Over the last few weeks I’ve been coming across, more and more; a myriad of places within the North that remind me of my café trails during my time in Melbourne. Who knew, but Northern Ireland has become my favourite place to go since I moved back to Ireland. Since my last trip there a few weeks back, Kevin and I have come across several amazing cafes, dotted around the North that have really intrigued us. So grabbing a few days off, securing a car for those few days and booking some last minute accommodation; we made our list of cafes and eateries to visit and headed off.
Our first port of call after staying the night in Belfast City was EstablishedCoffee, which I wrote about quite recently. As I mentioned before, up north; the guys at Established are leading the way in terms of coffee, café design and food. They have clearly invested a lot of time, effort and coin into the café and it shows. We started the morning off with a selection of coffees including filter and a standard flat white. Both went down a treat and whilst we really wanted another round, we both had to think about the impending coffee tour we were about to go on and the amount of coffee we were potentially going to drink over the next two days.
I wasn’t too hungry at the time but Kevin ordered the poached eggs and avocado on sourdough toast with roast tomato. I had strong hopes to keep to my healthy eating regime over the weekend, which meant that I had to summon all my strength not to order the Mast Brothers chocolate waffles that was a brunch special that weekend. A friend of mine in Melbourne, June; had been to NYC recently and brought Mast Brothers to my attention and it was great to finally see the product in person.
Next on the tour, we stopped at Kaffe O. A Nordic inspired local cafe that specialises in Danish influenced cuisine using fantastic produce from local suppliers. Having read some of the back story behind the cafe, it was set up by a former lawyer who, after some healths issues decided to pour herself into her passion for coffee and bring some of the love she had for Copenhagen back to her hometown of Belfast. Whilst Kevin has eaten in Established, I decided to grab something to eat here, opting for the boiled eggs with rye toast.
Its hard, if I'm being honest; to critique boiled eggs and rye toast. Its exactly what it says on the tin. Alongside our coffees (I, a latte and Kevin and espresso) I ordered a juice. Called the Docs Away, the juice contained carrot, apple and ginger. It was delicious and had that kick that I love; thanks to the ginger. The coffee beans are supplied via Ricco's Kaffe in Copenhagen. If being honest, the biggest let down for us at Kaffe O was the coffee itself. The milk was so hot that it took a considerable amount of time to let it cool down and I couldn't get enough of a coffee taste to appreciate the roast. Kevin's espresso, was equally disappointing and he found it particularly bitter. Nonetheless, Kaffe O was bustling and extremely popular with the locals. It had a great community spirit to it and the staff were lovely to deal with.
We made our way through Ballymena on our way towards Portstewert and stopped at Follow Coffee. Having followed them on Instagram, we were eager to check this place out and see it in the flesh. Tucked down one of the pedestrian shopping streets, the café was designed by Terry Design and looked sensational, although I could say it was so polished it kind of lacked the cool factor that somewhere like Established or Lost & Found possessed. What they do possess however is the most charming manager, who took the time to chat with us about the space and the story behind the café. It was a delight to speak to her and with another speciality coffee spot opening in Ballymena, Middletown Coffee Co. in the next few months; Ballymena is going to be one spot every coffee enthusiast will have to visit.
That evening we made our way to Portstewert to check out the very special Harry's Shack. I had heard about this “shack” courtesy of Imen McDonnell, the writer of one of my favourite Irish based blogs Farmette. One look through @modernfarmette on Instagram and you will instantly want to be transported to McDonnell’s kitchen in County Limerick. The food she posts is incredible and this is one woman who knows a thing or two about good food and I would take her recommendations very seriously. We made our way to Harry's quite early in the evening. We were encouraged to make a booking and we did so for six thirty that evening. We arrived a little earlier than that but the lovely team there where happy to accommodate us. Our server that evening was a lovely young lady (apologies I cannot recall her name) and when I say this girl was “on the ball” and looked after us extremely well; I ain’t joking. This place is well known for its incredible array of fresh seafood and why wouldn’t it be: its sitting on the beach for heavens sake. Kevin started off with the whitebait while I ordered the mussels. The whitebait was incredibly fresh but it lacked the crispiness that both Kevin and I had hoped for. My mussels on the other hand were sensational. Plump, perfectly cooked and sitting in a broth so full of flavour, I actually had to stop myself from eating the rest of it with a spoon.
