Three meals in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland revealed itself as a food paradise to me. There hasn’t been one meal that I did not deeply enjoy while there. I only spent three days in Northern Ireland and I tried to eat out every time we could. Even when we had a lot of driving ahead and not enough time to fit in a proper lunch. This is when we usually make our sandwiches and eat them on the go. Even then I loved the local food. That cheddar, that bread… what’s not to love there?

Years ago I used to say that my favourite cultural feature of a foreign country is its language. I was a Language student, so that was an obvious answer. But as I grew older my passion for food increased. So did my budget, not going to lie. Listening to the local language is free, eating in restaurants is not. My travel style has not changed much, I still love to catch cheap flights and let airline deals choose where to next. But now I can afford eating out a little more often than when I was a Language student. So now it’s no longer the language but the local food my favourite feature of foreign countries.

As our fifth anniversary treat my boyfriend and I have recently been on a road trip around Ireland. Our main goal was visiting Irish whiskey distilleries, but of course we made other stops around the road. Some of them were planned around the food. We kicked off our trip in Northern Ireland, where I got to eat some seriously delicious food. So delicious it deserved a dedicated post.

This feature goes morning till evening, as it begins with breakfast and ends with dinner. I must disclose that I did not have these meals just over one day. Here’s one thing about Northern Irish food: it’s incredibly filling! Furthermore, these three restaurants are in three different locations across Northern Ireland. I still thought it would be nice to feature them in the same order as they would happen throughout the day. So here’s Northern Ireland for the foodies, according to me.

Northern Ireland food in three meals: ulster fry, afternoon tea and gourmet dinner.

Ulster Fry in the heart of Belfast

Let’s start the day in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. I had tried the experience of a full Irish breakfast in the past, but I got to learn that the Northern Irish version has a couple of minor variations. A proper Ulster fry will come with soda bread and potato farls. It normally does not include white pudding, only black pudding, and it generally comes without beans. All the other elements – bacon rashers, sausages, fried tomato, mushrooms and eggs – are the same as in Irish breakfast. So to sample a breakfast fry we headed to Brights Restaurant (23-25 High St., Belfast).

Northern Ireland food. Ulster Fry in Belfast
The original Ulster fry with black pudding

First of all, a large fry is huge! We shared one, and were feeling so full that we had lunch much later in the day than normal. Not only is the food nutritious and filling, but the size of this breakfast was really enormous. Even after many years living abroad, neither of us has lost the habit to have a light sweet breakfast – coffee and biscuits or coffee and a piece of cake – just like we used to in Italy. Any time we get to eat a more filling breakfast we end up surprised of how satisfied one feels after one such meal! This Ulster fry did not disappoint and it was so delicious I could have downed a full one alone. It would have kept me happy until the evening, probably.

Interestingly, we did not notice on the menu that one could choose to have the more traditional black pudding or the beans. Since we didn’t choose, we got the traditional version with the black pudding. For someone who is not accustomed to black pudding, it could be a challenging food to try. The possibility to exchange it for something more familiar sounds just legit, it avoids leftovers. At first we were not too happy about this, as my boyfriend was craving beans and I was not sure I’d like the black pudding. It exists in Poland, too, and I had always avoided eating it. In the end I’m actually pretty happy we got our fry like this. First of all, we got the original version. Second of all, it gave us the chance to try a new food. Guess what, we both loved it. I like liver pâté, black pudding was not too different in taste. So it was a great discovery. And a great breakfast experience.

Northern Ireland food. Ulster Fry in Belfast

Afternoon Tea on the Antrim Coast

When you have a filling breakfast you might not be very hungry at noon. If you’re in that situation I would recommend skipping the lunch altogether and going for afternoon tea instead. This is what we did on the day we arrived in Northern Ireland. After a quick stop in Belfast, we drove all the way to Ballygally, on the Antrim coast. We intentionally skipped lunch as we were headed to Ballygally Castle Hotel to treat ourselves to a delightful afternoon tea experience. This was my first time having afternoon tea, and after this one time I’m already hooked and planning on organising one for my birthday party.

