Have you been fantasizing about a little break? how about a staycation of a few days break in Ireland…
I’ve just had an action-packed weekend in Belfast and I can
tell you the city is rocking. The food scene is exploding, and I certainly
couldn’t manage to fit all my ‘must do’s into my available meal slots, I’ll
have to go back for more…
If you feel like driving, it’s an easy road trip from Cork but I hopped on the train to Dublin, took the Luas to Connolly Station and onto the super comfortable Enterprise to Belfast.
I had a long list of places to visit, delis, cafés, cool shops and of course restaurants. St. George’s Street market on Friday or Saturday is a must. Pick up some soda farls and potato bread…Sunday is mostly for bric-a-brac hunters…
I also loved Mike Thompson‘s cheese shop on Little Donegal Street, a fantastic selection of cheese as well as his own raw milk blue veined, Young Buck, the first artisan cheese to be made in Northern Ireland after the troubles… Mike is a great fan of Hegarty‘s cheese and I also bought a Cavanbert made by another pioneer farmhouse cheesemaker Silke Cropp from Co Cavan…. I also added a little roll of Abernethy’s handmade butter and some charcuterie from the Cole family in Broughgammon.
Then onto a new Nordic influenced bakery round the corner on Donegal Street called Bakari owned by Jack Mowbray. A really interesting range of breads and viennoiserie, many made from heirloom wheat.
Bread and Banjo on the Ormeau Road is another place to swing by for properly good artisan breads.
Foodies who don’t have time to do research, but want to pack as much as possible into a delicious weekend could sign up for one of several food tours. Caroline Wilson of Belfast Food Tours comes highly recommended.
We had a delicious dinner of small plates at Niall McKenna‘s Waterman House restaurant and the most delicious smoked ham with really good house-made sourdough bread and brown butter. Chef Cathal Duncan told me that they smoke the streaky bacon in their Little Green Egg barbecue and smoker. It was so good that I begged for some for my picnic on the train and I have to tell you that I was the envy of all my fellow travellers….
I also loved their arancini with celeriac and Young Buck purée and the pressed potato slices and the scallops with Jerusalem artichokes and…Top Tip – check out the schedule at the Waterman Cookery School www.waterman.house
Of course I wanted to get back to Michelin starred OX but didn’t make it this time…. Everyone says lunch is brilliant value for money at £40-45.
I did however get out to FRAE in Holywood (10 minutes by train or a bit longer by car). Loved Shaun Tinman’s eclectic little bites and little plates. The jambons made with ham hock and Coolea cheese were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Even the bread from the Bara Bakehouse in Comber and the homemade butter were exceptional. The last of the squashed roasties with caramelised garlic could be the subject of a serious row…see frae_range on Instagram If you can’t bag a table there, (only 20+ seats), I believe Noble on Church Street in Holywood is also worth a detour.
Used to be that shops, restaurants and cafés were not allowed to open before noon on Sundays, to facilitate those who wished to go to church, but that’s all changed now that tourists are pouring back into Belfast from all over the world, all desperate for a Sunday brunch.
There is so much happening around the Cathedral Quarter. For those who want super lux accommodation, the Merchant Hotel is right there, in the midst of all the pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafés.
I return to Established Coffee on Hill St every time we visit Belfast and it’s still as good as ever, superb coffee, pastries and brunch dishes. Everyone raves about Neighbourhood Café too. The Dirty Onion pub and Yardbird are close by too. It’s just around the corner on Donegall St and is owned by Ryan Crown and Oisin McEvoy. I didn’t make it this time cause the queue was so long, I would’ve missed my train, but friends raved about the Turkish eggs with garlic yoghurt, chilli butter, dill and sourdough…
I also missed lunch at Yügo which does the most delectable Asian fusion tapas on Wellington St by just a few minutes. As I left, I was deeply envious of the diners, tucking into exciting looking multi-ethnic plates. It too gets many plaudits from choosy critics.
Lots of cool shops of course but this is a food column.
I hasten to add that I have no affiliation to any of these places, those I recommend are just personal picks.
Thank you to the chefs who shared recipes for some of the dishes that I enjoyed so much on my brief interlude in Belfast city.
