Ox – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

I travelled to Belfast twice over a four-week period and was wowed by the foodie scene. I shared my Belfast exploits through my #one2Belfast hashtag on Instagram and clearly there was no shortage of fabulous restaurants, cafes and bars for me to explore. Not to diminish the other wonderful places I visited but I just have to share my experience at Ox, an amazing Michelin starred restaurant near the Belfast Waterfront.

Paulo and I managed to squeeze in lunch at Ox before catching our flight back to Stansted. We booked a table ahead of time and were delighted that the timing fit in with our work and travel schedules.

Ox looked a bit dark and unassuming from the outside but once we entered, the small restaurant was flooded with natural light from the double-height picture windows. We took in the beautiful decor with its high ceiling, serene shade of blue, modern light fixtures and wooden church chairs (with prayer book holders on the back).

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Cambridge Cocktail Weekend 2017 – Cambridge (UK)

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend is back for a second year, taking place at the Cambridge Corn Exchange 25 to 27 August 2017. The event was founded by Muddle and Mint to highlight the cocktail offering in Cambridge. It features a selection of Cambridge cocktail bars showcasing a menu of classic, signature and cutting edge cocktails. Local spirit and liqueur producers as well as premium national brands are on board too, giving attendees the opportunity to discover what they can do with their products

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend also offers an educational and interactive experience through workshops, masterclasses, live music and the WFA World Championship Grand Slam Competition where the world’s best flair bartenders compete in the art of juggling bar equipment to entertain and make great cocktails. Cambridge has the honour of hosting the fifth of seven annual Grand Slams held across the world.

Paulo and I attended on Friday, the opening day. There were ten bars selling cocktails and Nanna Mexico served up a variety of dishes made with nachos.

The little booklet prepared by Cambridge Cocktail Weekend, called a compendium, was well put together and contained all the information required for the event. We could peruse each bar’s cocktail menu and take our pick. It was a difficult choice to make! Some of the bartenders were happy to talk us through their cocktails, which helped us decide. The compendium also listed the masterclasses and workshops. Belvedere vodka ran two very popular ones on Friday.

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The Muddlers Club – Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK)

Tucked away in a back street of Belfast’s vibrant and bustling Cathedral Quarter, The Muddlers Club is a real find. The place is steeped in history as it’s named after the secret society that used to meet there over 200 years ago.

Passageways illustrated with street art lead to an industrial building displaying fairy lights and a welcoming sign.

Its hidden location suggests an air of secrecy and exclusivity, yet The Muddlers Club is friendly and informal. A snooty place it isn’t but make no mistake, the food is top class yet reasonably priced for its exceptional quality.

The cool industrial-style décor, with its muted greys and exposed ducts, is complemented by the warm tones of the wooden floors, tables and chairs. The restaurant is dimly lit with light coming from the large windows, open kitchen, modern chandeliers and flickering candles.

The Muddlers Club offers a small, focused menu with fresh, local ingredients at the forefront. The dishes don’t have names. They are described by their ingredients which makes the presentation a surprise, especially the desserts. The dishes are simple but they’re meticulously prepared. Every single item we ordered was a work of art!

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1H+K – Vaasa (Finland)

Once in a while you stumble upon the perfect little restaurant that has it all: great food, ambience and service. 1H+K is that place, although it happens to be in Vaasa, Finland so I’m not able to pop in nearly as often as I’d like. However, I did make the most of my short stay and enjoyed dinner at 1H+K twice.

1hk-stairs

1hk-pentik

1H+K stands for one (1) room (huone) + kitchen (keittiö) and that’s exactly what it is, although there is a private dining room available (they call it a cabinet). The restaurant (ravintola) is tucked away on the first floor above the Pentik shop but it isn’t part of the store. It’s completely independent and is accessed through the main entrance with its own staircase. However, you can spot the restaurant from inside the shop.

1hk-inside-view-pentik

1hk-view-from-pentik

Its relatively hidden premises is part of the charm. It’s like discovering a secret location for those “in the know”. It certainly feels as though it’s the type of place only locals know about, as there is no English version of their website. Fortunately, I was able to find their main menu on their Facebook page that included the English translation. The dishes feature local produce and seasonal cooking, which means that the menu changes a few times a year and remains small (as it should be) with 4 or 5 items per course.

1hk-interior

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Vera, Drink Up! – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

On 9 July 2016 Vera, Drink Up!, a collaboration between Vera’s Gin Club and Cambridge Eat Up!, took place at The Plough in Shepreth, near Cambridge. It was presented by “Vera” (gin expert Lyndsey Spellman) who took us through the history and horticulture of three gins. Lyndsey’s presentation was entertaining and interactive and she had everyone laughing and having fun from the very beginning.

