Belfast Bred Tour
Caviar, Paddy's Pizza and Belfast Black ale: Lee Henry gets the job of his life. Watch an abridged version of the tour below
The Belfast Bred walking tour around some of the city’s more high profile foodie establishments is a tour of firsts for me. In Sawyer’s deli, where our fictional tour guide Barney (a recently thawed out chef on the Titanic) greets us, I sample my first taste of caviar after the proprietor, Kieran Sloan, daubs a teaspoonful onto my knuckle. No more than that, he insists – a tin costs £90!
Later, in the Mourne Seafood Bar on Bank Street I down my first oyster with a squirt of lemon and a prayer, followed by a first-time guzzle of Belfast Black ale in the John Hewitt bar and a nibble of Northern Irish cheese in Nick’s Warehouse.
And the sun is shining. Now there’s a first.
Belfast Bred is a Kabosh Theatre Company production, and today's tour is the first show of many scheduled for the summer months.
Restored to life following the melting of the iceberg in which he had been frozen, Barney has two and a half hours to complete an ingredient hunt in contemporary Belfast and recreate the famous ship’s launch menu. If successful, Barney will cook the Titanic Centenary Dinner in 2012.
Written by Seth Linder, performed by Fra Gunn and directed by Paula McFetridge, Belfast Bred introduces tourists to the very best produce on offer in Belfast in the 21st century, from dulse to dark chocolate. Barney's banter keeps the tour moving forward, and provides some laughs - and a fair few historical insights - along the way. Gunn ad libs to perfection when the odd white van man shouts 'Don't listen to him!', but it's the food that speaks the loudest.
The mouth watering tour includes free samples at each location: cured bacon in a Belfast bap at Sawyers, established in 1897; indigenous oysters at the award-winning Mourne Seafood Bar; superb artisan beers at the John Hewitt; delicious Irish cheeses at Nick’s Warehouse in the Cathedral Quarter; and the unique ‘Paddy’s Pizza’ – made with soda bread – at the historic Kitchen Bar.
Along the way, Barney recalls the eccentric tastes of his former boss, the imposing Chef Rousseau, and delves into the little-known culinary heritage of his beloved city. Who knew that ginger ale was invented here by the folks at Cantrell & Cochrane, or that the milk chocolate we know and love today was marketed as a medicine by Belfast native Hans Sloan, the first person to add milk to an otherwise unpalatable cocoa concoction? Another series of firsts for me.
With Belfast Bred (see what they did there?) Kabosh have devised another inventive, informative and entertaining outdoor offering, following on from the success of their play set in a taxi, Two Doors West, at the 2009 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
I was expecting cramps and a rumbling tummy by the time this two and a half hour tour had finished, but the pace is well set, the food abundant and the time, as they say, flies by.
This is due, in part, to the restaurant and pub owners’ infectious appetite for all things culinary. We learn from head chef Andy Ray that he and his colleagues at the Mourne Seafood bar are working to rejuvenate a dying breed of oysters native to the shores of Northern Ireland for the benefit of future generations.
In Nick’s Warehouse, Mr Price is giddy with excitement at serving us cheeses developed by his friends and collaborators Five Mile Town Creamery. I like the brae, but not so much the goat’s cheese, which looks like a tiny ball of mozzarella. The way Nick talks about it, however – all waving hands and in jokes – I really feel that I should.
Not that this first outing goes without a hitch. In the John Hewitt the bar manager begins his spiel before the majority of the party get inside, and in the Kitchen Bar the chef is so nervous and unprepared that he has to read, from and at, a sheet of paper. I’m interested in this fine establishment, but I barely hear a word about it. Disappointing, given the other chefs' evident enthusiasm.
The John Hewitt and Kitchen Bar are not total write offs, however. Far from it. I was not aware that the John Hewitt is a not-for-profit registered charity, as the bar manager informs us, which serves fourteen different beers. Nor had I ever eaten pizza made with soda bread washed down with a sip of Irish whiskey.
Actually, they could do with changing that too – hardly any of our party touched their liquor. Perhaps the Kitchen Bar staff could substitute it with some ginger ale?
The tour ends at St George’s Market, where Barney discovers that his beloved Rosy has been playing away and the rest of us top up on coffee and chocolate. Belfast Bred is a fine addition to the city’s many established cultural tours, and will, in my opinion, eventually prove the most popular and profitable.
See for yourself every Friday and Saturday, as Barney does it all again from 10am at Sawyers. Tickets cost £15 and can be purchased by calling the Belfast Welcome Centre on 028 9024 6609 or visiting www.gotobelfast.com/greatbelfastfood.
The Belfast Bred tours are supported by the European Regional Development Fund, under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, administered by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.