Waterman House Arancini with Young Buck Custard
Makes 50 approx./Serves 12
500g (18oz) arborio risotto rice
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) vegetable stock
1 shallot, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
150ml (5fl oz) white wine
1 celeriac, peeled and chopped (750g – 800g/1lb 10oz – 1 3/4lbs approx.)
100g (3 1/2oz) Parmesan, finely grated
200g (7oz) butter
200ml (7fl oz) whipping cream
250g (9oz) Young Buck blue cheese, rind removed and crumbled
4 eggs, beaten with a fork
250ml (9fl oz) double cream
150ml (5fl oz) milk
flour, egg and breadcrumbs to bread arancini
oil for deep frying
To make Young Buck custard, heat the milk and cream to a simmer, pour mixture over the beaten eggs, whisk well and return to the saucepan. Continue to cook over a gentle heat until the mixture has thickened slightly, if you have a temperature probe 82°C is the perfect temperature. Once the custard has thickened, pour over crumbled blue cheese, mix well and transfer to a blender. Blitz until smooth and chill until needed.
To make celeriac purée, sweat the chopped celeriac in half the butter until well softened, add the cream and bring to a simmer. Once the cream has reduced by half, transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth, reserve.
To make the risotto base.
Sweat the shallots, garlic, and thyme in a little olive oil until soft, add in rice, stir well ensuring each grain of rice is coated in the olive oil. Allow the rice to toast for a couple of minutes until it takes on a translucent appearance. Add the wine and reduce completely over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Gradually add the vegetable stock to the rice one ladleful at a time, it will take around 12 minutes to thoroughly cook the rice, you may not need all the stock. The rice should be well cooked but still holding its shape, when you have reached this stage, add the remaining butter and Parmesan along with 500g (18oz) of the celeriac purée, season well with salt and pepper. Spread the risotto mixture out on a baking sheet and chill.
Once the risotto is completely cold, roll into 20-25g (3/4 – 1oz) balls and chill for 30 minutes. Then coat the balls seasoned in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to 170°C and fry arancini for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Gently warm the blue cheese custard without boiling. Serve the arancini on top of the custard and top with freshly grated Parmesan.
Waterman House Seared Scallops with Jerusalem Artichoke & Truffle Jus
12 medium scallops, cleaned and roes removed
10 large Jerusalem artichokes, washed
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) milk
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) cream
500g (18oz) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
50g (2oz) preserved truffles, finely chopped
50ml (2fl oz) truffle oil
10ml (scant 1/2fl oz) chardonnay/white wine vinegar
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) beef stock
freshly squeezed lemon juice
To make the artichoke purée.
Roughly chop 4 of the artichokes and sweat gently in 100g (3 1/2oz) of the butter until soft, add the milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook out until the liquid has reduced by half, transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth, season with salt and reserve.
To make truffle butter, combine 250g (9oz) of butter with the truffles, oil, vinegar and shallot and season with salt. Roll the butter mixture in parchment paper and reserve in the fridge.
To make the artichoke crisps.
Slice 2 of the artichokes very thinly on a mandolin and put into a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and drain immediately, spread the artichokes out on a tray and allow to cool. Pat dry with kitchen paper and deep fry at 160°C until crisp, season with salt and reserve in an airtight container.
Put the remaining artichokes in a pan of cold water and simmer until tender, remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, slice the artichokes in half and heat the remaining butter until it is foaming. Place the artichoke in the pan cut side down; cook gently on the stove until the artichokes start to take on some colour. Place the pan into the oven at 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3 for 25-30 minutes or until the artichokes are well coloured. Remove from the pan and keep warm.
For the truffle sauce, reduce the beef stock by two-thirds or until it starts to thicken, gradually whisk in the cold, diced truffle butter until you reach a nice saucy consistency.
To cook the scallops, heat a frying pan until very hot and sear the scallops on one side until golden brown, turn the scallops over and reduce the heat. Cook for a further minute, then add a knob of butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Baste the scallops for 30 seconds then remove to a warmed plate.
place some of the heated purée onto the plate, place the scallops on top,
drizzle over some of the truffle jus. Sprinkle over some of the crispy
artichokes and serve.