Northern Ireland food. Afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle
Traditional afternoon tea sweets and sandwiches
Northern Ireland food. Afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle
The Game of Thrones afternoon tea food comes on a wooden tray

I came across Ballygally Castle and its afternoon tea in a post about them offering Game of Thrones themed dining experiences. If the popular TV series was what sparked my interest, when I did some more research about the place I was totally fascinated. I had planned to have my first afternoon tea somewhere in Northern Ireland, and when I found out about Ballygally Castle I knew that was going to be the place. The castle dates back to 1625, and if that wasn’t enough it is located just by a beautiful beach. It is a really dreamy location and it serves Afternoon Tea daily.

When we sat down, we decided to order both the classic and the Game of Thrones afternoon tea. First came the teas – my boyfriend had a spicy black one with milk, while I opted for an apple tea. The afternoon tea food offer includes a selection of various sweets and pastries as well as sandwiches. Each of us could choose two sandwiches from the menu, so I chose the Northern Irish Chicken Breast with Sundried Tomato Mayonnaise and Givan’s Honey Roast Ham with Wholegrain Mustard and Cress. From the Game of Thrones selection my boyfriend picked the Rustic Ironborn Focaccia with Glenarm Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese, and Hodor’s Pulled Pork Brioche. We both agreed that Hodor’s pulled pork and Givan’s ham were our best picks.

Northern Ireland food. Afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle
Rustic Ironborn Focaccia with Glenarm Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese
Northern Ireland food. Afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle
Hodor’s Pulled Pork Brioche next to the Winterfell Jaffa Cake

While I truly enjoyed the sandwiches, I still remain a sweet tooth at heart so to me the sweets were the best part. Most of the sweets were the same on both platters, but those on the Game of Thrones menu had definitely more creative names. You don’t get to be offered a Kingslayer Cupcake or a Winterfell Jaffa Cake every day, after all. The afternoon tea experience was memorable, and definitely worth the trip from Belfast. Since it was also my very first one I will never forget it.

Northern Ireland food. Afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle

Gourmet Dinner in Bushmills

As I mentioned before, the Irish whiskey distilleries were the main focus of our trip and the first one we visited was the Old Bushmills Distillery. The building that once used to be the home of the Bushmills Distillery owners nowadays houses Tartine at the Distillers Arms (140 Main Street, Bushmills). Besides being an award winning restaurant, its location sounded like the perfect place to end our day in Bushmills. So after learning all about whiskey, including what is the angels’ share, at the distillery, there was only one place where we could go for dinner and that place was Tartine.

Northern Ireland food. Tartine at the Distillers Arms, Bushmills.
Poached Pear and Cashel Blue Cheese with Hazelnuts, Mixed Leaves and Pesto Dressing

I started off my meal with an appetizer that consisted of a Poached Pear and Cashel Blue Cheese with Hazelnuts, Mixed Leaves and Pesto Dressing. I have a soft spot for blue cheese and I really couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to try a local one. Besides, pear and blue cheese are a match made in heaven, so when I read this one on the menu I instantly made up my mind. The dish came with a side of soda bread and butter.

If choosing the appetizer had been an easy task, picking the main course proved more challenging. There were two very interesting combinations of meat and fish that triggered my curiosity. I don’t usually mix fish and meat so I was very intrigued. One featured monkfish wrapped in prosciutto. The other, which was my choice eventually, was the 6 oz. Char Grilled Fillet Steak with Garlic Butter Prawns, Skinny Fries and Chef’s Garnish. I asked it medium, and it was just perfect. Never had I thought that such a combination of beef and shellfish could work so well. But it just made so much sense, on an island that has such renowned beef farming and fishing traditions.

