Our day started at The Nautilus Centre, which overlooks Kilkeel’s busy and picturesque fishing port. It houses the Mourne Maritime Visitor Centre, Kilkeel Visitor Information Centre, Tracing Your Mourne Roots Exhibition and the Mourne Seafood Cookery School.
I travelled to Kilkeel with Gemma where we were met by the fabulous Tracey from NI Food Tours and introduced to other guests, Mollie, Hama, Lyndsay and Laura before making our way to Peggy’s Cottage in Hanna’s Close in the Mountains of Mourne where we were served a rather fantastic hearty breakfast of local produce. Lily explained the history of the project to us and we got to see Ruth and Joan rustle up some freshly made soda and potato bread on the griddle. I can’t begin to tell you how fantastic this was. You really just can’t beat the taste and smell of freshly baked NI speciality breads! I grew up learning how to make these breads at my grandmother’s knee and this just transported me straight back to childhood!
The cottages themselves are quaint with fantastic views of the Mourne Mountains. Perfect for a holiday or weekend break. We visited the Seamus Heaney chair by the river and spent some time playing on the stepping stones. A perfect break from the stress of everyday life!
Our next stop was a visit to Whitewater Brewery. This was set up in 1996 on a 3rd generation farm in the Mountains of Mourne and is now situated in Castlewellan, where they brew and bottle their 10 different beers on site. Kerry Sloan, who co-owns the brewery with her husband Bernard, gave us a tour of their fabulous new facility where they are opening a new brew school. If you fancy trying making beer, this will be perfect for you. We then got to try a range of their beers, Belfast Lager, Bee’s Endeavour, Hen Cock & Pigeon Rock, Clotworthy Dobbin, Maggies Leap and Ewe Rebel. I was fascinated by how completely different these all tasted but i will express a preference for Bee’s Endeavour which is flavoured with honey and ginger. I can’t wait to book onto the brewing course to learn more!
Next up was a visit to an oyster farm in Killough Bay. Frenchman and local character, Patrice Bonnargent has set up a small scale operation of oyster and mussel beds. It’s a little known fact that my dad and uncle set up a very small oyster farm in Dundrum Bay. I used to get roped in to work on the beds at weekends. They promised that if I found a pearl amongst the oysters, I could keep it. What they failed to tell me was that it takes a thousand years for a pearl to form from a grain of sand! I still haven’t forgiven them!
Patrice loaded us u on the back of a tractor like maidens heading to the country fair or so we thought. In reality, we bounced around on the back, squealing in panic that we were going to get flipped off. It was like some sort of early days roller coaster, with water from the beach, splashing up and soaking us.
When we arrived at the beds, Patrice showed us the baby crabs and it took me right back to my childhood job of removing any baby crabs from the beds. I actually felt very emotional!
He then showed us some grown oysters and produced some lemon wedges, glasses and a bottle of white wine. He expertly shucked the oysters and we stood in the sunshine, knocking them back. What a joyous moment. After a lifetime of not liking oysters, I finally enjoyed them!
Our next location was the Mourne Seafood Cookery School in Kilkeel. Here we met Head Chef, Roger Moynihan, who has a fantastic reputation for creating a fun food experience. He was accompanied by Chef Paul Cunningham, from the award winning Brunels Restaurant in Newcastle and Chef Loughlin Maginn from The Rostrevor Inn and they created a fine range of dishes for us to sample. Andrew Imrie from KWM Wines matched some wines for each dish
Paul cooked us one of his dishes from Brunels, black faced lamb with lamb neck and salt baked potatoes, totally delicious. I was too busy listening to Paul to write down all the details but his attention to detail was amazing, with a sauce made from foraged herbs and an onion dust coating on the potatoes.
Roger created an amazing dish of hake cooked in Harnetts Oil with crabmeat, potatoes, langoustines and samphire in a prawn bisque. This was divine. If we had been a little polite while sampling Paul’s lamb, we tucked into this with gusto.
Next up, Loughlin created two dishes, a Prawn Pil Pil and a seafood risotto. I will confess to not being a fan of seafood in general, but these dishes have converted me. They were light, beautifully flavoured and totally devoured by us!
Finally, we got to meet with some fantastic local food producers and sample their products. What a treat. We met with Harnetts Oils, Seasource NI, Bite to Savour, Made in Mourne, Beerhut brewing, Red Dog sauces, Oh So Lean, Mourne Fishbox, Cunningham Butchers and Castlescreen Farm. It was fascinating to hear their stories and learn more about their business.
Representatives from Newry, Mourne and Down Council were also in attendance and we got to meet them as a delicious buffet was served!
If you don’t have pans this weekend, why not join the fun? Diners will be spoilt for choice as restaurants, cafés and pubs serve up bespoke menus and unique food experiences to celebrate the Mourne Coastal bustling food and drink scene, and organisers Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in conjunction with the award winning Mourne Seafood Cookery School and NI Food Tours are encouraging everyone to try something new or book a table at a tried-and-tested favourite to celebrate. Weather you live locally or want to visit for lunch, a day or a short break for feasting the Mourne Coastal area welcomes you. You can find out more here
My sincere thanks to Newry Mourne and Down Council, NI Food Tours and Mourne Seafood Cookery school for the invitation.
Thanks too to the venues and people that hosted us so brilliantly.
A special thanks to Lyndsay, Gemma, Hama, Laura and Mollie for craic throughout the day!
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