Is this the UK’s best kept foodie secret?
It’s unlikely that Northern Ireland will be high on your list when it comes to taking your next long weekend. The country’s tourism industry mainly depends on Brits hopping across the Irish Sea, but the majority of those are attracted by the many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty on offer.
Surprisingly few of us are aware of the culinary gems that Northern Ireland has to offer, but those dramatic landscapes and expanses of untouched habitat have also created a rich food heritage for us all to explore. It may surprise you even more to discover that Northern Ireland was named Best Food Destination at the International Travel and Tourism Awards in London, so the serious experts are already seriously recommending NI as a destination.
In compact Northern Ireland, you are never more than about 2 hours’ drive away from the sea. And with over 300 miles of coastline, much of which enjoys an excellent standard of cleanliness, it is no surprise that the seafood on offer is unmissable.
Some of it is so good that we can’t even taste it in the UK! Rooney Fish’s Millbay Oysters are multi award winners, carefully grown to be fat, juicy and flavourful. Unfortunately, such is the market price of these select bivalves that only the Chinese and French are willing to pay the premium price for significant enough quantities to bring the delicacies to an adoring, but overseas, public.
Thankfully, there is still plenty of delicious seafood that is far more accessible to the regular traveller with a more modest budget. The Harbour Inn at Annalong enjoys panoramic views of the stunning Mourne Mountains and Annalong Harbour. The family run restaurant specialises in carefully preparing the local catch seafood, including succulent pollock, sweet lobster and a home prepared pickled seaweed.
Often the best flavours are those that take quality ingredients back to basics. Nowhere is this clearer than the aching heights of culinary excellence that is Portavogie’s own Simply Scampi. They hand shell and batter the legendary Portavogie prawn, which is sold with a squeeze of lemon out of their street food truck. Honestly, it is one of the greatest things I have ever eaten – the fattest, sweetest prawns with a batter coating that is light as a cloud. Sheer perfection.
A brilliant place to get an insight into traditional Irish breadmaking is at the Mountains of Mourne Country Cottages. Hanna’s Close is a collection, or ‘Claghan’ of 17th century cottages which have been converted into self-catering properties.
Now under the ownership of one of the remaining descendants of the Hanna family, Mrs Norma Fisher, there is also a small display about the history of the Close in one of the cottages and you can enjoy a demonstration of how a traditional potato bread is made on the cast iron skillet.
High quality craft beer producers are sweeping the UK and Northern Ireland is no exception. Try the Whitewater Brewing Company‘s tours in County Down to get a flavour of the local brews. Originally brewing out great grandfather’s shed on the banks of the Whitewater and now one of Ireland’s best equipped and forward thinking breweries, Bernard and Kerry Sloane were the first in the country first to install their own bottling line, and now to have their own canning facilities.
Look out for Maggie’s Leap IPA, named for a local landmark, which is bursting with delicious citrus flavours. Also popular is Hallion, a red ale. A ‘Hallion’ is an Irish name for a loveable rogue and you’ll feel strangely affectionate towards the light malt notes of this easy-drinking ale.
If beer isn’t your tipple of choice, how about visiting another recently refurbished site – the Shortcross Gin Distillery on the Rademon Estate. Set in pristine countryside, flanked by a roaring river, this state of the art distillery not only produces Ireland’s first craft gin, but also a very interesting line in barrel aged Irish whiskey.
Reaching Northern Ireland from the Midlands couldn’t be easier.
From there you’ll find everything within easy driving distance.
Find out more about the very best producers and the latest foodie tour experiences by visiting the Food NI website at www.nigoodfood.com/
Words and Pictures: Laura Hadland at extremehousewife.com