Northern Ireland food. Tartine at the Distillers Arms, Bushmills.
6 oz. Char Grilled Fillet Steak with Garlic Butter Prawns, Skinny Fries and Chef’s Garnish

When handed the dessert menu at the end of my meal I had no hesitation. I had started the day at the Bushmills distillery, I was now sitting in what once was the distiller’s house. My choice was the Bushmills Whiskey Crème Brûlée with Homemade Shortbread, which also came with some berry compote. I just had to end the day honoring one more time the whiskey that made the village of Bushmills famous worldwide.

Don’t do a full afternoon tea if you plan on visiting Tartine later in the day because you want to make sure you have the right appetite for the fine dining experience that awaits you there. One can of course just stick to one course, and the portions are generous enough to satisfy even like that. But the choice of food on the menu is so inviting that it’s hard to resist the temptation to have a full three course meal! I’m glad I did.

Northern Ireland food. Tartine at the Distillers Arms, Bushmills.
Bushmills Whiskey Crème Brûlée with Homemade Shortbread

I have immensely enjoyed my time in Northern Ireland and the food (I’m including Bushmills whiskey, of course) definitely made the whole experience even better. Three days are not enough, but I’m the kind of traveller that loves going back, as I believe that a place will always look different when you come back different yourself.

Until next time, Northern Ireland. It’s been delicious.

* * *

Disclaimer: The second and third restaurant reviewed in this post have given me complimentary dishes. This has in no way influenced my opinion. Please notice that all pictures featured throughout the post are my own.

48 thoughts on “Three meals in Northern Ireland

  1. Yum, this all looks delicious for sure! We haven’t been to Northern Ireland, but we have been to Ireland earlier this month. We love the Irish Breakfast too, even though I like the bacon in Belgium more. 😉 And oh my, that afternoon tea in GOT theme: wow! Am I jealous! Never did an afternoon tea, but looks like we should some time. You made me hungry!

    1. This was my first time trying the afternoon tea experience and I loved everything about it! Anyway, I loved the food also in Ireland, and I am thinking of writing one more foodie post because I had so much fantastic food during that trip!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Wish I could have shared the smells and taste, but I did my best to provide good descriptions 🙂

  2. Like you, I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Northern Ireland. We were there for a week last year and didn’t have a bad meal even once. We also enjoyed the coffee culture in Belfast. I can’t wait to return and check out your restaurant suggestions!

    1. I wish I had had more time to explore Belfast, but I’m already impressed we were able to fit in so much in that one week we spent between Northern Ireland and Ireland! I loved the food also in Ireland, and will most likely write a post about that, too 😀

  3. Everything looks so delicious! Never thought of Ireland as a foodie heaven, more as whiskey one 🙈 Taking notes!
    P.S. that creme brulee is definitely the cherry on top! I’m dieing right now..

    1. It really is, as well as a whiskey heaven. Whiskey was my greatest pull factor, and everything else we got to experience there – including the food – was all added value. But the whiskey truly is unforgettable.
      And yeah, that creme brulee in a way encompasses the best of both my favourite things up there: the whiskey and the food. Heaven!

  4. That afternoon tea looks great, especially the dessert section lol. I’m very intrigued by those filled chocolate rolls in particular. Never really thought of Northern Ireland as a foodie destination, probably cause it reminds me of the UK so much. Do like the look of that food though!

    1. Those chocolate covered rolls were wafer rolls filled with the same frosting that was there on the cupcake, which was a very sweet buttercream of some sorts. Paired up with the dark chocolate was really delicious.
      I have never been to England – and Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK I’ve been to – but I would love to actually give the local food a try. I’m sure a good fish and chips there can really be good. Sandwiches may seem a pretty basic thing, but those served in the afternoon tea were really memorable!

  5. I loooove Northern Ireland and you’ve covered some beautiful meals!! Made me so hungry reading your post. Loved your photos. Next time I’m over in NI will have to check these out. Have pinned for next when I’m there xx

    1. Thank you so much. I’d be really happy to know my post has inspired you to go to one of these places. I had really really excellent meals and I came back with awesome food memories.

