duty. As the series has progressed and found its rhythm, it really has become addictive viewing. It is one of the few shows that incites so called ‘water cooler conversations’ in an age of streaming and boxset binging and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to listen to creator Jed Mercurio, actor Adrian Dunbar, who plays Superintendent Ted Hastings, and the show’s producer Stephen Wright, discuss its roots, the secrecy surrounding the fate of even the most regular characters, why Northern Ireland is the perfect location for filming as well as how it has become one of the greatest crime series on the small screen.

Of the three events I attended, I have to admit Robert Crais is the speaker I knew least about. However, after a talk that was humorous, insightful, inspiring and completely engaging, I have added his list of novels to my ‘need to read’ list. As well as discussing his time writing for such iconic shows as Miami Vice, Hill Street Blues and my own personal childhood favourite, Cagney & Lacey, he also discussed his transition to crime novelist and how he created the dynamic (and fabulously named) duo: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Summed up in a nutshell, he stated: “All writers are cannibals; they chew up their lives and use it to create their characters.” Concise, insightful and definitely my favourite line from the festival.

Aidan Gillen is a face most people will recognise, whether it is as Stuart Jones in Queer as Folk, Councilman Thomas ‘Tommy’ Carcetti in The Wire, John Boy Power in Love/Hate, Charles J Haughey in Charlie or Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in Game of Thrones, to name a few. In discussion with Brian Gilloway, Gillen touched on how his career in acting started, how an actor demands a certain level of attention but also how his early success left him overwhelmed by the spotlight, how he has managed to carve a career playing unique and differing characters as well the differences when portraying a fictional character versus a real person. Witty, self deprecating and the face of many iconic characters in the crime genre, Gillen in conversation was definitely the perfect way to conclude a fabulous festival.

NOIRELAND was the brainchild of No Alibis’ proprietor David Torrans, and with the promise it will return, I already can’t wait to see how he could possibly top this year’s line up. However, if any one can do it, David and the NOIRELAND team can. But to keep my literary cravings satiated until then, I have just secured tickets for a fantastic No Alibis’ event, to listen to the incredible storyteller that is Joe Hill, who will be at the Ulster Museum on 10 November.

For more information, visit: http://noalibis.com