This is my first trip to Northern Ireland but am fairly sure it won’t be my last! I’m here on a short four day press trip with a busy itinerary with a heavy focus on food and drink. As an added bonus there’s even a bit of time to explore Belfast and the surrounding countryside. And, as you might expect there’s plenty of opportunity to eat and drink some of the fabulous locally produced produce. We even managed to fit in a Specialty Coffee tour!
Visit Northern Ireland and you are in for a culinary treat! The majority of the food that we tasted on the trip was locally produced and you’ll be pleased to hear that you can get hold of some of it here in Dubai too! Over 70% of Northern Irish produce is exported outside of Northern Ireland and here in Dubai you can find it in some of our supermarkets and restaurants. If you visit, you’ll also no doubt bring some back with you too!
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland located on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Ireland. The City Centre is relatively easy to navigate on foot and there are plenty of tours which you can book as well both central to Belfast and further afield.
We didn’t have too much time to explore but managed to fit in a few activities :
Titanic Exhibition – A multimedia exhibition and museum all about the worlds most famous ocean liner – The Titanic. An interesting and thought provoking tour.
Black Taxi Tour – Billy Scott (our driver and guide) – a fun, intresting and thought provoking tour around Belfast in a Black Taxi. The driver takes the role as a guide and takes you through the sites and history of Belfast with time to stop and explore on foot too.
Belfast Coffee Tour walking tour of some of Befast’s Specialty Coffee places, read more in my separate post – coming soon!.
One of my favorite ways to explore is on foot, there’s plenty to see including some fantastic graffiti/wall art, old bookshops, botanical gardens and coffee shops (of course!). The Cathedral Quarter is particular interesting and whilst out and about we stumbled upon a brand new shop specialising in whisky, the oldest building in Belfast – with a pub garden (The Onion) as well as a shop specialising only in doughnuts and coffee! – Oh Donuts (actually we didn’t stumble on this one, we followed a tip and swopped a hotel breakfast for doughnuts and coffee!
Game of Thrones fans will be pleased to hear that there are 25 Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland that are accessible to the public and visitors can choose from a range of guided location tours
The term ‘spoilt for choice’ springs to mind here. With award winning, locally sourced, seasonal produce to choose from, we ate some really good food on our trip. Here’s where we dined during our short trip.
The Muddlers Club is in the Cathedral Quarter and is named after a secret society who used to meet there over 200 years ago. The focus is on home grown produce selected daily by Head Chef and ower Gareth McCaughey. We dined A La Carte, but there is also an option to have the five course Tasting Menu with optional wine pairing (with vegan and vegetarian options)
An award winning restaurant, headed up by Chef and restaurateur, Niall McKenna. Centrally located in the Cathedral Quarter Haskis focusses on using seasonal local produce in a casual setting. We dined at the pass with Niall sending us out a whole range of dishes to showcase some of the best of local produce and drinks. Other restaurants in the group include : James Street South, the Bar + Grill, James Street South Cookery School and Cast & Crew.
A casual restaurant with a sharing themed menu serving contemporary European dishes. We popped in for a hearty last lunch.
A traditional Northern Ireland Pub Experience at one of Belfast’s best known pubs, with an elaborate interior including stained glass windows and private snugs, it’s a perfect place for a night cap or pint of Guiness. Due to it’s heritage the Crown has listed Building status.
On our Travels
Set beside the habour and with views of the Mourne mountains, Harbour Inn specialises in seafood and steak including organic and free range products. Ingredients are sourced from the harbour and local farmers/butchers. We were treated to a specially curated lunch by Chef & proprietor: Trevor Orr who served up oysters and seafood from Rooney Fish who we had visited earlier that morning making it extra special.
Lough Erne – The Catalina Restaurant
A three rosette star restaurant with a focus on prime Irish meat and fresh seafood showcasing modern Irish cusine using the best local seasonal ingredients..
We were treated to a special dinner prepared by Executive Head Chef Noel McMeel using products from some award winning local produce including, Kilkeel Crab, Ballycastle Scallop and Armagh Apples, plus Beef from Kettyle Beef who we visited during the trip.
The food may look good but it has to taste 3 x better than it looks – Noel McMeel
We stayed at three hotels during the trip, although we didn’t really stay in any of the hotels long enough to do them justice for a full review.
Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle, County Down
Highlight : 5* Luxurious victorian hotel in County Down, overlooking the Irish Sea coast. 30 miles south of Belfast. Modern spa, indoor pool and gym etc. Gorgeous breakfast full of local produce.
Highlights : 5* *Luxurious hotel in Enniskillen with views of Lakelands and the Faldo Golf Course. Modern Thai spa, Thermal Suite and Infinity pool. Gorgous breakfast with local produce. Food by acclaimed Chef Noel McMeel featuring the best of local produce (we dined in the 3AA rosette Catalina Restaurant). (90 minutes drive to Belfast airports)
Europa Hotel – Belfast
Highlights : 4* Centrally located with a prime location for visiting some of the main tourist attractions. Feels a little tired and for corporate travelers, and in need of a refurbishment, local produce for breakfast but not executed as well as the other hotels above but a good location is a win.