    1. Thank you, I’m very happy to read you enjoyed my photos and are inspired to go there. The food alone was absolutely amazing, and if you combine the gorgeous landscapes you really wanna move there!

    1. Please go to NI for both the food and the landscapes! It’s sooo beautiful there! And while you’re there – if you go and have the dinner I had, make sure to visit the Bushmills distillery because that’s another great thing there!!

  6. We just got back from Ireland! Unfortunately we weren’t able to make it to Northern Ireland on this trip, but this post is making me think I need to head back soon….

    Your photos are awesome! I also loved the food in Ireland. I really loved the quality – the freshness of the fruit, the butter and cream, just so yummy. We loved afternoon tea and and the fry up – it’s a lot of food and pretty heavy so we usually had the fry up and then skipped lunch!

    1. I was totally impressed with the quality of the food, too! Had loads of great meals also in Ireland. They are amazing producers of meat and dairy! Couldn’t have enough of the delicious butter!! And beef!! Wow… If you get back on that beautiful island I totally recommend paying Northern Ireland a visit. Not only for the food (although it was one of the highlights of my trip indeed), but the Causeway coast is a jewel and you need to see it. I loved it there!

    1. That poached pear with the blue cheese was a real treat! I love pear and blue cheese! I haven’t yet tried my hand at making scones, and I think I should do that soon. We really loved them; and I like to make my own jam so they would be perfect with it!

    1. Thanks! I have never lived in the UK but that was my first time so it took me a long time to try this experience. It was really nice and relaxing, and in such a beautiful place!

  7. I love a huge British breakfast. In fact, this is one of those things I always miss when I’m away from the UK. Having read the post and seent his, I am ready to go back just for the food. When I first moved to the UK, nobody could understand how come that I am not used to a proper breakfast hehe. Now? I can’t live without it.

    1. It’s a really huge breakfast option, I can’t imagine having it daily. I would need to have a good physical job to burn all that before the end of the day!! But yeah, the food in Northern Ireland was a pleasant surprise; everything exceeded my expectations!

  8. Hailing from N. Ireland an Ulster Fry is my most favouritest breakfast in the world…lol…and I am all set to enjoy one very shortly. I will be taking on your other recommendations as well as a tour the Island for the next 6 months.

    1. I hope you’ll enjoy the places as much as I did. I strongly recommend all three. The afternoon tea was actually such a treat for me it was one of my destinations on my itinerary, not merely a place where we stopped to eat. I longed to go there, see that castle, have that afternoon tea there, with a view on the coast. Loved it! I hope you’ll have many memorable experiences over the next 6 months!

  9. Like you, I also have a huge passion for trying new cuisines. Each of these meals looks delicious. I love the sound of the game of thrones afternoon tea! Adding that to my bucket list.

  10. I’m originally from London but have lived outside of it for almost three years. Your photos are making me crave a full English breakfast …. and everything else in your beautiful photos. Great post!

    1. Thank you very much! Food from home tastes always so much better when you stop being used to it. I feel the same with Italian food – proper, real Italian food, when I visit home.

    1. Sorry for the torture, but I’m happy my pictures help really promote my enthusiasm for the food I had. It tasted as wonderful as it looked!!

  11. I’m so jealous of your road trip around Ireland! I’d definitely love to do that someday soon. I never thought Ireland would be a foodie paradise but that dinner you had looked amazing! Also, Ballygally Castle and its afternoon tea seemed like a lot of fun. Thanks for the lip-smacking post!

    1. Aww thank you for your comment 🙂 You should definitely visit Ireland, given the name of your blog you should really hit Cork! 😀 I focused this post only on my Northern Ireland food experiences, but I have plans for a future post about all the other memorable meals I had in Ireland.
      Anyway if you visit Northern Ireland I couldn’t recommend more both the afternoon tea at Ballygally and the dinner in Bushmills!

  12. Both the afternoon tea and the dinner looked delicious! And when you mix that with a journey through the Irish whiskeys, it sounds like a fantastic trip! 🙂

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