Driving on the opposite side of the road on the opposite side of the car is always a challenge. But, the roads to Belfast are wide and vast which makes it easier on the North American traveler. Arriving into Belfast we witnessed the large docks on one side and the commercial buildings on the other. Chilly breezes off the Irish Sea made the air much colder in Belfast.
We headed straight to the Titanic Museum which opened in 2012, in time for the 100th anniversary of the fatal voyage. The Museum sits on the original dry dock where the ship was built and contains visual displays of how the ship was built as well as a mini sky-away to take your through the exhibits. This museum is a must if you are going to Belfast, I found it fascinating reading about who was on the ship and who survived.
Next, we headed to our accomadations at The Merchant Hotel in downtown Belfast. The Merchant Hotel has an upscale Parisian style hotel with dark red stripe carpets in the rooms and busy wallpaper. I enjoyed the view of the rooftop, it reminded me of Mary Poppins (Hah, Anaheim girl has always a Disney reference)! We decided to dine in-house at Bert’s Jazz Bar for two reasons, 1) I was freezing and 2) I had read about the food.
We settled in at a nice table at the side of the restaurant so we could hear the music without it being too loud. Bert’s had a pre fixe menu that looked very appealing. The steamed Mussels served in a tomato broth were fresh and clean with a nice creamy flavor and the pan seared Hake was delicate but, needed a little zip. The seafood in Ireland is nothing but, extraordinary and I was trying to order as much as possible. The housemade Chicken Liver Mouse was rich and the texture just perfect. The Bouillibaisse had the same brightness as the mussels and was thoroughly enjoyable.
The music was terrific as well, especially if you are a jazz lover and the ambiance –very romantic for a special evening in Belfast.
The dessert was delicious, a Bread Pudding served in a croissant topped with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce. The pudding was soft on the inside and still had the crunchy outside to really bite into. Loved it!
The following morning we took a quick (and I mean quick) spin through the downtown and headed to City Hall. The 173 foot copper dome is in the downtown center and was built between 1898 and 1906. The building has a beautiful marble staircase and if you look up the dome on the inside — it is even more impressive than the outside.
Back in the car and headed further north to the Antrim Coast and Giant’s Causeway. The Antrim Coast is one of the most beautiful coastlines in Ireland and it reminded me of numerous remote east coast beach towns but, much more remote with acres of farmland. The winding coast drive took three hours until we arrived at Giant’s Causeway.
Giant’s Causeway is a 5-mile stretch of coastline that is a World Heritage Site and is known for its basalt columns. The Causeway was formed some 60 million years ago from volcanic eruptions. There is a self-guided tour that you can listen to while you walk the coast admiring the beauty.
Now off the Bushmills Distillery for a tour and a taste of whiskey. Bushmills is the oldest distillery in the world, licensed back in 1608 and has been making whiskey since the 13th century. What makes Irish Whiskey different from American whiskeys is that it is triple distilled and has a smoother feel. Bushmills claims it gives less of a hangover than U.S. whiskey’s or scotches?? Hmm.
After a quick warm up, we were off for a few more hours of driving and a quick stop in Derry to view the “Old City Walls”. These walls were built in 1613 and are still intact. Each wall in 20 feet high and at least 20 feet thick and enclose the city center. In 1666 orphans were shipped to Derry after the the Great Fire of London. These orphans rebelled against the Catholic forces and in 1689 changed the course of Derry and favored Protestant King William of Orange.
Next, we were headed to our B&B another hour away in County Donegal in a small town on the coast called Dunkineely. Castle Murray House is a quaint hotel on the rolling hills coastline with traditional accomodations and a French Chef who has been cooking there for over 20 years. I was very excited to try their cuisine and stop riding in the car.
We had a cocktail in the lounge ahead of time, we were on an Irish Whiskey Exploration so to speak. We ordered our meals in the lounge and when we were seated the meal began. It started with a Chorizo and Cream Potato Crisp amuse bouche that was satisfying to say the least.
Next, Monkfish and Prawns in a light creamy sauce baked in a escargot dish with a crunchy cheese layer on top. This dish was unique in presentation and the flavors were divine. I enjoyed plucking the seafood bites from each cavity and savoring every bite.
The Crab Claw Risotto was another favorite with a full claw planted on top to enjoy with the rice. The flavors were fresh from the sea and creamy from the rice porridge, very nice. The crab was very generous in size.
Our entrees proceeded with Turbot with Mussel Sauce and fresh Asparagus. The sauce, well…I can hardly put it to words….the best I have had. I am going to look it up in a French cookbook of mine when I get home and try and replicate it, it was that good. The fish was seared nicely as well but, again the sauce was the best part.
Lamb crusted with dried herbs was another great dish. The herbs tasted as if coriander was in the rub and it gave it a nice fragrance. The meat cooked perfectly and served with a puree of eggplant. A side of whipped potatoes and skewered grilled veggies were also placed on our table to accompany our meals. Everything was absolutely fantastic. One of the best meals of the trip.
For dessert, as if I wasn’t stuffed already, three scoops – triple berry, vanilla and blueberry, of ice cream served in flower shaped tuile cups. The flourless chocolate cake with ice cream was another delight. This place is a real treasure and definitely worth booking.
The next morning we made a quick stop at the Donegal Castle on our way to Galway. This castle is a 15th century restored Norman house with an additional 17th century restored manor house.