At The Merchant Hotel, we take great pride in the many accolades we have received over the years. We continue to strive for new and innovative awards to partake in. These are great opportunities to hone the skills of our professional bar team and refine and improve upon the products and services we offer to our guests. Ryan Adair, one of our resident mixologists, reached the final of Absolut’s recent competition to find their ‘13th Classic’ cocktail with “Pastiche”, his own creation, which has now taken pride of place as our Cocktail of the Season.
Derived from both definitions of its namesake, Pastiche is not only a work of art combining materials from various sources, but also an “imitation" of a classic cocktail. Paying tribute to the heritage of Absolut Vodka, its ingredients each hail from Sweden, particularly the Swedish punsch and lingonberry jam, which complement Absolut exquisitely.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case it was born of Absolute’s specifications, which sought a cocktail with the potential to become a worldwide classic. Pastiche is based on the late nineteenth-century ‘sling’ style cocktails. It was chosen by Ryan due to the popularity of these cocktails in The Cocktail Bar; from the Sloe Gin Ginger Sling to the Cincinnati Kid.
Pastiche is currently on sale in The Cocktail Bar, but should you wish to try your hand at creating it for yourself, try Ryan’s original recipe:
· 35ml Absolut Vodka
· 15ml Flaggspunsch Arrack Liqueur (Swedish Punsch)
· 1tsp lingonberry jam
· 25ml pressed apple juice
· 25ml lemon juice
· 35ml soda water
1. Prepare a highball glass by filling with cracked ice.
2. Add all ingredients – except the soda water – to a shaker and shake hard with ice.
3. Pour the soda water into the glass and strain the contents over the ice.
4. Garnish with a mint sprig, seasonal berries and a dusting of icing sugar.
Kale is the vegetable of the moment for health enthusiasts and chefs alike. This leafy vegetable is a powerhouse of nutrients, including Vitamins A, C and K, calcium and a high level of iron. Combine this with its powerful anti-oxidants, high levels of fibre and low calories, and it is little wonder that this leafy green garnish has suddenly become the ‘queen of greens’.
Kale belongs to the cabbage family, and is similar in taste. It is most commonly boiled, but can also be sautéed or used to make ‘kale crisps. At The Merchant Hotel, kale is used throughout our kitchens, but particularly by the chefs at The Cloth Ear. Here are just some of their top tips for adding kale to your vegetable rack.
Kale is very easy to prepare. Simply break the leaves from the stalk and trim away the tough centre stalk. Rinse well, as kale can be gritty if left unwashed; and shred or chop if necessary, but leaves can be left whole if you prefer.
Kale should be kept in a perforated bag in the fridge. However, kale becomes increasingly bitter when stored over a period of days, so should be eaten within two or three days.
Kale is most commonly boiled. With whole leaves, rinse and place straight into the pan and cook for up to 2 minutes until wilted and drain thoroughly. For chopped leaves, place in a pan of water 1cm deep with a pinch of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for up to 5 minutes until wilted, before draining thoroughly.
To make oven roasted kale crisps, strip the leaves from the main stalks and place on a heavy roasting tray. Drizzle the leaves lightly with olive oil and bake at 200°C for 10-15 minutes or until crisp. Mix smoked paprika with a little fine sea salt and sprinkle over the crisps.
At The Merchant Hotel, we take pride in our close links with local producers and suppliers, as well as those further afield. However The Merchant’s most recent venture has taken a step further, delving into the production and development stages of a local, organic garden to produce fresh, local fruit and vegetables, and to revive the forgotten heritage of Helen’s Bay’s once-thriving vegetable garden.
Since November 2015, chefs at The Merchant Hotel have been assisting David Love Cameron, The Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay’s organic vegetable gardener, to restore these gardens to their former glory. Nestled in the village of Helen’s Bay, this two acre garden was once a flourishing vegetable garden, designed by Thomas Workman of Workman Clark shipbuilders in the late 1800s to provide vegetable and fruit produce for Craigdarragh House. David Love Cameron has recently undertaken the project, intending to restore this certified-organic plot to its former glory, which will see the gardens prosper once more with heritage fruit and vegetables.
Each week, our chefs assist with the work involved in developing an organic garden, from weeding plant beds to planting trees under David’s watchful eye. Whilst many of the plants, such as the fruit trees, will take at least one year to yield fruit, already our kitchens in The Great Room Restaurant, The Cloth Ear and Berts Jazz Bar have returned from the gardens with fresh produce, including Brune d’Hiver lettuce, Red Russian kale and colonial kale.
Whilst we always endeavour to seek local produce where possible, with growing concerns for the environment comes increased appreciation for produce that can be traced from nature to plate. With this in mind, we believe that, not only will our work with The Walled Garden help to further our knowledge of organic vegetable gardening and sustainability; but it will also help to drive our creativity in the kitchen as we receive new varieties of forgotten heritage fruit and vegetables with every coming season.
A meal in The Great Room Restaurant can rightly be described as sumptuous and decadent; from the breathtaking Victorian architecture, to the mouth-watering menus, carefully curated by our excellent chefs - not to mention the superb wine list. But as your meal draws to a close, what would provide a suitable finale? Perhaps a traditional Powers Whiskey Irish Coffee, prepared for you at your own table?
As an extension of the opulent services already offered in The Great Room Restaurant, we have recently launched a table-side Irish Coffee service in conjunction with Powers Irish Whiskey. But how does this differ from receiving an Irish Coffee the old-fashioned way? The secret lies in the wonderful flambéed flavours and, of course, the excellent showmanship of The Great Room Staff!
Whilst you soak up the surroundings of The Great Room Restaurant, our waiters will bring the dedicated Irish Coffee tray to your table, already prepared with the required ingredients, a flambé lamp, and the all-important Powers Irish Whiskey.
