13
May 15

A foodie guide to Dublin

31

Number 31

I recently paid a short visit to Dublin to check out the ever-changing food scene. Dublin is such a wonderful city to visit; either for a weekend mini-break or for a longer stay. It is a city that offers something for everyone, young or old, whether you’re interested in culture, history, or just a fun time.

The Irish food scene has been growing exponentially over the last decade, with a reputation for superb quality produce and a growing desire to celebrate the best of Irish cooking, translating it for a modern, International audience.

Always in search of interesting and exceptionally good places to stay and eat when away from home, and keen to get away from big chains, I set about visiting the most exciting independent establishments in Dublin right now.

Where to stay

My base for this trip was Number 31, situated south of St Stephen’s Green, which is one of the most frequented areas of the city centre. Describing itself as a boutique guesthouse, Number 31 offers all the luxury and service you’d expect in a top hotel, but with the peace, quiet and hospitality you’d expect in the very best bed and breakfast establishment.

Two elegant buildings are cleverly fused together to form this elegant city centre retreat; a Georgian townhouse and a most interesting Modernist mews designed by notable Irish architect, Sam Stephenson. Connected by a lovely, private garden and a most stylish central space featuring a sunken lounge and mezzanine breakfast room, it is certainly a characterful retreat.

The welcome could not have been warmer, and gave me time to relax with an excellent cup of coffee and some homemade biscuits after a long journey. Once shown to my room, I was given a key as guests are free to come and go as they please, adding to the relaxed atmosphere. Rooms are spacious and decorated in the same super-stylish décor as the rest of the property. Beds are wonderfully comfortable, the sheets are top quality and the bathrooms are deeply luxurious making it the private and relaxing space I needed for my trip.

Breakfast is taken in the mezzanine area in the main building. The choice is superb, including homemade muesli, fresh natural yoghurt, and a gorgeous rhubarb and strawberry compote. Everything here is homemade and done really, really well. There is a wide and tempting choice of cooked breakfasts, excellent coffee and of course, delicious homemade soda bread and cake. It really is a veritable feast to start the day off well.

It is worth mentioning just how delightful all the staff who were I met whilst staying. From the owners, to the young man who helped me with my cases, to the girl who served me at breakfast. They were all brilliant. It’s no wonder Number 31 is a secret Dublin bolt hole to so many famous faces. A stay here was a faultless experience and I’m looking forward to returning already.

Where to eat

The most exciting opening of late, in my opinion, in Dublin is The Fumbally. Its creation is the culmination of four years of cooking and experimentation before launching, and the food is just brilliant. Open for breakfast and lunch every day, offering an enticing blend of Middle Eastern spices, Mediterranean and Irish ingredients, I found it is one of those rare and wonderful places to eat where just everything is excellent. Go, as soon as you can.

If you are looking for a lovely place to buy lunch or coffee in central Dublin, I highly recommend Emer’s Kitchen. It hasn’t been open for long, and Emer herself is in there every day serving here loyal customers. It’s a cool new café and deli, again situated just off the Southeastern corner of St. Stephen’s Green. The coffee is excellent, the lunch menu is fresh, imaginative and prepared using well-sourced ingredients and the cake is divine. If I worked nearby, I’d be calling in everyday for my lunch. A takeaway lunch from here would make the perfect picnic to enjoy in a sunny spot in the square.

Ananda Indian restaurant in Dundrum is another exciting discovery. It is the leading Indian restaurant in Dublin and takes curry to another level. Every dish is beautifully presented, and executed with real skill by Executive Chef Sunil Ghal, and his team, who devised Ananda’s menu in partnership with Michelin-starred Indian chef Atul Kochhar.

Number 31, The Fumbally, Emer’s Kitchen and Ananda all offer a number of interesting options for dietary requirements.

What to do

Visitors to Dublin are spoilt for choice for things to see and do. Fortunately, the City Centre is quite compact, so it is very easy to cover ground on foot.

Culturally, there is much to do, from visiting Trinity College, the Irish Government buildings, the Castle and a huge variety of museums.

Those in search of fun will enjoy a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, and a drink and some music in the Temple Bar area, situated very near Trinity College.

For shopping, I think the best shop in Ireland, by far, is the Brown Thomas department store. Staggeringly elegant and jam-packed with carefully picked lines from clothing, to kitchen kit, wines and cookery books, it is the epitome of style from top to bottom. The Kilkenny shop is a very interesting place to explore Irish crafts and sells a lovely range of pottery and glassware.

Thank you to Number 31 for inviting me to stay.


08
Apr 15

A foodie minibreak to Belfast – Part Two

NIBelfast

This post charts my second visit to Belfast. This is a city that has rapidly become one of my very favourite UK cities, and I was thrilled to return at the end of last month. You can catch my first foodie guide to Belfast here.

