One of the most enjoyable aspects of travelling is the opportunity to sample local cuisine and experience new flavours.
But how many of us make the effort to try out many of the fabulous food and drink offerings produced uniquely here in Northern Ireland?
It’s a sentiment close to the heart of Caroline Wilson, founder of the award-winning Belfast Food Tour, which I joined one Saturday morning recently.
As she led her group on the first part of the tour through historic St George’s Market, Caroline urged us to stop and try some of the delicacies we may otherwise have missed.
Indeed, there’s nothing like sampling tasty food and drink to get strangers chatting and before long we were exchanging life stories and experiences.
And as we moved out of the market, it soon became apparent that there are plenty of hidden gems throughout the streets of a city that I thought I knew pretty well.
It wouldn’t be fair to give too much away about the various tour stops, but let’s just say there are plenty of food and drink experiences along the way to keep your appetite well satisfied.
The tour not only takes you off the beaten track into some fine food and drink establishments, but you also get a real insight into Belfast’s rich past.
It is a hugely interesting and enjoyable way to spend four or so hours - and it doesn’t matter if it is wet or dry, you’ll still enjoy it!
Caroline’s enthusiasm for the work of local food and drink producers is highly infectious and her recommendations for the likes of gorgeous black bread from Ann’s Pantry stall in St George’s Market or the renowned champ in The Garrick really hit the spot.
In these final months of the NI Year of Food and Drink, there is the perfect excuse to get out and try what Northern Ireland producers have to offer.
As well as purchasing locally-produced items to enjoy at home, you can also make fine choices when dining out.
Deanes Meat Locker on Howard Street is renowned for top service and flavour sensations, thanks not only to its skilful chefs but also to its use of top quality local produce.
Their house breads, for example, are served with delicious Abernethy butter which is handmade in Dromara, Co Down.
And with meat supplied by award-winning Hannan Meats of Moira, you can be assured of an amazing result. Hannan’s meat is matured in a Himalayan salt chamber using a 12ft wall of 1,000 hand–cut Himalayan rock salt bricks. To be honest, I’m not sure what that looks like, but it definitely produces the most deliciously flavoursome steaks,
From the minute we walked into the glamorously-designed interior of the Meat Locker, our experience was outstanding.
With friendly but not overpowering service, it is easy to see why Deanes is one of the city’s favourite dining choices.
My starter of duck liver parfait with chutney and toast was simply divine, while my husband declared his goat’s cheese, beetroot and pecan salad to be absolutely perfect.
I was delighted with my choice of Hannan’s 250g dry aged shorthorn rump with the ‘surf n’ turf’ option of deliciously plump and juicy garlic prawns.
Béarnaise sauce and crispy onion rings were the perfect additions.
My husband opted for a slightly larger dry aged sirloin with garlic and herb butter, which also proved a fine choice.
While there is no doubt that restaurants like the Meat Locker have firmly put Belfast on the map for those who enjoy good food and service, it is also interesting to find out more of the city’s rich food and drink heritage from the past.
Our hotel stop for the night was the sumptuous Malmaison on Victoria Street, once home to a seed merchant.
Our room was a fine example of how Malmaison combines Belfast’s amazing history with contemporary style and outstanding luxury and comfort.
Breakfast in the brasserie was a wonderfully relaxed affair, with fellow diners browsing the newspaper headlines while enjoying the fine spread of delicious continental and cooked options.
Malmaison is the perfect spot to step out of to explore a city packed full of food and drink opportunities just waiting to be enjoyed.