To begin, a measure of whiskey is added to the pan, along with some fine brown sugar, which is heated until it begins to caramelise. At this stage, a further measure of Powers Irish Whiskey is added to the pan and flambéed. This allows the aroma of sweet cedar wood to whet your appetite as you watch the flames gently lick the pan to enhance the flavours. Immediately the coffee is added to the pan, before serving with a cooling layer of cream, and some finely grated nutmeg. The only thing left to do is to savour the delicious taste.
This theatrical finish is the perfect way to enhance a delectable dining experience in The Great Room Restaurant. Contact The Great Room Restaurant on 028 9023 4888 for more information.
These familiar spiced buns are a popular Easter treat, traditionally eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent.
Sweet, lightly spiced and studded with mixed fruits such as sultanas and dried apricots, it is difficult to resist the allure of these delicious and sticky buns - especially when they are fresh from the oven!
So why not try making home-made Hot Cross Buns a part of your Easter tradition with our delicious recipe from the kitchens of The Merchant Hotel?
(makes approximately 16)
For the buns:
· 300g plain flour
· 30g caster sugar
· 5g dry yeast
· 300ml milk
· 2 eggs
· 140g cubed butter
· Mixed fruit consisting of – 15g mixed peel, 15g sultanas, 15g dried apricots
· 5g ground cinnamon
· 5g ground mixed spice
For the topping:
· 75g plain flour
· 15ml water
· 3tbsp warm apricot jam to glaze
1. Add dry yeast to milk and stir until combined.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, spices, milk and yeast mixture and eggs in a mixing bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon and then knead with your hands to form a dough.
3. Add cubed butter gradually and continue to mix and knead
4. Leave to rest for 30 minutes
5. Weigh 45g portions of the dough and roll into balls
6. Allow to prove by resting in a warm location until the dough balls have doubled in size.
7. Whilst you are waiting for the dough to prove, create a flour and water mixture for the crosses by mixing the flour and water to a piping consistency.
8. Pipe a cross on to each bun using the flour and water mixture
9. Brush with a little egg wash
10. Bake at 180°C for 8 minutes before turning the tray and baking for a further 8 minutes.
11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once cool, brush with the apricot jam and serve.
The beginning of 2016 saw the launch of the Year of Food and Drink in Northern Ireland, a celebration of the abundance of local produce, traditions and talent that our beautiful country has to offer. Each month has been allocated a unique, foodie theme, which began with Breakfast Month and includes Brewing and Traditions; Heritage; and Seas, Rivers and Loughs.
Alongside a number of other local businesses, The Merchant Hotel is delighted to participate in YOFAD16 by continuing to showcase the very best of our food and drink throughout the hotel, as well as highlighting the passion of those who work behind the scenes to produce it.
Sound enticing? Here’s a breakdown of what The Merchant Hotel has to offer in this mouth-watering year.
What does The Year of Food and Drink mean to us?
As aforementioned, each month of the Year of Food and Drink has a dedicated theme, allowing us to tailor our offerings accordingly. As well as acting as an incentive to visit Northern Ireland, it is a time for us to reflect on every individual that contributes to our sumptuous food experiences throughout Northern Ireland, from chefs and waiting staff to artisan producers and many more.
What events do we have planned for 2016?
We plan to make the most of every theme in the Year of Food and Drink, with each theme corresponding to specific events or dishes throughout the hotel, from The Great Room Restaurant to the Cocktail Bar, Berts Jazz Bar and The Cloth Ear.
Amongst the events taking place, there will be a pop-up afternoon tea event, our annual chilli festival in The Cloth Ear, Fireside Whiskey events in The Cocktail Bar and the Sustainable Gastronomy Dinner.
As well as hosting events, our social media will come to life with related content, from photographs of delectable dishes taken straight from our kitchens, to interesting articles showcasing our local produce.
What external events will we be part of?
Whilst the Year of Food and Drink is an excellent opportunity to showcase our hotel, it is also an opportunity to come together with other local businesses. With this in mind, we will be participating in the Twilight Markets at St Georges Market, Belfast Restaurant Week and Culture Night among other local events.
Which of our suppliers will we be showcasing?
At The Merchant Hotel we rely on our local producers for the high quality of produce that we continue to deliver throughout our hotel, and the Year of Food and Drink is a prime opportunity to showcase these producers in return for the hard work that takes place behind the scenes. These suppliers include The Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay, Hannon Meats, Ewing’s Seafood, La Rousse Cheese, Broughgammon Farm, Get Fresh Vegetables and Islander Seafood, to name but a few.
The Merchant Hotel invites music enthusiasts and gourmands alike to enjoy the culinary and auditory delights on offer at our Opera Dinner on March 3rd 2016.
The evening begins at 7.00pm with canapés and a Banfi Brut reception in The Great Room Lobby. Guests will be welcomed with arias by local operatic talent including Helen Aiken (Mezzo Soprano) Conor Breen (Tenor) and Mark McGrath (accompanist) performing a selection of music from some of the world’s best loved operas. Both Helen Aiken and Conor Breen are no strangers to the stage, having shared the immense privilege of performing in Hillsborough Castle during the visit of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
Guests will be seated by 8.00pm, at which point Dante Cecchini, brand ambassador from Banfi Wines will give an introduction to Castello Banfi and wines on offer during the evening. Banfi Wines was founded in 1978 with a goal to create a state-of-the-art winery, combined with the most advanced science in the vineyards to produce premium wines. In those years, brothers John and Harry Mariani, founders of Castello Banfi, also purchased Bruzzone, a historic winery in Piedmont dating back to 1860 which is now known as Banfi Piedmonte.
Following this speech, the delectable six-course meal will begin, with several arias being performed following the main course, and a grand finale taking place during tea and coffee service.