NIOX

Where to eat 

The standout meal of our visit was, by far, Ox. This restaurant has a reputation as being the place to eat in Belfast and we looked forward to our lunch there for days. I had high expectations, and I have to say, this was one of the best meals I have had in a very long time. It exceeded my expectations in every way. This is a very cool restaurant with a pared back, modern interior and lovely views of the river from the front. Staff were fantastic, and we enjoyed the tasting menu with matched wines to get a flavour of the food. Every single mouthful was savoured and was deeply memorable. I love the natural ethos of the restaurant, with its focus on superb ingredients and skilled cooking, plus natural breads and wines. This is not a restaurant that focuses on formalities and stuffiness. It’s all about what’s on the plate and in your glass, which is right up my street.

First, we were served with some fantastic wine, a Terraprima Massis del Garraf 2012 and some slices of superb homemade sourdough bread. Gluten free bread is made especially for diners, which is a lovely touch.

We started with some pan fried Turbot with romaneso which was perfectly executed. A nice touch is that the chefs work from an open-plan kitchen, and the chef responsible for preparing your dish brings it over and tells you what it is.

This was followed by a sublime plate of Finnebrogue venison, served with fermented kohlrabhi, black garlic and mushrooms for a bargain price of £8.50. Next, was Châteaubriand with shallots, crosnes and horseradish, which was heavenly. We finished with a caramelized apple pudding, with treacle and fig leaf ice cream. Ox is everything I want from a restaurant, and I hope to return again soon. Exciting cooking, supremely good ingredients and flavours, exciting wines and good value. What more could you want?!

Seafood lovers will enjoy a visit to Mourne Seafood – a Belfast institution. Fresh, local seafood is served aplenty, washed down with a wide selection of wines in this casual, relaxed restaurant.

For a casual gluten free lunch in Belfast, the most surprising discovery was the Avoca café. For us, the formal café upstairs didn’t deliver, but the more informal self-service style café was actually very good. There was a huge range of scrumptious salads on offer, many of which were gluten free. This is good value, wholesome food at its best.

Next, where to drink. The bar at The Merchant Hotel is probably the most elegant spot in town to enjoy a cocktail. Although they’re not cheap, you get what you pay for in terms of ambience here. It really is full-on film set style glamour here, and is a really special way to spend an evening.

NISGM

Finally, where to shop. St George’s Market is a superb indoor food market selling all kinds of excellent meat, fish and vegetables, much of which is sourced locally. There are a huge number of food stalls there too, which are a very popular choice for a breakfast or lunch. Stop by on a Saturday late morning for some shopping, food and live music.

NIMural2

What to do

Belfast is famous for its Black Cab tours, and I took one by renowned Blue Badge guide Billy Scott, which was superb. Billy tailors each tour to your personal interests. He is both a fountain of knowledge and an absolute hoot. Interested in recent political history, Billy took me up to Stormont, and around some of the most significant and controversial locations in Belfast. It was truly an insight I would never have had without him. I highly recommend booking him.

NIDocks

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to Titanic Belfast. This is no museum; it is an experience, and a profound one at that. Beautifully presented, highly engaging and deeply moving – it should be another essential part of any visit to Belfast. Titanic Belfast is situated in the revitalized dockyard area of Belfast, famous for its ‘Samson and Goliath’ Harland and Wolff yellow shipbuilding gantry cranes which are a real Belfast landmark. The Titanic Studios, adjacent to Titanic Belfast are home to the Game of Thrones filming and offer regular studio tours.

Where to stay 

This time, we stayed at Malmaison in Belfast. It’s very centrally located, just five minutes from the main shopping area and Donegall Square. As you would expect from the Malmaison chain, this is quite a dark, funky, adult friendly hotel, which is famous for its glamorous cocktail bars and quirky buildings the hotels occupy. We really loved our Standard room at the hotel, which was very good value at around £100 per night for B&B for two adults. It felt really special and luxurious. What’s more, it was very wet and cold for one day of our visit, and it made a lovely base in the afternoon to retreat to, to warm up with a cup of tea and relax. Travelling is tiring! Breakfast at the hotel was good. It was very busy when we were staying, and we didn’t have the best experience service-wise, but the quality and choice of food is excellent, and I don’t feel our experiences are representative of the hotel overall.

Getting there

We flew from into Belfast City airport with Flybe, which run regular return services from a number of UK destinations. Our return flights from Southampton were around £150 each for a return Economy Class ticket.

Our car was hired from Enterprise in Belfast City Centre. They offer a free pick up and drop off service and deserve to be commended for their super friendly service. Car hire for over 25s for a small car is around £50 a day, and there is an option to add an additional no-claims waiver onto your rental charge, which we took.

Taxis to and from Belfast city centre to Belfast City George Best Airport are only around £7-10 a way if there is no traffic, and should take around 15 minutes. Belfast International airport is further away, around 30 minutes drive.

