1. Cooper’s Deli
Fiona serves one of the best cups of tea I’ve ever had (big statement) in Royal Albert fine bone china cups. Along with this comes little hot toddy scones, drunken jam and cream as well as Broughgammon Farm goat bacon on bite sized slices of baguette. The gorgeous food is accompanied by stories of three generations of coopers at the Bushmills Distillery (her father, brother and nephew).
2. Glass’s Fruit Shop
This fruit and vegetable shop has been here for generations and showcases produce sourced fresh from Magilligan each morning, local jams and chutneys and, of course, soup veg and potatoes. Irish Feast guests learn what ‘soup veg’ is and experience stone dried dulse in season - an old fashioned food rediscovered as a modern super-food.
3. The River Bush
The river Bush has spawned mills and salmon and viking raids and leisurely Saturday fishing for over 1000 years. Salmon still spawn up river in Armoy each year and run in spring. There’s a bridge which was donated to the village by Diageo on the 400th anniversary of the license to distill whiskey in Bushmills. Standing here is one of the prettiest views in a very pretty village - we sometimes still see salmon leap whilst crossing it.
4. The best picnic sandwich ever.
Part of the Bushmills Food Tour has to be salmon. At picnic benches looking back towards the internationally important salmon research station, we eat North Coast Smokehouse hot roasted smoked salmon on locally baked wheaten bread, flavoured with Broighter Gold rapeseed oil and The Woman Next Door’s beetroot and dill chutney. A taste bud tantalising mouthful of deliciousness.
5. Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery
A whiskey connoisseur talking you through a glass of unique, 12 year old whiskey only available here, at the distillery. I don’t think I need to say more...
6. Tartine at the Distillers’ Arms
Gary Stewart is the current holder of the best Ulster Chowder as well as Chef of the Year. He serves us a treat to the senses - sometimes its a sweet, sometimes its a savoury dish. Always it is amazing. It is hard to leave this beautifully designed and luxuriously decorated restaurant but we’re only at number six on our list, so onwards we go!
7. The Cod’s Way
Geoffrey McKillop uses the freshest, flouriest potatoes and cooks them three times to get crispy, fluffy chips that, no matter how full you are, you just HAVE to douse in salt and vinegar and inhale. Who could resist?! To add to this most traditional of treats, there’s honey and whiskey sausages from Mark Kane’s butchers - absolutely delicious.
8.The French Rooms
Stella Bolton is an excellent cook and a superb patisserie chef. The little trays of perfect sweet bites, decorated with edible flowers and tendrils, are irresistible. Served with a cafetiere of fantastic, fresh coffee, it’s a feast for the senses - sight, sound, smells.
9.The Bushmills Inn
There’s a secret library here and soft sofas you can sink into. Your Irish Feast guide leaves you here in the friendly, efficient hands of the waiting staff, with the words ‘espresso martini’ floating through your minds.
Are you convinced of the foodie fabulousness that is the Bushmills Food Tour? Do you want to experience this for yourself? And not once do we mention the Giant’s Causeway! Oh, OK, just the once, maybe...
Come and join us! Because...
10. We're very good at what we do! Cheers!
The Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust along with the Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership have long been proponents of ‘local’, ‘traditional’ and ‘sustainable’. One of their most recent projects has been the Artisan Connect Programme which was aimed at creating and strengthening the links between artisans and local retail and hospitality outlets. The project manager, Melanie Brown, is one half of the North Coast Smokehouse and so knows the necessity of creating those links as well as the difficulties in doing so.
The work of the project over the last few months culminated in a Trade Craft fair at the Marine Hotel on Monday 26th from 6 -9pm. There were almost 30 food and craft artisans who were meeting over 66 local business customers from all over the Causeway Coastal Route from Larne to Limavady and from B&B’s, to shops, to hotels. It was an excellent turn out and the buzz generated was electric. I was there as part of the Glens of Antrims tourism group who were having their monthly meeting at the Marine that evening, held to coincide with the Artisan Connect programme. This was an inspired idea as it brought together many tourism facing businesses with these local foods and crafts – there were many excited conversations started as people discovered new foods or crafts right on their doorstep.