The Merchant Opera Dinner is supported by Febvre wines and Castello Banfi wines of Tuscany.
We have limited availability for this exclusive event – please contact The Great Room Restaurant on 028 9023 4888 for more information and click here to view the menu.
Sustainability is one of the most important challenges facing kitchens today, and something that has become somewhat of a passion in the kitchens of The Merchant Hotel. One of our priorities is to ensure that our chefs understand food responsibility, and are aware that how they cook and the methods they use will impact the future of the environment. With this in mind, we have already made conscious efforts to promote the use of sea lettuces, vegetables and salads in our kitchens; as well as changing the perception of how various elements of these vegetables can be used to complement other flavours and textures.
With sustainability at the forefront of our minds, the opportunity to collaborate with the Northern Ireland Science Festival to host our Sustainable Gastronomy Dinner on 25th February 2016, was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate this huge driving force operating in the kitchens of The Merchant Hotel.
Food sustainability is a wide and ever-expanding topic, affected by what we eat, but more significantly by what we don’t. So much of our food is produced but never eaten – as much as 1.3 billion tonnes globally. With this in mind, our talented chefs took on the challenge to explore the issues of sustainability through this special event, taking guests on a journey of six courses which maximised the potential use of single every ingredient. Each course stemmed from one specific ingredient, with a strong emphasis on what we believe to be sustainable sources.
By focussing on one main ingredient in each dish, we not only had the ability to plan and execute dishes that explore all of the textures and possibilities that ingredient has to offer; but also to reap the rewards of a heightened dining experience, and the satisfaction that that ingredient had been utilised in its entirety.
We are delighted to say that this event was incredibly well received, with excellent feedback from our guests, and we would like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and dedication.
Similar in flavour to a Christmas cake, the Simnel Cake is a spring twist on a classic, packed with fruit, spices and a gooey baked marzipan centre, which is traditionally eaten on Mother’s Day.
The Simnel Cake’s traditions date back to the medieval era, when female servants would bake a rich fruit Easter cake to bring home to their mothers on a rare visit home. Like Hot Cross Buns, the Simnel Cake also holds deep Christian symbolism, with the twelve marzipan balls on top of the cake representing Jesus’ twelve disciples.
Spoil your mother this Mother’s Day and prepare this delicious cake with the help of our tried and tested recipe.
For the cake:
· 100g glacé cherries
· 225g soft butter
· 225g light brown soft sugar
· 4 large eggs
· 225g sultanas
· 100g currants
· 50g mixed peel
· 2 grated lemon zest
· 2 tsp ground mixed spice
For the filling and topping:
· 450g marzipan
· 1-2 teaspoons apricot jam
1. Combine the ingredients and leave to one side whilst preparing the cake tin
2. Line the cake tin with greaseproof paper and butter the surfaces
3. Roll out marzipan to a thickness of around 0.5cm and cut out two disks using the base of the cake tin as a stencil to cut it to the correct size. The marzipan should sit flush with the cake.
4. Fill half of the tin with the cake mix and place one marzipan disc in the centre of the cake tin, and fill the tin with the remainder of the cake mix.
5. Bake at 180°C for approximately 60 minutes. To test, insert a knife into the middle of the cake – if it comes out clean, then it is ready.
6. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack and decorate.
1. Brush cake with warm apricot jam.
2. Place remaining round disc of marzipan on top of the cake.
3. Roll out 12 balls of marzipan and place on the top of the cake, using a blow torch colour the marzipan slightly – if you don’t own a blowtorch, now is the time to invest!
4. Tie a ribbon neatly around the outside, and decorate with spring flowers if you wish.
Whiskey is truly a drink for all seasons, but with the launch of a brand new Whiskey Tasting Flight in The Cocktail Bar, there is no better time to highlight Redbreast Irish Whiskey.
Redbreast is distilled in the Midleton Distillery, the home of Irish whiskey. The spirit began life in 1939, named after the Robin Redbreast, a bird so loyal to Ireland that it refuses to leave even throughout the bleak winter months.
It is best known as a triple-distilled, pot still Irish whiskey, and indeed, is one of the few single copper pot still whiskey brands still produced today. It is, in fact, the unique use of Midleton distillery’s stills that has contributed to maintaining its historical flavour, with a spicy and creamy mouth-feel, heightened by fruit and toasted oak.
For both seasoned whiskey connoisseurs, and those seeking an introduction to the spirit, our new whiskey flight is the perfect opportunity to explore the subtle nuances of the four varieties of Redbreast Irish Whiskey.
Our flight includes 4x15ml servings of the following whiskeys:
Redbreast 12 Year Old - 40% ABV
Full of aroma and ﬂavour, Redbreast 12 year old beneﬁts from a strong contribution of distillates which have matured in Oloroso sherry casks, giving it its trademark Christmas cake character.
Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength - 58.6% ABV
Savour the seminal Redbreast 12 year old in its natural, full-ﬂavoured state. Straight from the cask, unﬁltered, no water added.
Redbreast 15 Year Old - 46% ABV
Initially launched as a limited edition bottling to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of La Maison du Whisky and now a permanent addition to the family; Redbreast 15 year old is matured in a combination of Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and American Bourbon whiskey barrels.
Redbreast 21 Year Old - 46% ABV
This is the ﬁnest representation of the Redbreast style ever produced. The
21 year ageing process introduces new levels of depth, ﬂavour and taste to create an inherently complex and ultimately rewarding whiskey.
To avail of this unique whiskey experience, visit our Cocktail Bar and request our Redbreast Whiskey Tasting Flight. One of our knowledgable staff will be delighted to talk you through the myriad of flavours (or leave you in peace to enjoy them at your leisure).