Thank you to Northern Ireland Tourist Board for inviting me over and making all arrangements for me


30
Mar 15

A foodie guide to Londonderry and County Antrim

 

NISPM

I recently hopped over to Northern Ireland, which is one of the most exciting places in the UK for food lovers at the moment. There are some seriously exciting things happening on the food scene there, and I have been keen to find out more for some time now.

There are a number of ways of getting to Northern Ireland – by plane to Belfast or Londonderry, or by ferry, to Larne, most likely. My first stop was Londonderry in the North West, situated on the River Foyle, and just 5 miles away from the border with County Donegall. The drive over from Belfast took around an hour and a half, up over the snow topped Sperrin mountains, which is a great drive.

Londonderry

Londonderry is a most interesting city. A walk around the city walls is an essential part of a visit, taking you high up around the city, able to take in panoramic views across both sides of the city.

The food scene is small in Londonderry, but there are some very good things going on here. I think the best lunch in town is from Pyke n Pommes, a food truck situated on the river Foyle, run by enthusiastic foodie Kevin Pyke. A converted truck is home to this small but thriving food business, where Kevin and his team cook a creative range of street food dishes, freshly made and served hot, with a smile, from the truck every day. What makes this particularly special is the sourcing of the ingredients used, with all produce coming from well-within a 15 mile radius, including locally reared Wagyu beef. We enjoyed a steaming hot lunch on a cold day of braised wagyu sirloin, served with perfectly cooked local vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes. Watch this space – this is an exciting year ahead for this small business.

Pyke & Pommes

For dinner, we visited Browns on the Waterside. There are a couple of Browns restaurants in Londonderry, which seems to be another thriving local business.

Browns was a brilliant choice for dinner. It is clearly a local favourite and it was packed out with people coming here for a special meal and having a great time with friends and family. It had such a jolly feel for a restaurant of its calibre, and it was a really great experience to visit a restaurant with such a warm and genuine celebratory feel. The food was excellent, with many ingredients locally sourced and beautifully cooked. Browns manages to fill a much-needed space – not fine dining but superb cooking, beautifully presented and served in a smart, but friendly and unintimidating environment for a fair price. Head Chef Ian Orr is a talented man, creating some seriously good, well-sourced dishes.

We stayed a couple of miles out of Londonderry at Beech Hill Country House Hotel which has hosted many world famous stars and politicians over the years. The hotel is very comfortable and the Reception staff are extremely helpful and friendly. The best tip for keen foodies is to skip breakfast and head into town. The Legenderry Warehouse No 1 is excellent, with local Bailies Coffee served, and a wide range of delicious locally sourced homemade treats for breakfast. It’s a really good find.

Londonderry is a great place to start a tour of Northern Ireland’s Coastal Route, which is widely recognised as one of the best drives in the world and really is a must if you are in the area for a couple of days. Three hours will give you enough time to complete the drive, although it’s a great idea to allow a day or even more to take it all in.

NICar

There are so many superb places to stop along the Coastal Route, including Dunluce CastleCarrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Rathlin IslandGlenarm Castle and more.

NIcar3

To break the journey, I stopped at Harry’s Shack at Portstewart for lunch. This is a small, newly opened restaurant set in a newly build wood and glass building on the edge of the beach, which is owned by the National Trust. Far from a traditional Trust restaurant, this is one of the most exciting openings of late in Northern Ireland, and indeed, the UK. Donal Doherty and Derek Creag, the team behind Harry’s Shack, serve up some seriously well-executed cooking using great quality produce and fantastic ingredients. Allergy suffers are very well catered for with plenty of choice on the menu.

Harry's Shack

Tap water was brought to our table when we arrived, without prompting, in a beautiful jug from local Moville Pottery. In fact, almost all of the tableware used in Harry’s Shack is indeed from there, and very beautiful too. It may seem unusual to mention the plates before the food, but to me this underpins how much thought and care has been put into every little detail of the business, and that, is a very good thing. Returning to the food, well, it was all superb. I started with a cone of whitebait, which were served piping hot, crisp and perfectly seasoned. Paired with a small dish of superbly balanced Marie Rose sauce, it was an excellent start to the meal. My guest chose a pork and pistachio terrine which was very good, too. Chunky pieces of meat, studded with pistachios and a delicious chutney served on the side made it a most satisfying starter.

NIHs2

For the main course, I had to try the fish and chips, which felt like the natural choice given our location. Every element was executed with skill; crispy, crunchy chips with a fluffy interior, juicy, flaky fish encased in golden, crunchy batter, and a dish of homemade mushy peas on the side. Pretty much perfection. The other main we chose was a gorgeous fish stew, made with hake, chickpeas, tomatoes and a saffron yoghurt to top. It was scrumptious, and made for a truly nourishing and satisfying lunch, tasting great and made even better in the knowledge you were eating a bowl full of delicious goodness. Sadly, we were too full for pudding which was the only disappointment of the lunch. A Bailies coffee set us up for the journey ahead and we continued on our journey.