What are the benefits of working with local food and craft producers? Many and varied – from trust in the provenance, to faith in the quality, to creating interesting stories for your guests, to incubating a thriving local economy which is cost effective and diverse. The food producers were as varied as Broughgammon Farm goat to The Woman Next Door’s chutneys, from Amazin’ Grazin’ breads to Granny Shaw’s fudge (and too many more to mention – we do good food here in the Causeway Coast and Glens!); and crafts people including Taisie Turning and their Dark Hedges and Bushmills Distillery range, from Meltz candles to Artisan glass, from jewellery to soap. This diversity of product means that visitors experience such an amazing, interesting, fabulous place to visit.
As an example of the connections created, Roseanne Cecil from Blackthorn and Willow, a delicatessen and craft shop in Glenarm, found a supplier of gluten free bread mixes which will compliment her own bread making workshops perfectly. She was also keen on finding locally sourced and produced bread boards and cheese platters.
Sharon Schindler from Shola B&B explained that ‘they do 4 simple dishes, extremely well’. It’s why they use an award winning local butchers and were interested in meeting Niall Delargy from Glenballyeamon Eggs as well as others. (Perhaps that’s also why they’re a 5* B&B?)
The National Trust were also there, and Bob Kane, the Giant’s Causeway Shop manager explained that they were keen to introduce even more local suppliers into their current range which is so popular with visitors.
All of this means that this area thrives and grows, taking traditions into the future and giving employment to many.
Thank you to all concerned for a great evening and an even better future.
To find some gems for yourself, visit the Naturally North Coast and Glens Markets held regularly across the borough. (See below)
In my quest to find and hear local food stories to enhance all that we do in Irish Feast food tours, I stopped off at Betty’s house (she wants to be anonymous so I’ll use ‘Betty’) to talk about seaweed and her experience of it growing up. She’s ‘from the shore’ and so knows about these things - I’m from the Glens and fish came from rivers or the fish man’s van on a Friday. Or occasionally Ballintoy Harbour if Dad got ‘red up’ (finished) early. Why the people of Dunluce, Dunseverick and Port Bradden should be ‘from the Shore’ rather than any other dwellers near the sea round here, lord alone knows. That’s just how it is.
(The silver spoon pictured is a treasured heirloom with salmon and a local boat (a 'drontheim') smithed into it.)
Betty invited me in to her perfect house - so clean, neat, tidy and yet so very welcoming and artistic. I may have a slight girl crush, if I’m totally honest.
We talked of carrageen moss - how it was picked, and where and the puddings they made from it. Here’s a link to a version that sounds like Betty’s - Rachel Allen's Carrageen Moss Pudding
We talked about dulse and how, in local lore, it tasted better if dried in the place it had been picked. Sounds possible, but could also have been a way for the shore people to keep as much of the dulse industry to themselves as possible! They’re a very sensible, hard headed people, the people from the shore.
We talked of sloke (sloak?) which was cooked in butter and turned bright green; of mealie crushie which was pin meal cooked in bacon fat and fast boiled ‘leap’ whelks added at the last minute. Something like couscous, she reckons, but sounds an awful lot tastier to me!
This led to talking about salmon (Port Bradden is Port of the Salmon) which, she said, was the traditional meal on 12th July. It was started about midday - covered in cold water with a bunch of parsley, some celery and leeks (grown in her garden of course), brought to the boil, then turned off and allowed to cool until 5pm, when they’d eat it with baby boiled potatoes, home made mayonnaise and tartar sauces. Her cooking philosophy is ‘If people don’t die, I make it again’. Blatantly never going to happen - she’s a fabulous cook but I might just steal the line for my own style of ‘cuisine’!