Serves 8-10 people
Roasted spring lamb tends to form the centre-piece of most Easter Sunday menus in France, with the lamb, known locally as ‘agneau pascal’, in a symbolic reference to the sacrifice of the innocent. Not only does this delicious dish have an allegorical meaning at Easter, but this time of year is the prime season for lamb making it the perfect choice for the ultimate Easter Sunday family meal.
This traditional dish is seasoned with garlic and fragrant herbs like rosemary to create a mouth-watering, aromatic dish, perfectly suited to the French brasserie style food of Berts Jazz Bar. However, the fact that the recipe requires only 5-6 ingredients, and just 15 minutes of preparation time means that this is the perfect meal to recreate in the comfort of your own kitchen. This Easter Sunday, make your main course “formidable’ with Berts Jazz Bar’s “Le Gigot d’Agneau Pascal”!
· 1x 10-12lb leg of lamb on the bone
· 5 garlic cloves
· 1 pinch of salt
· 1 pinch of pepper
· Olive oil
· 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
· A mixture of dried herbs ½ teaspoon of each, including sage, lavender and thyme
1. Take the lamb out of the fridge about 2-3 hours before you begin the recipe to ensure that the meat is not too cold.
2. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
3. If your butcher has not done so, remove most of the white tough skin that may still be on the meat by making a small incision and pulling with your fingers, cutting parallel to the meat as you pull. This makes the meat more presentable and easier to eat.
4. Slice the garlic into small pieces
5. With a long, sharp knife, make a long and thin 1cm incision in the meat and insert the garlic into the opening. At this point, you may wish to add a couple of leaves of fresh rosemary into the incision, but this is optional.
6. Place the leg of lamb in a large oven dish and lightly cover the meat with olive oil.
7. Season with salt and pepper and, optionally, the dried herbs, on every part of the roast. The olive oil should help the pepper and herbs to stick to the meat, forming a crust-like appearance.
8. Place in the high temperature oven for around 20 minutes to develop a crust, which will prevent the juices from escaping during cooking, as well as adding flavour and visual appeal.
9. Lower the temperature in the oven to around 200°C and continue to cook for 12-15 minutes per pound of weight for a medium serve, or 18 minutes for a well done serve.
10. You may wish to turn the roast when it has been cooking for half of the total time.
11. Once removed from the oven, take out of the oven tray, cover in tin foil and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes to allow the juices to flow back into the meat, and serve. Le Gigot d’Agneau Pascal is traditionally served with green beans and oven roasted potatoes.
Top tip: Whilst allowing the meat to rest, you may wish to place the excess fat in a pan, and place on the stove at a low heat. Add a large glass of chicken stock, deglaze the pan and leave to reduce. This can be served as your sauce.
For a perfect wine match, try the lamb with a classic Rioja – Berts serve a Vina Bujanda Rioja Crianza that’s hard to beat!
The slightly untidy and vibrant relative of traditional broccoli is a highlight of the spring season, best enjoyed between February and April. Purple sprouting broccoli can be enjoyed much in the same way as traditional calabrese, but its leafy texture adds crunch to vegetable dishes and also has a slightly higher nutritional value. It is an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, E and K, and also contains a range of essential B vitamins, potassium, zinc, fibre and iron.
Make the most of this spring vegetable with the help of our chefs in The Cloth Ear and their step-by-step seasonal tips.
When selecting purple sprouting broccoli, look for strong, firm green stalks with tightly packed, dark green-purple heads. Wash thoroughly and discard any tough leaves, and then divide into individual florets each with a short stem, and diagonally slice thicker stems.
Purple sprouting broccoli can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days, but is best used when it is as fresh as possible.
Purple sprouting broccoli can be steamed, boiled or stir-fried, and boils or steams in 3-6 minutes, depending on the size of the floret. To boil, bring a pan of water to the boil and add your prepared broccoli, cooking until tender.
Chargrilled Purple Broccoli served with Sunflower Seed Tahini
Toss the broccoli in a small amount of olive oil and sea salt, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Place on a very hot chargrilled pan and allow the stems to colour well on each side. Reduce the heat and cover with a metal bowl for 3-5 minutes depending on how much crunch you like.
To create the tahini:
· 1 part sesame seed
· 1 part olive oil
· 1 part sunflower seeds
Toast the seeds in a pan until golden, and place in a food processor with half of the olive oil. Blend to form a paste and add the remainder of the olive oil.
Tired of turkey? Perhaps it’s time to consider another bird this festive season. Did you know that the goose is actually our traditional Christmas bird? Despite families becoming accustomed to placing their order for the perfect Christmas turkey, geese were the original British tradition until Edward VII made turkey the more fashionable choice.
This is a particularly good recipe for goose. This is a slightly more expensive bird to buy, but nothing beats its crispy skin, the unique velvety texture of its stock and the assertive taste of Armagnac brandy. Over the years, Brandy Roast Goose has become a favourite amongst the chefs of Berts Jazz Bar; so take home a taste of Berts and recapture the flavours of a Victorian Christmas.
· 1 onion
· 1 6kg goose with giblets
· 2 celery hearts
· 1 garlic bulb
· 2 bay leaves
· 6 thyme sprigs
· 10 sage leaves
· 500ml Armagnac brandy
· 500ml chicken stock
· 200ml port
· 4tbsp tomato purée
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
2. Setting aside the giblets, season the goose with salt on the skin and inside the cavity and place it on the roasting tray, preferably with a wire rack to let the heat circulate and allow the fat to drain off.
3. Place it in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the bird is well browned and the fat has started to render down.
4. Remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 160°C. Carefully pour off the fat, saving it for your roast potatoes.
5. Pour a quarter of the brandy over the bird then return it to the oven. Cook for a further 150 minutes, splashing more brandy over the skin every 30 minutes.