NIGC

Our next stop of the day was our final stop. Giant’s Causeway. One of the Wonders of the World, this extraordinary basalt rock formation is really worth seeing. The site is operated by the National Trust and entry is around £10-15 depending on the type of ticket you require, and of course free for members. The weather changes so dramatically on the Antrim coast and so a visit can mean you will see the Causeway in a number of different light conditions, from glorious sunlight to moody, stormy conditions are all possible within the hour as we found, with a little snow thrown in too, so be sure to take your camera to capture the sensational views. Those fancying a bit more of a walk can follow some longer trails, and those unable to walk far can take the minibus provided down to the stones for a £1 a way.

We made a night of it, and stayed at the Causeway Hotel which is right next to the visitor centre and set high up on the cliff tops with really lovely views. Owned and operated by the Trust again, it is a simple but very cosy recently refurbished hotel that is extremely warm and welcoming, yet relaxed – I didn’t feel uncomfortable presenting myself at Reception on arrival having been soaked through to the skin in an unexpected hailstorm. There is a restaurant on site, and bar meals are available in the cosy, relaxed bar area, with roaring log fires. The food is not bad – dinner is more pub-style fare – but served by highly trained, very friendly and professional staff. Breakfast is very good, and the smoked salmon and scrambed eggs is recommended. This is a convenient and comfortable base to make the most of the Causeway, and we couldn’t resist popping down for another quick look in the morning before we departed.

NIcar2

Next stop, is Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which is a Victorian rope bridge, erected by salmon fishermen in search of the best fish they could possibly catch. Quite a feat indeed, and worth a short diversion from the coastal route to see, and indeed cross.

Bushmills is a town just a few miles away and home to the famous Bushmills Whiskey distillery. They run a number of tastings and tours and are a must for whiskey lovers in the area.

The drive from here back to Belfast takes you along the dramatic, rugged and beautiful coastline, running just a dozen miles or so as the crow flies from the Scottish Islands. It takes you up high over the hills, down over towering viaducts and round many twists and turns. Even at a leisurely pace, you are no more than two hours from Belfast, which is a great place to spend a few days either at the start or end of a trip. As I covered so much in my second visit to Belfast, I decided it deserves its own post, which is coming to you very soon.

Getting there

We flew from into Belfast City airport with Flybe, which run regular return services from a number of UK destinations. Our return flights from Southampton were around £150 each for a return Economy Class ticket.

Our car was hired from Enterprise in Belfast City Centre. They offer a free pick up and drop off service and deserve to be commended for their super friendly service. Car hire for over 25s for a small car is around £50 a day, and there is an option to add an additional no-claims waiver onto your rental charge, which we selected.

Taxis to and from Belfast city centre to Belfast City George Best Airport are only around £7-10 a way if there is no traffic, and should take around 15 minutes. Belfast International airport is further away, around 30 minutes drive.

Thank you to Northern Ireland Tourist Board for inviting me over and making all arrangements for me.


23
Dec 14

Top tips for festive drinks

Drinks

There are few things nicer than enjoying some festive drinks with your nearest and dearest at this time of year. Whether you’re having a small gathering at home or a large party, here are my top tips for making your gathering a resounding success.

–       Firstly, make sure you choose a small selection of lovely drinks to serve. Don’t feel pressured to serve a huge selection – just a small number of excellent drinks will be enough. Wine is always a good bet – mulled wine is lovely, but quite sweet and sickly, so wine is often a better choice, particularly if you’re eating. Choose wines you know will be good, rather than be guided by what’s on 3 for 2 or similar. For a reliable selection of excellent wines, I love Waitrose Cellar, who even put together lovely boxes of specially selected wines, which take the hard work out of choosing wine. The Buyers’ Favourites and Philip Schofield selections are excellent.

–       Next, make sure you use nice glasses – a great wine glass will only enhance your wine. I’m really enjoying my Sophie Conran glasses at the moment. They looks so elegant and are lovely to use. Make sure your glasses are sparkling and polished before using.

–       Continuing the less is more theme, I suggest keeping snacks to a minimum. Something like some good quality salted potato crisps and olives will suffice – and will be suitable for everyone to eat.

–       Christmas and New Year is a lovely time to get out some nice napkins and candles to make your room feel homely, cosy and festive.


22
Dec 14

A foodie minibreak to Paris

Tremoille

Paris is one of the top foodie destinations in the world, and also an excellent option for a minibreak, as it’s so quick and easy to get there, particularly from London. I have just returned from a recent trip to discover some new places to visit. Paris is a city that’s slowly changing, with more and more new places opening up, and a slight change in feel to a more relaxed, modern city. Here are my top recommendations for a visit.