At this point, Betty asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Now, I knew that this was never going to be ‘a cup in my hand’ but a proper tea with scones etc. but even so, when she asked if I fancied a bowl of soup, too, I answered, ‘ach, maybe just a wee one’. Greed, sheer greed. Did I mention how good a cook Betty is?
Well, the soup was a gorgeous, filling vegetable soup - far better then I make. Full of soft pulses and bright vegetables, smelling amazing, tasting even better. And the ‘cup of tea’ afterwards..!! Oh my. Look at the photo! She can bake even better than she can cook. I recommend making friends with Irish women like Betty - they don’t cook ‘fancy’ but my lord they cook GOOD! A real Irish Feast!
Recently I met with Ross Parkhill and John Cartwright. Who? These gorgeous young men started and now run and plan to grow the Stendhal Festival of Arts. I was interested in their food offering as I’d heard good things about their street food last year and was keen to know if they intended growing this element of the festival or if that was just a lucky accident.
(I’m a fan of festivals – see previous blog about Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival here.)
In their own words John and Ross explained ‘Stendhal, established in 2011, has grown from strength to strength each year since it began and has witnessed a celebrated mix of a who’s who of international and local talent and a plethora of undiscovered gems adorn our 8 stages over the years.'
What I was fascinated to hear was why they called it the Stendhal festival rather then Ballymullan Farm Festival or Limavady Fest etc. Well, there’s a syndrome, you see, named after a French artist to who first articulated what he felt when seeing art that moved him. From Wikipedia ‘Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.’ Wow.
This is what Ross experienced when he first went to Glastonbury and then other festivals over the years. Then someone, almost flippantly, suggested that they run a festival here, in Limavady, and a light went on. He and John became passionate about ensuring everyone had a Stendhal moment and that they WOULD hold a festival in Limavady - the Stendhal Festival of Art.
As for the food element and the good things I’d heard? Their aim is to provide good quality, locally sourced, exciting food with 15 to 20 stalls/caravans/pop ups from everywhere doing just this. They’re determined to ensure no pollution so ‘biodegradable’ is built into their tendering process - no plastic! They also want each provider to offer (at least) 1 family meal deal, and one vegetarian meal option. Next year they’ll reach for more family friendly provision and vegan options. No accident, then.
They aim to make the Stendhal Festival completely self-sustainable economically, to grow into a co-operative ownership and, by 2022, be an ‘arts council’ themselves - funding, mentoring and promoting art in around Limavady....oh, OK....and all over Northern Ireland. They are men with a plan.
As someone who LOVES food, I can only applaud their aim to include good quality, exciting food as everything begins with being well fed - even a ‘chippy’ if done well can provide good, tasty food like lobster rolls, and honey and whiskey sausages. If the culture of ‘mobile’ food offerings in Northern Ireland grows at the rate it has been, there will be everything from fried cheese sandwiches to buddha bowls, from lemonade and brewed beverages to top notch tea and coffee, from hog roasts to ice cream, from Irish to Indian via Vietnamese and South American. Maybe one day there could be 5* dining pop ups interpreting the art of the festival for our delectation. Everyone deserves to eat well and at a price they can afford as well as being inspired by the food on offer.
I was inspired by them and think they’re amazing blokes - I hope they find time to have more coffee with me over the years.
This time last year, there was the Ballycastle Food Tour, a wee AirBnB and a couple of walks at/around Carrick-a-Rede and a ‘business’ called North Coast Walking Tours. It took a fantastic, inspiring course from Tourism NI delivered by Kate Taylor to make me see that I didn’t have a business - I was in a badly paid, self employed job. Despair.