6. Gently sweat the giblets with the onions, celery and garlic until caramelised and then add the tomato purée followed by the herbs, bay leaf and port.
7. Reduce by two thirds, and add the stock. Reduce until it thickens and then strain through a sieve.
8. Take the goose out and let it rest whilst covered in tin foil for at least 30 minutes. This will help the juices to flow back into the meat, resulting in a moist texture.
Top tip- Before carving, pour some brandy into a ladle, light it and gently pour it over the goose to impress your guests.
Preserved plums are delicious and will bring a little festive sparkle to the cold winter months long after the turkey has been carved. Once preserved, the plums will keep for 3 months as long as they are submerged in the liquor and pair perfectly with tarts and ice cream, dropped into a vanilla rice pudding or yoghurt, or even to give a little depth to a glass of champagne.
New to preserving plums? Our dedicated chefs at The Merchant Hotel have created a simple recipe for some boozy plums that are certain to spice up any winter dessert.
· 8 plums
· 100g demerara sugar
· 100g maple syrup
· 100ml water
· 1 inch ginger
· 1 stick lemon grass
· 1 Sarawak peppercorn
· 10 coriander seeds
· 1 mace blade
· 75ml dark rum
· 75ml port
· 75ml sherry
1. Halve the plums, remove the stones and place flesh side down in a cold non-stick pan with the demerara sugar.
2. Heat the pan until the sugar dissolves and starts to turn amber. Add the maple syrup and the water, simmer for two minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool then place the ingredients a 1 litre Kilner jar.
4. Clean the same pan, and lightly toast the spices. They will be toasted enough when the coriander seeds begin to pop slightly.
5. In a saucepan bring the ginger and lemon grass to a simmering stage with the sherry, port and rum. Don’t allow this to simmer for any more than a few minutes as the alcohol will lose its potency – this is a characteristic which you want the plums to inherit from the preserving process.
6. Place everything in the jar, close the lid and keep in a dark cupboard for a week.
The humble sprout is loved and loathed in equal measure, but no Christmas meal would be complete without them.
Throughout The Merchant Hotel, from The Great Room Restaurant, to Berts Jazz Bar and The Cloth Ear, the use of fresh, local produce is top our priority. Our chefs have been working hard to source the finest ingredients for our Christmas Day dinner. If you a gearing up for a lovely family Christmas at home, here at some some seasonal tips, courtesy of the chefs at Berts Jazz Bar, to help you to spruce up your sprouts this Christmas.
Brussels sprouts are readily available almost year-round, but their peak season falls between September and mid-February.
The best tasting, most tender sprouts are only 1-1.5 inches in diameter, and should be compact, firm and green, with minimal torn or yellowing leaves. Choose sprouts of similar size so that they cook evenly.
After removing any damaged or loose outer leaves, store the sprouts in a bag in the coldest part of your refrigerator. They will last 1-2 weeks, but try to cook them as soon as possible, as their flavour will strengthen with time.
Some say it was created for Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert, who hailed from Saxe-Coburg and adored Brussels sprouts; whilst others maintain that it was named for the Queen’s oldest son who in 1901 became Edward VII of the House of Saxe-Coburg. However, most tend to agree that Saxe-Coburg is a tasty simply made soup.
To make, simply heat thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, onion, and chunks of smoky ham sweated slowly in butter, then simmered in a rich milk and ham stock (made up of 1 part milk to 2 parts ham stock). Served with a splash of sherry and with traditional “sippets” – tiny cubes of toast. Traditionally the soup is puréed, turning it a pale shade of green.
This is the perfect Christmas starter, or an ideal opportunity to use up any leftover sprouts and gammon.
With the holiday season just around the corner, it is fitting that our spirit of the season should reflect your upcoming festivities. The drinking of cognac is a long-standing Christmas tradition, originating from France. Rich Hennessy Cognacs are superb on their own but can also be combined with cinnamon, ginger and a variety of harvest ingredients to create a classic seasonal flavour.
Chosen for its warm and inviting character, we have selected Hennessy Very Special, the youngest Hennessy Cognac, as the perfect spirit of the season. It spends up to eight years in French oak barrels to create sweet vanilla and oak notes, and has a smooth mouth-feel, with powerful notes of grilled almonds, complemented by lighter notes of fresh grape.
As a brand, Hennessy is a true classic, having produced high-quality Cognacs from the Cognac region of France since 1765, when it was established by Irishman Richard Hennessy. Hennessy VS is a blend of 40 different eaux-de-vie, carefully selected from various crus of the Cognac region.
Hennessy recommend that Hennessy VS should be savoured neat, on ice or with a dash of soda water, ginger ale, or cola. However, for something truly special, why not create this quick and simple seasonal cocktail to impress your Christmas guests.
The Hennessy Winter’s Spirit
· 40ml Hennessy VS
· 40ml hot water
· 1tsp sugar cane syrup
· 2 lemon supremes (wedges without the peel, pith and skin)
· 1 thin slice of ginger
· 1 orange twist
In a glass, add the Hennessy, sugar, lemon and ginger and stir gently. Top with hot water and garnish with an orange twist before serving.
Are you searching for the perfect stocking filler? For many, homemade gifts are the best gifts; packed with personality, thoughtful and in this case delicious. When it comes to all things edible, it’s hard to beat a rustic chutney, packaged in a good quality jar and thoughtfully decorated.
At The Merchant Hotel, our personal favourite is our fig and apricot chutney, a tasty combination that is perfect with cheese, charcuterie, pâtés and terrines. Put yourselves in the hands of our expert chefs and give our tried and tested recipe a go!