Where to stay

Hotel La Tremoille is a really lovely choice. It’s a small but deeply luxurious 5* hotel sat just a few minutes walk from the Seine and the Champs Elysées. It’s a deeply discreet hotel – you’d hardly know it was there, and a well-kept secret by its loyal regular visitors who find it a home from home.

The rooms are large, for Paris, and luxuriously decorated. Be sure to ask for a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower for you to enjoy. Beds are sumptuous and will give you the best chance of a good night’s sleep. Bathrooms are well-stocked with Molton Brown toiletries.

The Louis restaurant is excellent and a must-try for any visitor. Traditional dishes, such as terrine de fois gras are served with a delicious glass of sweet Vouvray wine, alongside more contemporary dishes, such as a roasted pumpkin with courgettes and toasted hazelnut oil and are both excellent. There is a small but very well chosen wine list to match and food allergies are very well catered for.

Breakfast is really delicious – the salmon and eggs are exceptionally good – and is an essential start to the day. Stoke up for a busy day exploring Paris.

Things to do 

The newly opened Picasso Museum is a must for anyone interested in contemporary art.

A walk along the Seine is an essential part of a trip to Paris, but it is particularly interesting to do so of late as there are lots of interesting things popping up along the river such as sporting activities, art exhibitions and installations. This is quite an interesting change for Paris.

Where else to eat

For traditional but very well executed Parisian brasserie fare, Aux Tonneaux des Halles is a favourite of mine. There are plenty of choices for people with food allergies there, too. Everything I’ve tried there has been really delicious – really well cooked, well sourced, unfussy food and a great choice of natural wines.

For afternoon tea, La Pâtisserie des Rêves is lovely, and there are a small number of gluten free sweet treats always available.

How to get there

The Eurostar is my favourite way of travelling to Paris. It’s a very relaxing, easy way to travel, with two services an hour running from London. The novelty of travelling abroad by train endures. Plus, you’re not limited on your luggage or subjected to the same security limitations and procedures as is the case when flying.

Rates for a double standard room at the Hotel La Tremoille start from €360 (£283) per room per night including a continental breakfast and wi-fi.

Eurostar standard class return tickets to London from Paris start at £69 per adult.


19
Dec 14

Last-minute Christmas baking

With just a few days to go until Christmas, here are my favourite last-minute recipes for Christmas cake and mince pies. Both can be made and adapted to a gluten free diet. Although we are bombarded with sweet treats at this time of year, I always think it’s worth making the time to get out some nice china, proper napkins and sit down properly with a steaming hot cup of tea to savour the most delicious treats of the season. Both photos feature my own Christmas baking styled with my favourite china, by Sophie Conran, fabrics by Sophie Allport and Cath Kidston and Robert Welch cutlery.

First, is my last-minute Christmas cake, which is extremely easy to make and requires no maturing.

Cake

Last minute Christmas cake

Makes 1 x 20cm/8” cake which serves 16-20

Ingredients

For overnight soaking:

300g dried fruit – I always use sultanas, not raisins

100g candied peel, chopped – I use homemade – a mixture of half blood orange, half lemon

400g jar excellent quality mincemeat

150ml brandy

For the cake:

150g butter

150g dark brown muscovado sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp salt

1 ½ tsp mixed spice (ensure it contains cinnamon, not cassia)

Zest of 1 orange

Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

225g self raising flour, sifted (or use 200g gluten free self raising flour or 225g ground almonds)

3 tsp baking powder

Method

Start by soaking the fruit overnight. You can get away with around 4 hours soaking, but overnight is best if you possibly can. Place all the ingredients together into a large mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Cover with cling film and leave.

The next day, line your cake tin well using non-stick greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 150C Fan/170C/Gas Mark 3.

Place the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat together well. Add the eggs gradually, beating well after each addition. The mixture will be quite runny at this stage. If you have one, it’s a good idea to use a stand mixer or electric beaters here to ensure the mixture is beaten even more thoroughly than you can manage by hand.

Add the salt, spices, orange and lemon zest and the soaked fruit, including all the liquid. Beat together well. Finally, add the sifted flour and baking powder and fold in gently until evenly combined.

Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and neatly level off. Bake, uncovered for 90 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s cooked. It may need another 15-30 minutes covered to cook through if your oven is a little slow. Covering the cake in foil will stop it from browning too much.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 20-30 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the paper and allow to cool fully before wrapping and storing or decorating.

In theory, this cake can be eaten same day – it needs no maturing or feeding before being ready to enjoy.

Pies

Now, on to mince pies. I wanted to share my favourite recipes for mince pies with you – both for traditional pies and also for my gluten free version. Both are delicious.