Except that, through this course, regular networking and collaboration, thinking and acting, Irish Feast was born. ‘Irish’ had to be in the title as I wanted to appeal to an International market which wouldn’t ‘get’ ‘North Coast’ (I still have a lot of followers from Australia and Mendocino!); wouldn’t find me with ‘Giant’s Causeway’ or any variation of that; and would wonder about ‘Ulster’ or ‘Dalriada’ etc. Also because (deep breath), I now have dreams of providing fabulous, fun food tours in towns and villages across not only the Causeway Coastal Route but the whole of Ireland. There, I said it. I am a woman with ambitions.
'Feast’ came from my very erudite, word driven sister - Food Experiences And Small Towns - geddit?! I am also a woman with a bad sense of humour.
So, although I still guide for others and have a wee B&B, the guiding is for pleasure and the B&B will decline as Irish Feast grows and the working with local festivals will be a larger part of Irish Feast’s repertoire.
So, what else? The Ballycastle Food Tour grows and is now mentioned in the Lonely Planet guides as proof that Ballycastle is a 'foodie destination'. Woo hoo!
And, the portfolio of food tours has grown.
The Bushmills Food Tour was walked out, scripted and agreed by Easter 2017 and a gaggle of trusted return customers enlisted to give me feedback and ideas. This is a wonderful tour and I’m glad that my idea was right - every town or village with a decent food scene will have pride in their place and offer and welcome guests with open arms. I’ll give you more information on this tour in a future blog.
The Rathlin Food Tour, having been created for the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival in 2016, continues to grow in demand. I’m so pleased to be working with a really great bunch of people on the island. There’s a couple of reviews that bloggers and guests have done - have a look on the website!
As I can’t be in two (or three) places at once, I’ve worked with local guides who are now delivering tours for Irish Feast. You’ll not be surprised to know they’re even better than I am!! (Grrr...) I am looking forward to bringing more on board in 2018 to deliver the new tours being planned.
I am a woman with hope and determination and the ingredients for a very good food tourism company. #BringItOn2018
As we specialise in food experiences in local towns and villages. I want to persuade you to try a local food tour in Northern Ireland (NI), just for the fun of it.
There are nearly seventeen food based tours registered with DiscoverNI (and What’s On NI) - there has to be a reason for that, right? There most certainly is. Our food and our chefs and bakers are among the best in the world right now - from old fashioned scones and whiskeys, to modern free range charcuterie and artisan bread, from grass fed beef to Lough Neagh eels and Gleanarm Organic Salmon, from freshly griddled soda bread to award winning cheeses, gins, beers, preserves... I could keep going, you know. Any local market you go to (and there are so many good ones here now) are bursting with fabulous ingredients. Every good restaurant you hear about has delicious dishes, amazing drinks. In such a burgeoning foodie world, where on earth do you begin? Especially if you’re not even sure you’re going to like half of it!
Well, that’s where food tours come in. For both locals looking to find new foods, different combinations, interesting eateries, or simply experience a really enjoyable morning with friends, as well as international visitors wondering what each area offers in the way of good food and where they should eat it, a food tour solves all those problems.
I host food tours in local towns and villages, currently Ballycastle, Bushmills and Rathlin Island with plans to expand into other towns as well as supper clubs to showcase passionate chefs, exciting food combinations and unusual venues. Each town in Northern Ireland has its own unique microcosm of food and drink, of eateries and culture as well as history and interesting architecture. It's only when you take the time to taste all of this, to savour the individuality, that you begin to really appreciate it. In Ballycastle its the fact that it’s an up and coming recognised foodie destination with an Économusée bake house, many award winning restaurants, bakeries, butcheries and chip shop as well as a gluten free hotel and an old fashioned sweetie shop - all wrapped up in thousands of years of history. In Bushmills, its the whiskey, salmon, mills, fine dining eateries and cosy cafes hidden amongst over 80 listed buildings in the shadow of the Giant’s Causeway. On Rathlin, it’s the scenery, beauty, lighthouses, wildlife and welcoming people along with many more good places to eat than people realise. Each village, town, area, county, region of Northern Ireland has awe inspiring views, amazing foods, inspirational eateries - we just have to be reminded now and again. Add in a knowledgeable, fun foodie guide and it becomes a winning combination for a memory making experience you’ll never forget. Have I persuaded you to join your local food tour yet..?
