Everyone that knows me knows how food is not just fuel to me. It is a passion. I may not dine in the best restaurants, I may not create the most amazing savoury delicacies, I may actually be insanely fussy and not eat seafood & a wide variety of other foods BUT I love everything about eating. I love creating something from scratch, I love tasting a new creation, I love seeing other people’s pleasure at tasting something I’ve made or even something I’ve recommended. Obviously baking has become my biggest passion and I cannot imagine a time when it won’t be part of my life but it doesn’t stop me from loving new savoury experiences too.
When it came to my 30th birthday celebrations I knew it had to involve food. The wife wonderfully paid for my whole day of foodie extravagance (along with lots of fab presents!) I was already planning my own birthday cake but I also wanted to try something new on my actual birthday. I booked the wife and myself in for Afternoon Tea at The Merchant Hotel http://www.themerchanthotel.com/ For a very reasonable £14.50 you can experience the standard afternoon tea with as much tea as you can consume or for £24.50 you can add a glass of champagne. We both went for the standard offer as I thought the champagne would be too much for me in the afternoon as we were having dinner that evening too.
We were seated in The Great Room which serves as the main restaurant of the hotel. Many locals know that this hotel used to be an Ulster Bank branch. Coincidentally it was my local bank when I was a student and I lodged my loan cheques with the tellers that sat under the dome that now towers above the diners in the Great Room. I could appreciate its beauty even when it was drab, austere and covered in dingy grey paint. I was delighted when I saw how they had transformed what was hiding under that drab exterior.
We were seated to the left of the main doors so we had a great view of all the people coming and going. The only disadvantage was that our waitress was probably a little too attentive as there were only 2 tables being used in our section. We sat together on a plush banquette with luxurious cushions surrounding us.
We chose the Merchant Trade blend tea as we both like to add milk & sugar. Afternoon Tea Menu It comes served in beautiful silver teapots and the loose leaves are poured through a strainer. Although our waitress was lovely she was too quick to come and pour more tea when we’d barely finished half of our cups and she came back quite often, for relaxation purposes I’d suggest asking to serve yourself.
After a few minutes we were served a cake stand with 3 tiers. The bottom tier was a range of finger sandwiches. The selections offered were salmon & cucumber (which we declined as neither of us eat seafood) egg mayo, ham & wholegrain mustard & chicken with rocket. They were delicious, the bread was beautifully soft and the fillings generous.
The middle tier held a variety of plain & fruit scones with little pots of jam & clotted cream. The scones were still warm and had a lovely texture, slightly firm on the outside and soft on the inside. They were paired perfectly with the jam & cream.
The top tier was the sweet treats. My favourite was the Macarons with a wonderful crisp outer shell and creamy filling. I will dare to say I didn’t enjoy them as much as my own attempts but that’s purely because the Merchant ones were quite a plain flavour that I couldn’t quite place whereas I like to make chocolate ones! They were accompanied by a shot glass with a clear jelly (possibly champagne flavoured) with a passionfruit mousse & glace topped with fresh raspberries. This shot was delightful, a nice combination of tangy and sweet and quite refreshing. Alongside the shot was a small layered cake. I had thoroughly over indulged at this point so only tried one bite of the cake. I will admit I wasn’t too enamoured with the flavours. It was an unusual combination of flavours that I couldn’t quite figure out.
While we were enjoying the food already provided the waitress appeared with a small cake and one candle and said Happy Birthday, I suspected someone in my family had called to organise the cake but I found out afterwards that The Merchant provide it themselves if you say it’s your birthday. As we were full they kindly allowed me to take it home in one of their special pastry boxes (which I love and hope to copy the pattern to try my own designs) I tried it the next day, it was a simple vanilla sponge with raspberry jam but very tasty and not dry at all.
We left the hotel after copious amounts of tea to embark on a mini shopping spree before dinner.
Dinner was in one of my favourite Belfast Restaurants: Made In Belfast Made In Belfast It had been recommended to me several times but I only experienced it for the first time a few months ago. I must admit that the décor and atmosphere are what sets this place apart for me.
I love the eclectic mix of styles and the quirky vibe but the best part for me is that it feels very relaxed unlike many restaurants I’ve tried. It has a real mix of patrons & it seems to suit all of them. I started with a cocktail (my only drink of the day) while we looked at the menu.
It’s not a large selection so we both went for quite traditional choices, I ordered the chicken supreme and the wife ordered rib eye steak. My chicken came with an aioli which was bursting with garlic flavour but the steak came with a café de Paris butter which neither of us had tried before. It was made with herbs, chilli & anchovy and it actually tasted divine, really smoky and thankfully it didn’t taste too strongly of anchovy.
After a long day of indulging I decided I couldn’t face dessert (which rarely happens) and ordered a hot chocolate instead. It was huge and beautifully creamy. It was the perfect way to end a wonderful day.