Shortcrust Pastry 

Ingredients

200g flour

110g butter, cubed

1 egg yolk

Pinch of salt

3-4 tablespoons cold water

Method 

Place the flour and butter into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles fine sand. Add the egg yolk and salt, and2 tablespoons of water. Blitz again until it forms a stiff, firm mixture. Add the remaining water as needed – remember that too much water will make the pastry too sticky.

Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes.

Gluten Free Shortcrust Pastry

Ingredients

275g plain flour (I use Doves Farm blend)

150g chilled butter

1 large egg and 1 egg yolk

Pinch of salt

Method

Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Bring the mixture together into a ball. Flatten and wrap in cling film. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes

Both recipes make around 12 pies. You’ll need a 12 hole shallow bun tin and a couple of appropriately sized cutters.

You’ll also need one beaten egg as your egg wash.

To make the pies…

Once the pastry is made and chilled, preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/ Gas Mark 4

Roll out the pastry between two sheets of greaseproof paper. It needs to be about 3-4 mm thick, no more. It will puff up during the cooking process. The gluten free pastry will be more sticky to work with, Don’t worry, this is normal.

Cut out discs to form the base of your pies and carefully put into the tins. Add a teaspoon of mincemeat to each pastry base. Either brush the rim of the pastry base with beaten egg and add a disc to firm a lid, or alternatively place a cut out shape on top of the mincemeat. Egg wash your top or pastry shape and bake for around 18-22 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned and firm.

Remove to cool on a wire tray, although they are delicious eaten warm.


17
Dec 14

An easy, delicious Christmas

Christms

At this time of year, I’m always looking for ways to make life easier. One of my fail-safe ways to save time at Christmas and to introduce a little joy into food shopping, is to do it online.

I’m always looking to track down the best ingredients I can get my hands on, so I bring you my top picks for Christmas food shopping online. Best of all, they’re all independent and are sending out top quality food at very fair prices.

I’ll start with meat, and turkey, first of all. Roaming Roosters have a farm shop in Pendle, Lancashire and offer an online delivery service. They sell whole, stuffed and turkey crowns online with home delivery. All their meat is sustainably sourced and free range and really delicious. They have some lovely products available and their turkeys are outstandingly good.

For pork and beef, the best in the business is, in my opinion by far, Peter Hannan, based in Northern Ireland. He supplies a whole host of top restaurants all over the UK and his beef and pork products are particularly outstanding. He even ages his beef in a Himalayan salt chamber installed in his Moira-based butchery in pursuit of perfection. His sweet cure bacon ribs are to die for, too.

Forget the supermarket chains for general groceries and try The Cornish Food Box Company. They put together a range of grocery boxes using superbly sourced, high integrity produce from people they know and trust down in Cornwall. They deliver nationwide. They’ll deliver all the essentials, including local low-GI bread, milk, yoghurt, sausages, you name it. This is exceptional quality farm-shop fare without the hassle of sourcing it and is excellent value for money, too. Boxes are flexible and adaptable, meaning you get what you want delivered.

And for all your Christmas vegetables and fruit, you can’t beat a Riverford box. Their delivery service is easy and reliable and their produce is consistently excellent. They’re passionate about seasonal Organic food and you can taste the difference in their boxes. If you don’t like anything you can request substitutions, and there’s always something interesting to try.


09
Dec 14

Magical Muscat

Al Bustan

Muscat is a seriously hot destination at the moment, and I’m not just talking about the weather. Following Prince Harry’s recent visit to the beautiful capital of the Sultanate of Oman, this coastal city has never been such a popular place to visit.

Oman is a spectacularly beautiful country – very different in landscape to its neighbours. Dark, spiky rocks and mountains encircle sandy cove beaches along its coastline with jagged mountainous terrain offering spectacular landscapes, wildlife and adventure.

Muscat, the capital, is a quiet, safe city, and offers visitors a glimpse into what many call a more ‘real life’ Middle East. Oman is a small country and therefore, its capital is small, but interesting. The Mutrah Souq and Grand Mosque are very interesting must-visit attractions, but Muscat really is a place to go for a proper beach holiday.

The oldest and best place to stay in Muscat is the Al Bustan Palace – literally a Palace, as the Sultan owns the top floor as a pied à terre. It is a super-luxurous hotel with a really authentic feel of the local culture. Many staff are very local to the hotel and know the area inside out. This is a hotel of legend – many talk of visiting as a child and it was their dream to work there – meaning they have a real passion and attachment to the hotel. The hotel’s grounds and private beach are jaw-droppingly beautiful and the hotel even has a water sports centre offering activities such as kayaking and snorkeling free of charge to guests.

This is a hotel which will appeal to foodies. Everything is made in-house by the super-talented team of chefs. There is an excellent buffer available every night offering a fantastic selection of food, and a fish restaurant based on the beach. Don’t wear heels, as you are sat quite literally on the beach, enjoying your meal and watching the waves break by candlelight.

