Galgorm Resort and Spa

Galgorm Spa Village

Life in lockdown meant most of us had pretty sucky birthdays this year. I had a big birthday in the middle of lockdown, which was c*ap. However, I’m lucky enough to have a great friend (Bronagh), who treated me to a fantastic night at Galgorm Spa and the 5 course tasting menu in their restaurant.

Spa area

Galgorm is about 30 minutes from Belfast (although we took the scenic route because we got lost). Set amongst 163 acres of mature parkland with the river Maine flowing through the resort, the main hotel reception is a large characterful old house with beautiful open turf fires. The hotel has more modern additions for accommodation, self catering lodges and annexes that cater to weddings and conferences.

I have really been missed travel since Covid hit and visiting here really made me feel like I had proper holiday. The spa facilities are international standard offering a range of treatments and I had one of the best massages I have ever had. The resort has what it calls a spa village which was amazing.

When we arrived we dropped our bags which were taken to our room and all we had to do was change into our swimsuits, and then relax in the robes and flip flops that were provided. Everyone wears these at the spa (it was a but like being in a cult), but with facilities this good I’d be happy to join.

These look like little hobbit houses, but are saunas dotted along the banks of the river.
Just take a rest from all that relaxing

There are a range of indoor and outdoor pools, hydro jets, saunas, steam rooms and a salt cave. It was perfect to sit in the beautiful gardens enjoying a mojito and watch the waterfalls that run beside the hotel.

That evening, totally chilled out we had the fabulous tasting menu in the hotel’s River Room restaurant. The restaurant prides itself in sourcing local artisanal ingredients and grows a lot of what they use in the hotel’s own gardens.

The resort is really luxurious, and the staff who are obviously trained to within an inch of their life are warm and engaging and go out of their way to make your stay feel special. The resort is a destination in itself, but is also close to the gorgeous North Antrim coast if you want to explore . All I can say is thank you Bronagh for an amazing gift.

Rowallane Gardens

The National Trust has some amazing properties around Northern Ireland. Rowallane is just outside Saintfield village (about 20 mins outside Belfast).

Rowallane consists of a beautiful old house (I forgot to take photos), stable block, walled garden, toilets and café, established gardens and woodlands.

Spring is an amazing time to visit, as everything is in full bloom, including the amazing blue Himalayan poppies. The gardens and woodlands are pretty fabulous at anytime, and with the easing of Covid restrictions a full calendar of events will hopefully be back on soon.

The gardens are popular with dog walkers and families, and are generally accessible for anyone with mobility issues. Kids will love the woodlands with plenty of trees to climb and a meadow to run crazy in.

Fun Times with Funghi

I love love love mushrooms of any kind. I usually stick to regular field mushrooms, as the fancy ones are usually pretty expensive. Mushrooms are a fantastic source of vitamin D, are low in fat and carbohydrates and provide texture and a great savoury kick for vegan dishes.

Due to the recent lockdown I was able to buy a mushroom block from a grower who normally supplies restaurants.

Baby oyster mushrooms just starting to grow

Two days after I ordered it a large lump of compressed saw dust wrapped in plastic arrived. I was a bit sceptical, but my love of oyster mushrooms spurred me on. I hate gardening and pretty much kill every plant I come in contact with. But these were super simple, basically it’s a stump of pressed sawdust impregnated with fungi spores and it just needs sprayed with water once or twice a day.

In less than a week later I had my first crop, and it’s still going. Like most mushrooms these can be added to pretty much anything. My favourite way to eat them is just fried in a little butter.

Delicious

If you love mushrooms and want to give your loved ones a gift idea I would definitely recommend trying this. It’ll bring out your inner nerd and you will love it. It’s also a great project with kids and helps them understand where food comes from.

Fried in a little olive oil and top some avocado and toast for a quick and simple lunch.

Foraging at Navan Fort and walking through history.

Even though I was raised in the city, one of the things my Dad loved to do was to take us on nature walks. During these he would point out trees and plants and let us pick wild blackberries and hazelnuts.

