Sunday, 2 September 2012

Belfast Bred walking tour

Last weekend I went on the Belfast Bred food tour.  It's been around for a while and I had always wanted to check it out.  I guess I didn't because I'm not a big foodie and thought it was aimed more at tourists.  Now I wish I'd checked it out sooner.

We had arrived a bit early so went to a cafe to get a scone and some coffee, not realising just how many samples we would get on the tour!  The tour started at Sawer's Deli in Fountain Street.  

Our tour guide Barney told us some of the history of Sawer's and introduced us to the Manager who continued the story.  We were taken inside and given various food samples from octopus to Guinness Cheddar. 

Despite clearly being busy as the shop was being extended into the unit next door, the Manager and the staff made time to show us interesting items in the shop like this jar of real gold used for garnishing desserts.

Barney then led us out of Sawer's and round to Mourne Seafood Bar, one of my favourite restaurants. On the way he told us stories of his life, about food he remembered eating when he was young and also gave us some interesting insights into the history of particular buildings.   

After a chat to the Manager of Mourne Seafood bar and some freshly cooked Salt and Chilli Squid, off we went again, following Barney to the John Hewitt Bar. Again we heard some interesting facts about Belfast as Barney led us across Royal Avenue on a busy Saturday morning.  Passing shoppers looked bemused as Barney, in his lobster adorned chef's hat, shouted 'Hello' to everyone in his broad Belfast accent and rang his bell to get us to hurry along.  

At the John Hewitt we sampled some cider and lager as the Manager told us about the history of the bar and it's relationship with local beers and breweries. We felt rather special, being locked in the pub for our tasting session. 

The artwork that was on the walls while we were there, apparently linked to the Titanic Boys show in the Grand Opera House deserves a mention.  Some of the pieces were beautiful and the art is part of the reason why Belfast people love this wee bar.  

And we were off again, this time down the cobbled lanes past the Duke of York to Nick's Warehouse.
Barney continued with his brilliant stories of the history of Belfast and joking with the tour group.  I really think that this is what made the tour so special.  Fra Gunn, who plays Barney, is a gifted storyteller and engages everyone with his character, both the paying members of the audience and passers by.  He clearly enjoys what he does, and he is adept at ad libbing when he needs to.  I enjoyed seeing his typical Belfast banter with the chefs and managers of each venue. 

Nick Price, owner of Nick's Warehouse gave us a fascinating insight into not only his restaurant, but also into his own interests.  A quirky character, it was nice to hear the passion in his voice when he talked about food.  We sampled different types of cheese, which were all lovely, though my favourite was as always, the goats cheese.

And off we went again, following Barney through the busy streets towards McHughs Bar, the oldest building in Belfast.  This place is a gem.  The old photographs are a genealogist's dream, and I found it difficult to listen to the Manager with all the history on the walls around me.  

In McHugh's we were brought a volcanic rock heated to 430°C and a steak to cook on it. I'm not a big fan of steak, and would never order it, but even to me it tasted amazing.  

Barney led us on to St George's Market.  This was our final location, after two and a half hours.  We hadn't even noticed the time go.  It seems like a long time, but the tour is evenly broken up and as well being seated in the venues, you can also sit at various benches on the way.

The tour is absolutely not just for tourists. I know quite a bit about Belfast History, but Barney gave me a few extra facts which I'd never heard before. You also don't need to be a 'foodie' or even need to try all the samples. I started the tour practically a vegetarian, cooking with quorn rather than meat. The week after the tour, I took myself down to St George's Market to buy some real meat, simply because McHugh's made me realise how much I missed it.        

Belfast City Council describes the Belfast Bred tour as a 'unique theatrical walking tour exploring the food and drink of Belfast'. But it is so much more than just a food tour.  The tour tells us stories of Belfast city, of Belfast characters, architecture and history.  Barney is a great character and Fra Gunn a brilliant storyteller.  It's great experience and I wish I hadn't left it so long to book.

Information and booking info on the tour is here: Belfast City Council


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