Chicken Marbella from Shaun Tinman at Frae
So, unlike the original recipe from the Silver Palette cookbook, we’ve prepared ours as chicken cooked over the charcoal BBQ and served with the accompaniments suspended in the sauce.
12 chicken thighs, skin on
olive brine reserved from gordal green olives
2 tablespoons aged malt vinegar
small bunch thyme
1 head crushed garlic
4 bay leaves
250ml (9fl oz) white wine
splash of Madeira
1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) good quality chicken stock
gordal green olives, torn in half
25g (1oz) capers
pitted prunes, roughly chopped
knob of butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper
marinate the chicken thighs in the gordal olive brine, aged vinegar, thyme and garlic
overnight, but a few hours will suffice.
For the sauce, add a splash of oil to your saucepan and gently cook the shallots until translucent, no colour. Add bay leaves, then deglaze with the wine and Madeira. Add chicken stock and gently reduce to a consistency where the sauce just coats the back of a spoon then set aside.
The chicken is best cooked slowly over charcoal allowing the skin to render and become crisp without burning, intermittently brushing the flesh side with the reserved marinade. If the BBQ isn’t an option, good results can be achieved cooking the chicken on a wire rack under a medium grill.
As the chicken is resting, return the sauce to a low heat and add the olives, capers and prunes, allow to soften in the sauce for a few minutes then add the butter and parsley and stir until evenly incorporated. Adjust seasoning with salt pepper and a little aged vinegar as necessary.
Season and divide the chicken evenly between warmed serving plates, and spoon the sauce over the top.
Blood Orange Upside Down Cake, Armagnac Syrup from Shaun Tinman at Frae
You’ll need to be fast, blood oranges are just coming to the end of the season.
6 blood oranges
225g (8oz) of caster sugar
15g (generous 1/2oz) of butter
150ml (5fl oz) of whipping cream
150ml (5fl oz) blood orange juice
80ml (scant 3 1/4fl oz) of Armagnac
150g (5oz) butter
150g (5oz) demerara sugar
150g (5oz) self-raising flour
vanilla ice-cream and chopped toasted hazelnuts to serve
Peel and segment the blood oranges, juicing the excess.
For the caramel sauce, gently cook the sugar in a saucepan until it has fully dissolved and turned a medium caramel colour. Add the butter, followed by the cream and juice. Keep over a medium heat and stir gently until it comes together. Reduce until the consistency of the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add the Armagnac.
For the cake mixture, cream the butter and sugar together, beat the eggs in one by one and fold in the flour. Transfer mixture to a piping bag.
Lightly butter dariole moulds, then add 1cm (1/2 inch) depth caramel to each, followed by a heaped tablespoon of the blood orange segment. Carefully pipe a 3cm (1 1/4 inch) layer of cake mixture into each dariole, covering the fruit below.
Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-25 minutes, rest for 5 minutes before carefully turning out. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, a drizzle of the remaining syrup and some chopped hazelnuts.
Fadge or Potato Bread
Go along to St. George’s Market on Friday, Saturday or Sunday for a Belfast Bap on potato bread – OMG…Lots of stalls sell fadge or potato bread. It can be cooked on a griddle, in a frying pan or in the oven.
900g (2lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg, preferably free range
25 – 50g (1 – 2oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
bacon fat, butter or olive oil for frying
Cook the potatoes in their jackets, pull off the skin and mash right away. Add the beaten egg, butter and flour. Season with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper, adding a few drops of creamy milk if the mixture is altogether too stiff. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shape into a 2.5cm (1 inch) thick round and then cut into eighths. Dip in seasoned flour. Bake in a moderate oven 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 for 15 – 20 minutes or alternatively cook on a griddle over an open fire or fry in bacon fat or melted butter on a gentle heat. When the fadge is crusty and golden on one side, flip over and cook on the other side (4 – 5 minutes approx. each side). Serve with an Ulster fry or just on its own on hot plates with a blob of butter melting on top.
Once again, one can do lots of riffs on potato bread. Add chopped chives, wild garlic, thyme leaves, seaweed…