We recently had coffee (and perhaps some cake, I couldn’t possibly comment) with the lovely Isabella from Glens of Antrim Craft Ales and Beers, based at Murlough near Torr Head. We were on the hunt for ale for the Feast of the Earls because what is a feast without ale?!
Rathlin Red is already a part of the Ballycastle and Rathlin Food Tours; Isabella and I did our OCN Level 2 in Social Media together at NRC’s Limavady site and, as the Feast of the Earls celebrates the history of Bonamargy Friary and Sorley Boy McDonnell, we were hoping to persuade them to supply us with a respectable quantity of ale to wash down our food. Feasts need ale!
Lacada Brewery, by the way, also make fabulous ales and beers, and are hosting a Beer Festival in Portrush on the .... of October and will feature a vast array of wonderful, local, sustainable, delicious ales and beers as well as some excellent food. Well worth a visit!
The McCarry’s make their brews in small batches taking 1 day to brew, 7 days to ferment and then they bottle. The fermentation time is dependent on the atmospheric pressure, the yeast, the water, the grains...all of this needs watching and thinking about. There are no extracts, no carbon dioxide, it’s not pasturised nor filtered. Unlike other breweries, The Glens of Antrim bottle all their ales and beers on site (as do Lacada) Their output is created to match their tastes and to go with the local foods which is why, having bought a filtration unit, they didn’t continue using it. They both thought the finished product was bland and tasteless - not something they’d want to put their name to.
With this much attention to detail, along with the constant feedback from tour guests about how good the ale is, we really, really wanted Pat and Isabella’s output. Thankfully we all agreed that the Feast of the Earls couldn’t have gone ahead without a few cases of this iconic ale as well as some Lizzie’s Ale and a couple of bottles of Fairhead Gold, so we’re all set to have a rollicking time at the Feast, just as Sorley Boy and his clan would have done!
Last night I went to a supper club in Ursa Minor Bakehouse in Ballycastle - a combination of wanting to support Dara and Ciara as they have supported me over the last year, of wanting to try the Levantine foods they were promising and of wanting to have a change of routine for a Saturday night.
I’ve known Dara and Ciara for many years now, having first met them when we worked together at Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge. I asked them to be part of a Ballycastle Food Tour because I loved their bread and thought that the patisserie would be a lovely bite with which to finish. Now that they’re an Économusée partner, a renowned Bakehouse and a real food hero, I’m so glad they continue to showcase Ballycastle’s food, allowing us into their bakery and explaining their ethos and the reasoning behind their venture.
Supper clubs are an up and coming part of the food culture here - pop up restaurants showcasing amazing chefs, particular foods, unusual venues. I love supper clubs and not only go to many, I intend to develop a regular monthly supper club offering starting this Autumn (more on that later!). Suppers range in price from £20 to £50 to over £100 depending on what is being showcased and where.
I’ve been interested in food and history for some time now as well as ‘gut health’. In generations gone by we actually ate a wider variety of foodstuffs, thereby getting a wider variety of nutrients and vitamins on a regular basis. Although we can no longer forage exclusively due to population growth and lack of truly wild reserves (people look at you funny if you start wandering round their garden picking stuff...), we can still eat a more interesting diet and include foodstuffs such as fermented foods, pickled foods as well as many more herbs and spices than I grew up with. Many cultures still do e.g. Japan, Scandinavia, as well as the middle and far East, including India. I’m listening to a serious of lectures by Ken Albala and it’s fascinating how our food came to be ‘our food’. (Link to the Great Courses on www.audible.com if you want to listen to this, too.)