Food allergies are catered for exceptionally well at Al Bustan. Nothing is too much trouble and they’ll make you whatever you need especially. Gluten free breads are exceptional.

The hotel also offers a good range of delicious Omani specialities, including hammour fish, Omani rice and lentils and sweets, as well as locally made halwa and sticky honey.

Al Bustan Palace manages to feel like a luxurious beach resort a million miles away from the capital, but in fact, it’s just 5 minutes in a taxi to old Muscat, so you can take a trip independently and see the colonial forts and Royal Palace very easily.

 

Muscat is one of those places that feels like a dream. Its unspoilt Arabian magic is charming and it’s a place to make memories which will endure.


07
Dec 14

Dreaming in the skies

Flying long haul is not always an appealing prospect. Especially if you have food intolerances to consider. With six, eight, twelve hours or longer in the sky to consider and not being able to take your own food or drink is not always a prospect to relish. I recently flew long haul with Royal Brunei on one of their new fleet of Boeing Dreamliners and the experience was so good, I wanted to share it with you.

Royal Brunei really impressed with their knowledge of food intolerances and how they dealt with it. It’s always important to book your special meal in advance so that you know you’ll have something you can eat. But what really impressed with Royal Brunei was how they came to find us on board and confirm our requirements, and then to offer a selection of things suitable to eat on board, so that we could choose something we liked. This level of care and attention is something I haven’t experienced on board a plane before. In fact, the level of service at Royal Brunei is exceptionally high. The staff were all so nice and nothing was too much trouble. The experience stands out even more after our last experience flying long haul with BA, who put a KitKat (containing wheat) in our gluten free meal. The service with Royal Brunei could not have been more different.

In fact, the overall experience was so good, we were actually keen to get on the plane and settle in on the way home, as we knew what was in store. The RB fleet is bang up to date and immaculately clean, offering all the amenities you expect and more on board. There is plenty of space – seats are spacious and the electronic flat beds in Business were so roomy, my 6’3” travelling companion could lie out flat to sleep – which is quite a resounding success in his book and demonstrates significantly more space than competitors offer. The Dreamliners are set up to provide more storage space for your luggage, have larger windows, technology to provide a smoother ride and better climate control which all make for a better flight experience – we certainly felt better than we would usually when stepping off the plane, which is a very nice feeling indeed.

Staff are on hand to provide drinks and food at a time of your choosing, and you can have as much or as little as you like on board. The only thing they don’t serve is alcohol.

Royal Brunei operate out of Heathrow Terminal 4 and offer daily non-stop services to Dubai and a number of international destinations, such as Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Australia, Bali and Vietnam amongst other destinations. Prices are extremely competitive too, which is particularly attractive considering the level of service is so high. Currently, special fares to Dubai from London are from £343.56 return in Economy Class and £1812.56 per person in Business Class. All that’s left to do is kick back and enjoy the ride.


02
Dec 14

A foodie minibreak to Belfast

Belfast 1

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind visit to Belfast to check out the up and coming food scene in Northern Ireland. After 48 hours in Northern Ireland, I left very reluctantly. It is no exaggeration to tell you that I was completely bowled over by the experience. Belfast is a most attractive city, with some really beautiful architecture to see and is culturally very interesting and vibrant. Further afield, you’ll find some of the UK’s very finest scenery – all a short drive from Belfast.

There are some truly innovative and exciting things going on in terms of food and drink in the area, with an ever increasing number of people turning to food as a career, creating some really interesting products using a mixture of time-honoured skills and bang-up-to-date techniques. Some have lived in the area all their lives, and an ever-increasing number are returning to Northern Ireland, with many having lived in London, Edinburgh and further afield, and are bringing their skills and knowledge back to the area. Belfast is also an increasingly attractive place to live, and some cooks and food producers are relocating, as the momentum around Belfast’s food scene grows.

Belfast 4

Where to eat 

Northern Ireland is a fantastic place to eat out for so many reasons. Firstly, there are some truly excellent restaurants in the city – and some very talented chefs working there, creating sensational food. The abundance of exceptional local produce at their fingertips makes what they do a whole lot more exciting, and it is a pleasure to be able to enjoy such good local produce cooked so well. It is also worth mentioning that Northern Ireland remains very good value – you’ll pay a lot less here for top-quality food than you can in many major cities.

James Street South

Serving contemporary Irish food, this restaurant has been in operation since 2003 under the ownership of Niall and Joanne McKenna. Over the years, they’ve added two more restaurants and a cookery school to their empire, based on, you guessed it, James Street South, in the heart of Belfast city centre. Head Chef David Gilmore cooks with locally sourced ingredients to create a relaxed, yet interesting menu, with an exciting wine list to accompany.