Elderberries, packed with vitamins and antioxidants

Foraging isn’t practical for everyone but when you get the chance I would recommend it. It helps ground you to where you live, and best of all it’s free. It’s also a fantastic activity to do with kids (just make sure to watch what they’re eating).

Celtic round house

Recently Navan Fort and Visitor Centre in Co. Armagh, ran an event which provided a guided foraging walk and demonstration of the food and cooking methods our Celtic ancestors would have ate. I’m a big history nerd, so this was right up my street.

Iron Age fire pit

The staff in full Celtic regalia complete with spears really brought history alive, showing not only what the Celts ate, but how they cooked and lived, complete with a genuine Iron Age round house.

Inside an Iron Age round house

The staff were brilliant at getting younger visitors involved and having banter with the participants. They’re also extremely engaging, knowledgeable , and were really interesting.

Tripod cooking
Celtic bread oven

We were then treated to the foraging element led by Fergal. It was great to be back in nature and learn the history and use of local plants.

Robert’s plant or herb Robert

I have to admit in being remiss at not taking more photos of the edible berries like haws, rosehips, and sloes (yes the things they make sloe gin with). One of the more interesting plants was Robert’s plant/herb Robert. Apparently this will be one of the most important cancer fighting drugs in the next decade. If you want to put it in a basin of warm water and soak your feet it also has great antioxidant properties.

I honestly couldn’t recommend the place highly enough. We were also treated to nettle soup (packed with iron and surprisingly tasty), pork and apple stew (we were in the orchard county after all), and a dessert of toasted oats and nuts, local honey, and berries and cream. The charming and entertaining Ita not only cooked all this but demonstrated how our ancestors would have made bread. The foraging events are coming to an end due to the time of year, but the place has different events all year round and is still well worth a visit at any time.

OX, Belfast

Usually when it comes to food I believe you don’t have to slave away for hours to make something that tastes amazing.

However, occasionally you have to push the boat out and treat yourself to something that is really extraordinary.

An OX Martini to kick things off

The food scene in Belfast has changed massively in the last 10-15 years, and the city now has three Michelin star restaurants. As a special treat I visited one of them, OX. Located in Oxford Street in the city centre and overlooking the river Lagan, and the art installation known locally as “Nuala with the hula”

The interior is paired back Scandi chic, with lots is white washed walls and dark wood, making it minimal but also warm. The staff are knowledgeable, and have the gift of leaving you alone when you’re in the middle of a conversation and appearing as if by magic before you knew you needed something. They were also very accomodating when we asked for a rest between courses. I take this as a sign of a good Chef in control his kitchen. A couple of years I was in another pretty fancy restaurant in London (which was half full) and asked for brief break between courses, a shame faced server came back to apologise and say that the Chef was busy and would basically be sending the food out as it came!

First half of the taster menu

We had been waiting patiently since the start of lockdown to go to OX, and decided to go for the six course taster menu (there is the option of an additional cheese course, and wine pairing with each course).

Canapés of delicate little tartlets with eel and horseradish and gougere (think warm savoury cheese profiteroles)

OX prides itself on using the best local and seasonal ingredients. Some of the herbs used are grown the Chef’s own garden.

Velvety smooth artichoke veloute, with salty crispy chicken crackling

The restaurant has long been a hit with visiting foodies (I met a German couple last year who when visiting Ireland, made a special trip to Belfast just to eat in OX because they had heard such good things from other foodies).

Broad beans, soft cheese with truffle and sour dough crisp

It will take time before foreign visitors come back to Belfast in any great numbers due to travel restrictions. However, it was heartening to see that the place was fully booked with locals on a Friday lunchtime.

Lobster with courgette
Part 2 of the taster menu

A lot of fine dining restaurants can be intimidating for people who don’t eat in them regularly. Like the best of these types of restaurants, OX has found the perfect balance of making you feel that you’re eating somewhere special without being stuffy or pretentious.