So, when I saw the little poster in Ursa Minor’s window about a Persian vegetarian supper club - that had to happen, right?! It gave me a chance to taste many of the 'super' foods I wanted to try with out having to travel to get them or figure out a recipe (#Idon’tcookoften) - here are some pictures of the evening. Stephen wanted to know where the steak was hidden in the menu.
End result? He was pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed so much of it, and I have discovered I love spiced carrot salad as well as fatet batinjan. I already knew I could eat my body weight in hummus and madeleines! This was delicious, healthy, nutritious, colourful, flavourful food - now I just have to learn how to cook it myself...
Try a supper club yourself, bet you’ll be delighted, too!
The Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival takes place at the end of May/beginning of June each year and is growing from strength to strength. The activities to do, the history to find out about, the fun to take part in - its just amazing. This word is overused, sometimes, but in this context is completely correct - I’m amazed at the community spirit that works for months to bring it together, I’m amazed at the pride of place in Ballycastle and Rathlin Island that is on display throughout the festival and I’m amazed at the raft of delights on both sides of the sound as well as the encouragement offered to make us look towards the water as a connecting factor not a barrier. David Quninny Mee did more than most by helping not only organise the festival but row a curragh from Rathlin to Ballycastle to launch the festival! On a side note, I met one of the other rowers - Ruairidh Morrison of the North Coast Smokehouse - at a Taste of the Causeway Coast and Glens celebration that evening and you’d never have known the man had risked life and limb on the Atlantic Ocean to reach the party! Respect to them all!
My own festival was, as you might imagine, very foodie orientated. I compered at the Saturday and Sunday cookery demos and was blown away by the calibre and quality of the chefs and their food. Here is a link to one of the demos I really enjoyed: Oliver Molloy - son of Peter Molloy one of the main organisers. A delight to meet and watch cook. I learnt a lot and so did others who watched the banter. Hope he comes back to Ballycastle for good one day.
The other chefs were Alastair Crown from Corndale Farm Chorizo, Tony Rodgers from Tony’s Griddle Goods and Cara O’Donovan from The Portrush Deli Company.
An important foodie element this year was the Ulster Chowder Cook-off. Pol Shields from Upstairs at Joe’s won last year and represented us beautifully in Kinsale in April at the All Ireland final. This year’s worthy winner was Gary Stewart from Tartine at the Distiller’s Arms with Darren Benham of the Bushmills Inn a very close second. Can’t wait for the Bushmills Salmon and Whiskey Festival to try all their food!
Why not have a scroll through the Festival’s Facebook page, have a laugh at the videos, see if you can see yourself in the photo montage and promise me you’ll be here next year having fun with us. Dare you to enter the Sandcastle Competition!! See you there!
15 Reasons to do a Ballycastle Food Tour
1. It’s the best place to live in Northern Ireland for the second year in a row. Of course. Sunday Times' article:
2. It’s at the heart of the stunningly beautiful Causeway Coastal Route.
3. The food and drink offering in Ballycastle is exceptional, wide ranging (herbs, to beef, to fish, to lobster, to seaweed, to goat!) and award winning.
4. Our stops are so exceptional, they’re on the Economusee Route. - a worldwide celebration of local artisans.
5. Walking is good for the body and the soul.
6. Food Tours are a great way to immerse yourself in a new place (whether you’re on holiday or moved there or just out for the day!)
7. Food Tours are fun!
8. Irish Feast’s Ballycastle Food Tour is #3 tour within the Causeway Coast and Glens.
9. Local guides do it better! And we can guide you on etiquette (NEVER offer someone just a cup of tea - you have to provide food with it), on the local lingo
10.There are so many things to see and do, you need to build yourself up first.
12. Ballycastle is outstandingly, stunningly beautiful.
13. Ballycastle is a small, perfectly formed town, easy to walk around
14. Ballycastle is rich in history and culture.
15. And, finally, I'm good at what I do!