The Plough Shepreth Vera Drink Up Tables

Vera Drink Up Lyndsey Spellman

The Plough Shepreth

Lyndsey leads a monthly Vera’s Gin Club at The Plough (I wrote about it here). As a member of Cambridge Eat Up!, the Facebook group for foodies, I wanted to include Vera in a foodie event so Lyndsey and I organised Vera, Drink Up!, a food and drink extravaganza featuring 3 premium gins + Fever-Tree tonic, Vera’s fun and informative gin presentation and a plateful of exquisite food by Romano’s.

Romano's Collage

Vera Drink Up Collage

We held Vera, Drink Up! from 5pm to 7pm so we could include a hearty dinner. The monthly Vera’s Gin Club features more gin (5 gins) and less food (The Plough’s nibbles) but for this special occasion we were fortunate to have a tasty menu created by the fabulous Paola Davies-Romano. The Plough were kind enough to lend us the space and have Romano’s as guest kitchen for the event. We also had The Foraging Fox on board, who supplied us with bottles of their delicious beetroot ketchup.

Photo courtesy of The Plough

Photo courtesy of The Plough

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Gin Festival – Cambridge (UK)

The Gin Festival took place at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on 8-10 April, 2016. Tickets sold out in record time and I was delighted to attend the Friday slot with my husband Paulo. Aimed at gin novices and connoisseurs alike, the Gin Festival was a lot of fun and I enjoyed discovering the fantastic variety of gins in a laid back setting.

Gin Festival Cambridge Crowd

Gin Festival Balcony View

The event was well organised and each ticket holder received a branded balloon gin glass and a handy Gin Book.

Gin Festival Glasses

Collage Gin Festival

All of the gin brands at the festival offered samples but with a staggering selection of gins at 4 different bars (A, B, C or D), it was a good idea to purchase tokens (4 for £20). One token per G&T and two tokens for a cocktail, served at the bar upstairs. The gin-based cocktails included Drunken Tulip, Northern Soul, Rhubarb Rumble, English Garden, Red Snapper and Negroni.

Gin Festival Bar C

Gin Festival Cocktail Bar Sign

Gin Festival Cocktail Bar

I took the time to go through the booklet as it contained information about the gins on offer and which bar they could be found. I also brought my own tote bag to carry the Gin Book and any other promo material I picked up from the brands. It was also handy for carrying my gin glass when I needed to keep my hands free.

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Pinkster Gin Tour and Tasting – Barley, Hertfordshire (UK)

Those who have heard me rave about my favourite gin, Pinkster, will understand my sheer delight at being invited to a tour and tasting at Pinkster HQ, near Cambridge. You may have even seen Pinkster’s eye-catching displays in some shops, such as Cambridge Wine Merchants, and at events and fairs. They really do their branding well!

Collage Pinkster Gin

Pinkster Gin 2

Pinkster Gin 3

My visit on 15 June was very well organised by Pinkster’s newest team member, Lyndsey Spellman, who is quite the gin connoisseur herself. It was a real treat to have a peek into Pinkster’s premises. I didn’t know what to expect but given the fact that taxis were arranged, I knew there was going to be a lot of gin flowing. Yessss!

Collage Pinkster Gin 2

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The Cholmondeley Arms – Cholmondeley, Malpas, Cheshire (UK)

I’ve been to The Cholmondeley Arms several times since I first discovered it in 2012 on a trip to Chester. It’s located in the village of Cholmondeley, near Malpas in Cheshire. I always make a point to visit this picturesque pub for lunch when I am in Chester or Liverpool as it is on the way back to Cambridge. Paulo and I recently returned to the ‘Chum’ for a much anticipated lunch.

Sign - The Cholmondeley Arms

Sign – The Cholmondeley Arms

Pub - The Cholmondeley Arms

Pub – The Cholmondeley Arms

It’s one of my favourite pubs as the food, drink and ambience are quite special. The pub is a former Victorian schoolhouse built in 1862 and was first converted in 1988. It was refurbished a few years ago by the new owners who celebrated its past as a schoolhouse. The result is a beautifully decorated and charming place to spend a few hours over great food and drink. They have a dizzying selection of gins and some excellent local beers. The menu consists of freshly made classics that are expertly prepared and presented.

Charming interior and exterior

Charming interior and exterior

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