Cote de Beouf
Sheep milk yoghurt with apricots
Blackberry and white chocolate sable

Soda Bread with Dulse

Most people from Northern Ireland will remember grandparents trying to force dulse on them as a child. If you were lucky enough to escape this and don’t know what dulse is, it’s deep purple seaweed gathered around the coast of Northern Ireland (and other places too). As a child I found it too salty, and the long strands too chewy (I wasn’t a fan).

The reason most grandparents tried to make kids eat it is because it’s amazingly good for you. It’s jam packed full of iodine, calcium, potassium, and all sorts of vitamins and anti oxidants.

I know apart from the health benefits, I’m not really selling dulse as something you can cook with. However, like the big food nerd that I am, I went on a coastal foraging day last year which was amazing, and ended with a fantastic meal cooked by Celia Sponcer (brilliant local chef). She used different seaweeds as seasoning for breads like focaccia and they were delicious, so she inspired me to try this. Dulse provides a saltiness to dishes, but also a deeper flavour that reminds you of the ozone smell you get when you’re at the coast.

Dulse before it has been finely chopped

In Northern Ireland dulse is sold in most greengrocers, but if you aren’t able to get hold of it you can buy it online from a lot of health food retailers or online (because it’s so good for you).

This recipe calls for buttermilk, which i never have, so if you don’t have it use ordinary milk and the juice of half a lemon (the acidity from the buttermilk/lemon juice is needed to cause the chemical reaction that makes the bread rise).

If you can’t find dulse, or aren’t brave enough to try it, this still makes really delicious and healthy bread. If you’re not using dulse replace it with 1 teaspoon of salt. It’s great served with soups, but my favourite way to enjoy this is sliced with cheese.

Enjoy with butter, or cheese and chutney

Ingredients

375 Grams Wholemeal flour

75 Grams Plain flour

1 Level Tsp Bicarbonate Soda

2 Tbsp Dulse (finely chopped)

325-350 ml Buttermilk (or use ordinary milk with the juice of half a lemon added to it)

Method

  1. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, dulse and baking powder to bowl
  2. Stir in the butter milk/milk and lemon juice mixture until it’s s soft dough
  3. Handle as little as possible, but make the dough into a ball
  4. Turn onto a sheet of baking parchment
  5. With a sharp knife, cut a cross (about one third of the depth of the dough) across the centre of the bread
  6. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 45 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when you tap it

Belfast Cookery School – Fish Masterclass

Herb crusted cod with Dublin Bay prawns.

I’ve always steered away from cooking fish. The honest reason is that I was never really sure how to. Growing up, my dear sainted mother was an awful cook (sorry Mo, but you are). She would cook fish until it had no flavour and was like a piece of cardboard.

I’m lucky enough to live on an island with amazing sea food, which it turns out we mostly export. I’m convinced the reason for this is that most of us don’t know how easy it is to cook, so we avoid it.

Workbenches at the cookery school.

As a birthday present, I was given a voucher for Belfast Cookery School. They have a fantastic range of classes, but I decided to up my fish skills.

The class cost £60 for 3-4 hours, and is in central Belfast with about 10-12 people in each class. Staff are friendly and welcoming and the class includes a welcome drink and tea/coffee throughout the class.

Demonstration of how to fillet flat fish.

Once settled in, Ian our chef expertly demonstrated how to fillet and skin both flat fish (brill), and round fish (salmon). He also gave members of the class a chance to try this as well.

Salt and chilli squid, with aoli and chilli jam

I love squid/calimari in restaurants, but they always looked a bit like aliens in the fish market, (I’ll admit I was intimidated). We were shown how to prepare squid, and make one of my all time favourite seafood dishes, salt and chilli squid. Which once you know how to deal with squid, is surprisingly straight forward.

Brill cooked with capers and beurre noisette.

We all got to sample some of the demonstrated dishes, the brill cooked in a beurre noisette (browned butter), and salmon with caponatta (slow roasted red pepper, onion, tomato and garlic).

Salmon with caponatta.