· 500g black figs, stone removed, roughly cut into 1.5cm pieces
· 110g pear, peeled, cored, roughly cut into 1.5cm pieces
· 80g dried apricots, finely sliced
· 1tsp yellow mustard seeds
· 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
· 45g sugar
· 1 small orange, zest removed and juiced
· ½ lemon juiced
· 45g walnuts, roasted and chopped
· 45g hazelnuts, roasted and chopped
· 55ml port
· 55ml Madeira wine
1. Place the port, balsamic, Madeira wine, sugar and mustard seeds in a two litre capacity pot and simmer to reduce the volume by half at a medium to high temperature.
2. Add the lemon juice, orange juice and zest, reducing the volume by half once again.
3. Add the pear and allow to soften for a few minutes; then add the fig, cooking at medium heat until the fruit is soft.
4. Remove from heat and add the apricot, hazelnut and walnut, stirring until evenly distributed.
5. Place on a flat tray covered in greaseproof paper and refrigerate.
6. Once chilled this chutney can be placed in a sterilised preserving jar and kept in the fridge for 1-2 months.
Enjoying a well-made mulled wine is one of the great joys of Christmas. Historically, mulled wine can be traced back to the warm spiced wines enjoyed in first century Rome, but it wasn’t until the 1300s that it gained its name from an Old English word meaning ‘muddled’. Later, Charles Dickens’ inclusion of mulled wine in A Christmas Carol, secured its place as a Christmas tradition.
A good rule of thumb when making mulled wine, is if you wouldn’t enjoy the wine without the mulling spices, don’t use it to make your mulled wine. Needless to say a fine vintage would be wasted but a decent red will make the world of difference to your finished drink.
Throughout The Merchant Hotel, we take pride in our ability to source the finest ingredients and we are constantly refining our techniques to ensure we get the very best from those ingredients. With this in mind, it is fitting that our team have dedicated themselves to perfecting a recipe for mulled wine which focusses specifically on the ingredients and cooking techniques. Take home a taste of The Merchant Hotel and recreate a recipe which is not only tried and tested, but has received wonderful feedback from our guests.
· 1 bottle red wine - preferably merlot
· 60g/2oz demerara sugar
· 1 cinnamon stick
· Pinch of grated nutmeg
· 1 orange halved
· 1 lemon halved
· 1 vanilla pod
· 60ml sloe or damson gin (optional)
· 60ml brandy or port (optional)
· 2 teabags
· 2 stars anise
· 1 dried chilli (optional)
· 5 cloves
1. Gently heat the saucepan. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon, sliced vanilla pod, star anise, cloves and dried chillies. Stir for 2 minutes until the spices start to brown.
2. Add one cupful of your selected wine which will create a glaze. Continue to stir before adding the remaining wine and sugar.
3. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Taste the wine to check the sweetness, and add more sugar to taste if necessary.
4. Stir in the gin and brandy and add the tea bags.
5. Heat gently for a further 5-7 minutes whilst continually stirring.
6. Strain and serve.
As one of the most important components of your festive meal, creating exceptional stuffing is something of an art form. Of course, there are many ways to create the perfect stuffing. From versions that include sausage meat to vegetarian alternatives, but what is paramount throughout is that all-important combination of flavour and texture. Adding The Merchant Hotel’s touch to your Christmas dinner, enjoy our simple but effective recipe that is certain to complement your centrepiece this festive season.
· 2 medium onions, diced
· 1 garlic clove, peeled
· 2 tsp fresh thyme
· 4 leaves of fresh sage
· 150g roasted chestnuts
· 300g unsalted butter, diced
· 100g chestnut puree, unsweetened
· 300g breadcrumbs
· 250g vegetable or chicken stock
· Pinch of sea salt/white pepper
1. Place the diced onion, butter, garlic, thyme, sage and a pinch of salt into a large pot, and heat on a medium heat until soft.
2. Add the chestnut puree and cook until smooth.
3. Add the breadcrumbs and cook for 3 minutes, before adding the stock and continuing to cook on a low heat until the mixture starts to bind together.
4. Fold in the roasted chestnuts and season to taste.
5. Add to your poultry or shape into individual portions and place in the fridge to reheat the following day.
The wild, ‘gamey’ flavour of venison will make a delicious alternative to your turkey leftovers for Boxing Day. Hailing from German Christmas traditions where families enjoy a feast of wild boar or game, venison is packed with flavour and texture and is low in fat. All of these attributes make it a perennial favourite in our kitchens.
At The Cloth Ear, we know that a hearty Boxing Day feast is the perfect way to bring the family together. With this in mind, why not try this fine recipe for a mouth-watering Boxing Day Venison Pie?
· 2kg Venison haunch
· 3 onions, diced
· 2tbsp vegetable oil
· 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
· 1tbsp picked thyme
· 4 carrots, sliced into 1cm pieces
· 5 plums, quartered
· 1 apple, cored and sliced into eighths
· 1 star anise
· 6 black peppercorns
· 4 cloves
· 2 bay leaves
· 1/4tbsp nutmeg
· 1 cinnamon stick
· 1tsp black onion seed
· 4 celery sticks, sliced into 1cm pieces
· 1x35cm2 puff pastry sheet
· 750ml beef stock
· 2 eggs
· 10g sugar
· 15ml sherry vinegar
1. When purchasing the venison ask the butcher to remove the bone. The bone should be roasted at 200°C for 30 minutes and then boiled with the beef stock to help the flavours pair.
2. Dice the venison into 1 inch pieces. There may be a little fat on the meat, but this fine as it will develop the flavour when it is braised.
3. Heat a non-stick frying pan until it is smoking, add the vegetable oil and then colour the venison until brown and caramelised.
4. Remove the meat and place in a deep casserole dish with a lid.
5. Add the onion, carrot and celery to the pan and fry until they begin to soften, and then add the garlic thyme and spices. Cook for 5 minutes at a lower temperature, and then add these vegetables and spices to the meat in the casserole dish.