Deanes Empire

Michael Deane and his lovely wife Kate also own a number of food destinations in Belfast, and I managed to try several of them whilst I was visiting. Deanes Deli Vin Café is a terrific find that transforms itself from a delicious spot for some lunch, to a cool bar at night, with live music, fantastic wines and sensational food. You’ll be looked after by the charming and super talented Saul, who’ll ensure a brilliant night will be had by all.

Deanes at Queens is across town, near Queens University campus. Its Head Chef Chris Fearon is one of the most exciting chefs I’ve come across to date. Some of you may know him from the Great British Menu. His whisky maple cured salmon with samphire was sublime, and I’d fly back especially to have it all over again.

Deanes Eipic in Howard Street is at the top end of the Deanes offering and provides a glamorous and sophisticated setting for the evening. Young chef Danni Barry is a very talented young lady and her food is lovely. Her menu changes very regularly depending on what’s good – so you’ll be guaranteed the freshest and best local produce served simply, but with a creative and surprising touch.

Yellow Door Deli

This is one exciting Deli. Chef Simon Dougan (one of the loveliest men you’ll ever meet) runs this award-winning deli and outside catering business. Their food is to die for and they cater at a wide range of locations across Northern Ireland. Failing that, try their delicious breads in Belfast – they are really, really good.

Belfast 3

What to eat

Here are some of my delicious discoveries from Northern Ireland to look out for:

Shortcross Gin

This is a very special gin – distilled in small batches on the Rademon Estate in Downpatrick, County Down. Using the finest botanicals (a blend of juniper, coriander, cinnamon, orange and lemon peel and elderberries), their own freshly drawn water and a custom build copper still, they produce some truly excellent gin which is hand bottled, waxed and labeled before sending off to select retailers. Look out for it in Fortnum & Mason – it’s delicious.

Abernethy Butter

You may have heard about these lovely people on the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme some time ago. Will and Allison Abernethy make utterly delicious traditional, hand made butter on their farm which is nestled in the Dromara hills in County Down. This butter is made from local cream and just a dash of salt, giving a rich yet pure flavour to their exceptionally good butter. Each pat is hand rolled and wrapped in brown paper before being sent to Fortnum’s and other top restaurants around the UK. Simply divine.

Leggygowan Farm Cheeses

Leggygowan Farm in County Down is run by Adam Kelly – ex insurer, now cheese maker extraordinaire. Adam makes some really delicious blue cheeses and a fabulously silky goats cheese using milk from their own tribe.

Barley Cove

These baked goods were one of the real highlights of my visit. This is a true artisan bakery, based in Belfast that makes some of the most delicious breads I’ve ever tried. The treacle wheaten bread is out of this world. What’s even nicer is that the breads are made using traditional, time honoured methods. You will find the bread at Belfast’s St. George Market.

Lough Neagh Eels

These eels are a true Northern Ireland delicacy, in fact, a huge quantity is exported to Scandinavia, too. Lough Neagh is situated on the outskirts of Belfast city, and is Europe’s largest eel fishery. These wild eels are caught on the Lough, and sold either smoked or unsmoked. We tried the unsmoked eel which was delicious and is highly recommended.

Krazi Baker

Mark Douglas is such a charming man and an extremely talented baker. With over 30 years of baking experience he produces some of Ireland’s most famous and delicious traditional griddle breads on a gas-fired griddle at food markets and events all over Northern Ireland. His soda farls, potato bread and apple pancakes are all totally delicious. Stock up and enjoy them toasted the next day, too.

Suki Teas 

Based in Belfast, Suki teas create a really lovely range of loose leaf teas and interesting fruit and herb blends that are available widely across the UK. Their Belfast Brew and Apple Loves Mint blends are exceptionally delicious, and taste even better knowing all their teas are made using Fairtrade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified ingredients.

Mike’s Fancy Cheese

Mike Thomson is a farmhouse cheese making enthusiast and is creating some really interesting cheeses in Northern Ireland. Young Buck is a delicious blue cheese and the first raw milk cheese in Northern Ireland. A must-try.

Pat O’Doherty’s Black Pudding

Pat is a thoroughly lovely chap and runs his eponymously named family butchery in County Fermanagh producing some of the most heavenly black pudding I’ve ever tried. If you’re in Enniskillen, you simply must try one of his pork pies and black bacon.

Peter Hannan’s meat

Mr. Hannan is responsible for some of the finest meats eaten across the British Isles. His company produces a huge range of beef and pork products, which are just sensational and are sold in some of our best restaurants in the UK. All of Mark Hix’s meat comes from Peter, for example. Seek out his products if you can – they are exceptional.

Mash Direct

Established in 2003, Martin and Tracy Hamilton set up this award-winning company making homemade potato products and ready meals in 2003, to use the produce from their farm in producing delicious Irish dishes. They use ingredients and methods you’d use at home and their products are delicious and available in Waitrose and Ocado.

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