After trying all these we were shown the the dishes we would be cooking by ourselves. First was mussels cooked with fennel, cream and white wine. Again, super delicious and pretty straight forward once you know what to do.

Mussels with cream and fennel

The second dish was cod topped with herbed breadcrumbs, served on top of a shellfish ragu (fancy name for a stew), topped with a Dublin Bay prawn. It turns out they aren’t prawns at all, but micro lobster, 90% of which are shipped abroad.

Cod cooked with herb crumb, served with a shellfish ragu.

The whole class was excellent, and I have now faced my fear of fish. I may even break out my newly gained fish skills at a future supper club. Everything we ate and cooked was beyond delicious and I left unable to eat another bite and in serious danger of slipping into a food coma. I’ll definately go back to the school, but they are currently so popular they’re booked up months in advance. It’s definitely worth the wait, so check them out.

New Dates for Sunnyside Supper Club

Good food and great craic.

Well folks, I know everyone is super busy in December, and then generally broke in January. With this in mind I’ve scheduled two new dates for the new year. This should allow everyone time to put this in the diary, sort baby sitters etc.

The first supper club of 2020 will be on Saturday, 01 February. The theme will be Greek food. Because it’s delicious, and at that time of year we probably need something that reminds us of sunshine.

The second date will be 21 March, I haven’t decided on a menu/theme but I’m open to suggestions.

As always, we provide a welcome drink on arrival, and a few extra treats, and the night is BYO.

I’ll be posting the menus and how to book shortly, so stay in touch. Supper club tickets also make a great Christmas present for the foodies in your life, or anyone who might just like to try something new.

Menu and how to book for 01 February Supper Club

Bia Rebel – Belfast

Bimimbap

I’ll admit I was late to the party when it came to Bia Rebel. A small ramen bar, 5 minutes from me on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. I was afraid it might be one of those places that opens to alot of hype but can’t sustain it. But this place is a little gem, and has had glowing reviews for food critics like Jay Rayner.

The place is tiny, but has become a local sensation. They’re best known large steaming bowls of noodles and vegetables, with different options for carnivores, vegetarians and vegans.

I didn’t have time to sit in, but seating is limited, so I ordered my food to go. Noodles bowls are the things people travel miles for, but I was food bullied by a friend who raved about their Bimimbap. She wasn’t wrong! This is a Korean dish of slow cooked pork rice and vegetables. It was amazing, the pork was well flavoured sweet and tender. The vegetables and herbs were fresh and delicious and offset the gentle heat of the dish. Honestly, it took take away Asian food to a whole other level.

Unfortunately for my waistband, I think I’m going to become a regular.

November Supper Club – 16 November, Menu and How to Book

October’s Supper Club

Well the October Supper Club was a brilliant night (even if I say so myself). We had a lovely range of people from their 20s to their very young at heart 60s. The food was good, the craic was better, and there were a few people feeling a little delicate the next morning.

I’m not a fan of platitudes like strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet. But really, don’t you get fed up meeting the same people! However since it’s Northern Ireland (the largest small village in Europe) we still had two guests who had never met before, but were able to work out that their family members worked together!

Try something different, meet a couple of new people and have a slap up meal.

Amuse bouche at the last supper club.

If you haven’t been to a supper club before, the concept is simple. Everyone eats the same 3 course menu, (plus a couple of treats), at a communal table. We’ll greet you with a welcome drink and a roaring fire, and you’re welcome to bring you’re own beer or wine. (We’re more than happy to look after vegetarians/vegans, or people with food allergies, but please let us know on advance. This way we can make sure we have something delicious for you)

Menu – November Supper Club

Starter

Feta, pecan, and pomegranate salad

Main Course

Porchetta (crispy roast loin of pork, with apple and fennel stuffing ), roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables.

Dessert

Triple chocolate verrine, and shortbread

November Supper Club

Cost per person is £25

£25.00

Come along, kick back, eat some good food and meet some new people.

Ts & Cs Sorry but refunds can’t be made for cancellations made within 24 hours of the event.