For mains, I ordered the Fish & Chips, while Kevin ordered the Hake. The Fish & Chips were amazing. The fish was so fresh that it flaked with the slightest touch of the fork and the chips were just how you want them; crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and with little peeks of skin here and there (always a winner for me). The star of my dish however was the mushy peas. Had they been sold as a side dish, I would have ordered a second serving. Kevin’s Hake was superb. The “stew” it sat upon was full of baby potato’s, chorizo and enveloped in a deep rich tomato sauce. In addition to this, Kevin ordered a side of chips and a portion of their incredible onion rings.
We wanted to order desert, however we physically couldn’t find the space after two sensational courses. There was a great atmosphere in the ‘shack’ and with a BYOB policy and the amazing food on offer; I would highly recommend a trip there. We finished our evening in Portstewert with a walk along the coastline back to the main part of town which we jokingly referred to it as the Bondi to Bronte walk.
Waking up to another fresh autumnal day, we had been sent a recommendation by our friend Conor (who is an incredible Barista in Dublin) to visit Babushka Kitchen Café in Portrush. Situated next to Portstewert, the town of Portrush is a short drive away and in summer time would be the perfect place for a seaside weekend away. Babushka Kitchen Café sits next to the water and is the picture of perfection. We arrived quite early in the day as we had a long drive back to Drogheda later that day; perfect for breakfast and we started the day with some flat whites using Workshop coffee (having been a huge fan of St. Ali in Melbourne I was eager to check out these guys beans) and the avocado breakfast.
The dish came with toasted sourdough, smashed avocado and two beautifully poached eggs. The dish was simple, but perfectly executed. The avocado mash had a beautiful hint of lemon, which brought a freshness to the dish and it was just the thing to start us up for the long day ahead. The place itself was extremely cute. What it lacked in size, it more than made up for with passion, character and imagination.
Hopping in the car, we made our way towards Ballymena once again to check out the guys at Refinery Coffee. Part of the Green Pastures church, we were blown away by the character and passion housed within the café. What they did with the space was fantastic and knowing that an Aussie was behind managing the place, you could definitely see the Australian influences here and there. We only stopped to grab a coffee (Workshop coffee again), but had we been hungry we both would have been eager to grab something there as the menu sounded fantastic and seeing the food being prepared fresh on-site was great to see (also they make some insane looking pancakes). Definitely one to check out if in the Ballymena area (alongside Follow Coffee).
We had originally decided to venture north to visit Haptik in Newtownards and Lost& Found in Coleraine, however neither Kevin nor myself checked their opening times and it turned out neither opened Sundays or Mondays which was a shame as they both looked incredible. Leaving us some time to check out other hot spots, we came across 5A Coffee in Belfast. We had driven past the café the day prior and it was packed with customers looking for their Sunday Brunch. Arriving just after the mad lunchtime rush, we grabbed a table and ordered some iced teas; eager to give our over caffeinated bodies a rest. Alongside these, we ordered two toasted focaccias to share. The first of which was chicken, avocado, sundried tomato and basil aioli. The second was the vegetarian option and whilst it was still delicious; it didn’t compare to the deliciousness of the chicken option. The café was small in size but had a great atmosphere and the staff were delightful.
Unable to take my eyes off the array of sweet treats they had on offer, we picked up a white chocolate Blondie, salted caramel brownie and a peanut butter and dark chocolate ball for the trip home. Let me state that I have never tasted anything quite like this Blondie in my life. Incredibly rich and buttery; I am surprised I didn’t fall to the ground with a sugar overdose it was that sweet. But hey, that’s what sweet treats are for aren’t they? Driving through the south part of Belfast, I was given a glimpse of the city that I had never seen and I have to say, it made me love Belfast even more than I initially did. The houses, the tree-lined streets, the southern suburbs of Belfast are incredible and it was a great way to finish off our few days up north.
Had you asked me this time last year, living in Melbourne; where would you find the best cafes in Ireland; I probably wouldn’t have said Northern Ireland. Take it from me, it’s the place to visit for any coffee enthusiasts out there.
P.S. If anyone is keen to share their favourite Northern Ireland hot spots with me, make sure to send me a message via Instagram or in a comment below.