We took a quick walk around the newly opened Titanic Hotel which is opposite the Titanic Exhibition. This is a boutique hotel which was originally the headquarters for Harland & Woolff (designers of the Titanic) and the Drawing Offices which are now a restaurant/bar. It’s been beautifully converted in an art deco style and has retained a sense of history but with modern touches
Northern Ireland as a Culinary Destination
Just a quick warning, if you visit Northern Ireland, take a spare bag and make sure you have some luggage allowance to bring back a haul of goodies. I stopped off in the UK before heading back to Dubai so was able to take back some treats for family, friends and me! I would have taken more if only I had more space!
We didn’t have a lot of spare time for shopping, but we did managed to find a few places with some fabulous food products (and more).
Made in Mourne – a non-profit social enterprise based in the heart of the Mournes and close to Kilkeel Harbour. An intresting place to shop. Located on three floors the ground floor sells original gifts, artisanal food and home decor, the second hosts a space for freelancers and SME’s to work, plus an honesty coffee bar as well as meeting rooms. The third floor offers space for photographers, artists and filmkers in small studio’s. Made in Mourne provides a fresh and stimulating environment to support and celebrate talented local creatives and showcase their work and is a perfect place to pop in and buy some gifts.
Sawers in Belfast– Take a big bag, your wallet and be prepared for a wander! Sawers is Northern Ireland’s oldest deli and is described as “an Aladdin’s cave of culinary delights”. There’s plenty of choice including seafood, olives, cheese, charcuteir, cooked meats, pastries, local produce, game, preserves, tea, and coffee along with produce from many local artisans. I could have stayed in the shop for a long time browsing and buying the produce available.
Farm Shops & Local Produce
Aside from that, there were a lot of farm shops both out on the road at actual farms, and smaller farm shops on the high street with a fantastic selection of fresh, local, Northern Ireland produce. If I visit again, I would be very tempted to rent a cottage and to self cater which would give the opportunity to do some cooking with some of the fantastic produce on offer, not to mention the lovely fish shop set up by SeaWhere we dined.
In My Suitcase
So much to see, so much to eat! These are some of the goodies that made it into my suitcase.
- Made in Mourne ~ a gift box with a selection of food items including suki tea bags, wheaten bread, Dark Chocolate, Pear, Mango & Ale Chutney, plus some smoked sea salt and a few tablets of Melting Pot Fudge
- Sawers ~ Sawers Wheaten Toasts, Sawers Mango Chilli & Lime Chutney plus bacon from O’Doherty’s
- Abernethy Butter ~ Smoked Butter and Dulse Butter (Dulse is a seaweeed)
- Irish Black Butter ~ a jar of Irish Black Butter
- Forest Feast ~ A selection of snack bars and fruit and nut snack packs.
- Tayto ~ a selection of gourmet Tayto chips
- Suki Tea ~ Belfast Brew, Pyramid Bags from Made in Mourne & a selection of loose leaf and fruit tea – red berry & apples loves mint were favourites from Suki Tea
- Thompsons’s Tea – A tin of Thompsons Signature Blend
- O’Doherty’s ~ Nitrate Free Black Bacon, Fermanagh Black & White Pudding – picked up at Sawers
- Long Meadown Cider – Bottle of apple cider vinegar and a bottle of medium dry cider
Attractions for Foodies
There’s lots to see and do, here are some of the highlights:
- Shop for artisinal and local products ~ St George’s Market.
- Eat and shop for artisanal chocolate at Co Couture.
- Learn to Cook at the **Belfast Cookery School** Tour
- Taste Candy at **Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory
- Tour and Taste craft beer at **Hilden Brewery
- Tour and Taste the oldest working distillery in Ireland Old Bushmills Distillery
- Snack on Tayto crisps at the Tayto Factory Tour
- Tour a whiskey, gin and poteen distillery at Echlinville Distillery
- Explore the Loch Erne Food Trail by Water Taxi.
- Check out the craft beer scene at Walled City Brewery
- Cook with Noraha Rick Stein ‘food hero’ in her kitchen.
Experiences for Food Lovers
Food & Drink Festivals
There’s plenty going on across the year for lovers of good food and drink.
TRAVEL TO BELFAST
There are no direct flights from Dubai or the UAE to Belfast. Instead you need to fly via Europe (I flew via Heathrow). Arrival is via one of two airports – George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport.
- The George Best City Airport is just 5 kilometres from Belfast City Centre and receives flights from Aer Lingus, Air Iceland Connect, British Airways, Flybe, KLM and Loganair.
- Belfast International Airport is 21 kilometres from Belfast city Centre and receives flights from Easy Jet, Jet2, Luxair, Ryan Air, Thomas Cook Airlines, TUI Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air.
- From Dubai : depends on your flight to Europe – typically 7 hours
- From London Heathrow to City Airport : 1 hour twenty, plus a few hours minimum for transfer.
- Minus 3 or 4 hours difference depending on GMT
With a minimum temperature of 3C during the winter (but it feels colder) and a maximum of 18C in the summer – take some warm clothing with you also take rain gear as there is a more than 50% chance of rain throughout the year – on the plus side the rain is what makes Northern Ireland look so green and lush and makes the food taste so good!
It’s fairly easy to navigate around Belfast on foot using your phone and google maps. In addition there are plenty of tours that you can book ranging from foot tours, black cab tours, boat tours and larger coach city and destination tours. Taxis are pretty plentiful but you can’t hail them in the streets, they should be booked. There are also hop on hop off tourist buses doing city tours
For More Information on Northern Irish Food and Drink check out :