6. Using the same pan, lightly caramelise the sugar and add the sherry vinegar. Place the fruit into the pan and soften for a few minutes.
7. Place the contents in the casserole dish, along with the beef stock. Braise at 120°C for 3½ hours.
8. Allow the casserole to cool at room temperature and then rest in the fridge overnight, allowing the flavours to develop and the meat to absorb as much of the liquid as possible.
9. The next day, prepare a flat casserole dish, approximately 30cm in diameter and no greater than 8cm in depth, and place the cooled venison mixture inside.
10. Place the puff pastry on top, tucking it into the edges of the dish.
11. Whisk the eggs with the black onion seeds and liberally brush over the pastry.
12. Prick the pastry with a fork several times, place in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 40 minutes, and serve.
The rich and creamy eggnog encapsulates the spirit of Christmas, created with cold winter nights in mind; but how much do you know about its origins?
Whilst many believe that Eggnog was a tradition brought to America from Europe, this is only partially true. Eggnog may be related to various milk and wine punches concocted long ago in Europe, but it was in America that a new twist was added to the theme, creating the drink that we recognise today. Colonial Americans substituted wine for rum, and as rum was commonly known as ‘grog’, ‘egg-and -grog’ soon became shortened to ‘eggnog’.
Eggnog’s European roots and the availability of the ingredients made it a popular wintertime drink throughout colonial America, and by the 1800s, it was a drink nearly always made in large quantities to be served as a social drink.
In honour of the customs of young men in Baltimore, who toasted the New Year with a glass of eggnog, The Merchant Hotel’s experienced bartenders have perfected the ‘Baltimore Eggnog’, offering a slight twist on tradition. Recreate this seasonal delight at home, or visit our Cocktail Bar and soak up some seasonal spirit.
15ml Hennessy VS Cognac
20ml Rich Madeira wine
15ml Appleton VX Rum
20ml cane syrup
15ml full fat milk
1. Dry shake all of the ingredients, and then shake again over ice.
2. Strain neat into a large goblet
3. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and serve with a straw.
Bring some Italian flavour to your festivities this year with Winter Spiced Arancello, a sweet orange liqueur and the more exclusive, wintry relation of the very popular Limoncello.
Served neat, or with a spoonful of whipped or heavy cream on top to create Crema di Arancello, its warm spices ooze Christmas spirit and create a unique alternative to traditional Christmas drinks. It could even make a unique homemade gift for a friend.
Follow The Merchant Hotel’s recipe to create a warm and delicious Arancello to enjoy in your home, or alternatively join us in The Merchant’s Cocktail Bar, and allow one of our skilled mixologists to whip up a seasonal tipple instead.
· 1 cinnamon stick
· 3 cardamom pods
· 1 vanilla pod
· 5 cloves
· 1l bottle vodka
· 500g caster sugar
· 500ml water
1. Remove the zest from the oranges using a peeler, making sure that none of the bitter white pith is left on the peel.
2. Place the zest, spices and vanilla pod in a large Kilner jar, and pour in the vodka. Seal and leave for a week, shaking the jar each day.
3. After one week, boil a kettle of water. Place the sugar in a heatproof bowl and pour over 500ml boiling water, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool.
4. Add your sugar water to the vodka mix and leave for another week, shaking the jar regularly.
5. Strain into decorative bottles, discarding the peel and spices, and store in a cool place until Christmas.
6. If you wish to gift to a friend, drop some fresh spices and peel into each bottle to decorate - but be careful, as they will continue to impact flavour.
Nothing says Christmas quite like the scent of ham roasting in the oven on Christmas Day. Ham has been a long-standing staple at all good Christmas feasts, and with its endless possibilities for leftovers, it is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
Is a succulent roast ham destined to be the centrepiece of your Christmas Day dinner table? Our chefs in Berts Jazz Bar have divulged their secrets to help you serve the perfect dish.
For the glaze:
· 5tbsp dark brown sugar, plus extra to sprinkle
· 5tbsp wholegrain mustard
· Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
· 4tbsp honey
· 5tbsp Worchester sauce
For the Roast Ham
· 1 boneless gammon joint – around 3kg
· 1tsp cloves
· 1 bay leaf
· 1tbsp black peppercorns
· 1 handful cloves to stud the joint
· 1 pinch nutmeg
· 10 sprigs thyme
1. Place the ham in a large pot, and submerge it with cold water.
2. Add the spices, orange zest and thyme and bring slowly to a simmer, skimming off any froth that appears at the top.
3. Leave to simmer gently for 90-120 minutes, until the internal temperature of the ham reaches 68°C.
4. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
5. Remove the ham from the pot, and leave to cool slightly, then carefully cut off the tough outer skin, leaving as much fat beneath as possible.
6. Score the fat in a diamond pattern, and stud the intersections with cloves.
7. Place the ham on a foil lined roasting tray.
8. Mix together the glaze ingredients in a bowl, and brush this over the fat.
9. Place into a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, and continue to baste, adding an extra sprinkle of sugar each time, until the glaze is caramelised and bubbling.
10. Allow to cool completely before serving.
Top tip – The ham stock can later be used in a soup with any leftover ham or vegetables of your choice. Be careful with your seasoning as it will be slightly salty. We recommend adding some cream or crème fraiche to the stock to balance the flavours.
Hosting your own dinner party this festive season? Impress your guests with some delicious seasonal canapés.
Created by The Merchant Hotel’s team of experienced chefs, these canapés will give great festive flavour without too much fuss. Perfect for last-minute gatherings, these can be pre-prepared weeks in advance, and assembled and cooked within 10 minutes, giving you plenty of time to socialise rather than being stuck in the kitchen.
