John’s globe trotting in August took him a little closer to home than usual, after a 45 -minute flight he was about to discover some wonderful characters and fantastic food they produce in Northern Ireland.  He took the road out of Belfast and headed through Comber, famous for it’s superb tasting “Comber Earlies” – new potatoes that are as famous and tasty as their regal relations – the  Jersey Royal. JF arrived at Balloo House a popular dining pub owned by local food hero chef Danny Millar who champions local produce in his ever-changing seasonal menus. On this particular service Millar was joined in the kitchen by one of the UK’s legends – Nigel Haworth from Northcote in Lancashire as part of his “Four Seasons” dinner series with visiting guest chefs.

Even though it was a Monday evening more than 100 guests filled three dining rooms to enjoy a superb four course dinner featuring some of Millar’s favourite suppliers produce. Lough Neagh smoked eel; Mourne lamb and freshly caught lobster were all featured on the menu. The freshly baked wheaten bread with lashings of Abernethy butter was a delicious and moreish start to the tasty dishes, which graced the table.

After a good night’s sleep at the Europa hotel in Belfast – famous for being the most bombed hotel in Europe it was time to head North to meet a group of local chefs and catch a boat to take JF to Rathlin, a tiny island with only 150 residents. Rathlin is also home to Europe’s only organic kelp farm – Islander Kelp that supplies chefs and restaurants across Ireland and mainland UK.

Two varieties of kelp are grown in a unique way using ropes implanted with the kelp spores. The kelp is ready after 12 weeks and is all harvested by hand from tiny boats in the pure waters around the island.

“Kelp grows organically, without any additives or fertilisers. It is the most environmentally sustainable vegetable, with kelp forests providing important habitat for sea-life. As it grows, it extracts minerals from the sea to provide us with healthy levels of calcium, iron, small amounts of potassium, magnesium and sodium (the processed kelp has only .2 grams of salt per 100 grams of product). It is also a natural and safe source of iodine, being particularly good for those short of iodine and with thyroid problems.”

After getting to grips with the growing and harvesting techniques it was time for JF and his newly found chef friends to start experimenting in the kitchen, cooking some amazing and inventive dishes with the kelp in noodle, salad cut and even pesto. Freshly caught crab and lobster added to the menu that was enjoyed by everyone including the island fishermen and harvesting team. A rough ride across a very choppy strait back to the mainland by an experienced local fisherman ensured everyone arrived back to Ballycastle safely – a little wet and windswept – but exhilarated and inspired.

Day too took JF to Moira – home of the award winning corned beef from McCartney’s butchers and Wine & Brine owned and run by chef Chris McGowan and his wife Davina. Wine & Brine were recently awarded the title of best local restaurant in the UK in the 2016 Good Food Guide. The menu features fermented and preserved specialties, and boast a variety of inventive small plates to satisfy anyone’s taste.

Deliciously tempting dry cured bacon sandwiches and coffee at butcher Peter Hannan’s HQ just a couple of minutes from the hustle and bustle of the high street. This was the first time JF had ever seen beef dry aged in a purpose built chilled Himalayan salt chamber. The glistening wall built from pink salt bricks was quite a sight and something JF had never seen before. Rows upon rows of racks of beef ribs from the shorthorn herd reared on the Glenarm Estate filled the chiller. No wonder Peter Hannan has just been awarded more than 20 Great Taste Awards in this years “Food Oscars” from the Guild of Fine Food. Peter’s dry aged beef along with Abernethy butter also appeared in the Telegraph recently named as among the “Top 50 Foods in Britain”.

No wonder this is called the emerald isle – the produce is a gem!

Posted by the Martini Shaker!