Chestnut Arancini, cranberry and pine nut
· 100g Arborio rice
· 400ml vegetable stock
· 1 onion, finely chopped
· 4 garlic cloves
· 5 thyme sprigs
· 150g parmesan grated
· 100g freshly roasted shelled chestnuts
· 100g fresh cranberry
· 40g sugar
· 60g pine nuts, toasted
· 50g sunflower seeds
· 50g pumpkin seeds
· 75g fine breadcrumbs, dried
· 1 egg
· Pinch of salt
· 100g plain flour
1. Begin by cooking the onion in a little oil on the lowest heat setting for 15 minutes. Once translucent, add the garlic and thyme and allow to infuse for around 3 minutes
2. Add the Arborio rice and half of the vegetable stock, and increase the heat a little until simmering. Stir every few minutes with a spatula to ensure that the rice is binding well with the stock.
3. Once the initial stock has been absorbed, start to add the remainder in two stages. Before adding the last measure of stock, taste a grain of rice to ensure that the rice is getting soft enough but not stodgy.
4. When the consistency is creamy but firm remove from the heat, add the chestnuts and parmesan and season with salt.
5. Cool the risotto to fridge temperature and shape it into balls of around 3cm in diameter.
6. Place the pumpkin seed and sunflower seeds in a roasting tray and cook at 100°C for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and then place them in a pestle and mortar, crushing them into smaller pieces.
7. Add the cranberries to a small pan with the sugar and 1-2 tbsp of water. Heat the pan until the cranberries are punctured and staring to reduce to a consistency similar to chutney. Toast the pine nuts, grind them into smaller pieces in a pestle and mortar, and mix with the cranberry. This can be stored in a jar and preserved for 1 month
8. Place the flour in one bowl, the bread and seed mix in a separate bowl, and whisk an egg in a final bowl. Place each risotto ball into the flour, then the egg and finally in the bread and seed mix. It is important to completely cover the surface in bread and seed. Once coated, these can be fried in a non-stick pan, or frozen to use as required. If cooking from frozen, colour in a pan before placing in the oven at 180°C for 15 minutes.
Turkey, pancetta and sage pithivier
· 2 turkey legs
· 100g smoked pancetta
· 1 bunch of sage
· 1 litre duck fat
· 100g sea salt
· 1 garlic clove, peeled
· Zest of 1 orange
· 1 sprig of rosemary
· 4 sheets puff pastry- approximately 30cm x30cm
· 4 egg yolks, whisked
1. Firstly create the marinade for the turkey legs by combining sea salt, rosemary, roughly chopped garlic and orange zest. Pack the marinade tightly around the meat on each leg.
2. Cover and place in the fridge for 6 hours. Remove and rinse the marinade off the meat
3. Place in a deep roasting tray or casserole dish and cover with duck fat. This can be topped up with vegetable oil if necessary. Cook at 100°C for 4-5 hours until the meat falls from the bone.
4. Allow the meat to cool at room temperature until the meat can be removed by hand.
5. Place all of the meat in a bowl. Chop the smoked pancetta into a small dice- approximately 0.5cm. Shred 12 sage leaves very finely with a knife. Add 2-3 spoonfuls of duck fat to the mixture to moisten it.
6. Lay the puff pastry on a flat surface and start to shape the turkey mixture into spheres that are 3-3.5cm in diameter. Place the balls onto the puff pastry, allowing a 3cm gap between them or the edge of the pastry.
7. Brush the visible parts of the pastry with the egg yolk and place another sheet of pastry on top, allowing the meat to be sandwiched between the two sheets.
8. Using a round cutter that is 0.5cm wider than the turkey balls, cut each one out and press the pastry together firmly, sealing the meat inside a pastry parcel.
9. Brush the pastry parcels with egg yolk to create a dark glaze when cooked.
10. At this stage, these parcels can either be cooked in the oven or frozen to use at a later date.
From fresh, cooking in the oven at 190°C until golden. From frozen, drop the temperature to 180°C.
Top tip: To garnish, pick the smallest of the sage leaves and fry them on a low heat in oil until crispy. The cooking process removes the intense flavour and adds a brilliant freshness to the canapé.
Clove and nutmeg pinwheels, goats cheese, pine needle and balsamic
· 1 sheet puff pastry (approx 30cmx30cm)
· 1 egg yolk, whisked
· 10g sea salt
· 6 cloves
· 1 whole nutmeg
· Small handful of pine needles from your Christmas tree
· 100ml balsamic vinegar
· 20g sugar
· 200g goat’s cheese with the rind removed
1. Place the puff pastry on a flat surface and brush with egg yolk
2. Grate the cloves over the puff pastry, and repeat the process with half of the nutmeg. Flake sea salt over the pastry.
3. Roll the pastry into a tight cylinder and place in the fridge until firm.
4. Once firm, cut the pastry into 1cm discs. Each disc will have a pinwheel effect, created from the spices and salt.
5. Place the discs flat on a flour-covered surface and roll with a rolling pin until as thing and flat as possible.
6. Place on a non-stick tray and cook at 180°C until golden and crispy.
7. Remove from the oven, cool and store in an airtight tin.
8. In a small pan, gently heat the balsamic, sugar and pine needles. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and place in a jar with a lid. Refrigerate for a few days to infuse the flavours.
9. To assemble, place a piece of goat’s cheese on top of the pastry and make a dimple in the middle of it. Using a blowtorch, apply the flame to the top of the cheese until it smoulders, place a drop of the pine needle balsamic into the dimple and serve.
Top tip: If you don't already own a blow torch, invest in one! It has countless uses in an accomplished kitchen!
The blackberry has been a local foraging favourite for centuries – in fact, archaeological evidence suggest that berry picking goes back almost 8,000 years! Found growing on the branches of the wild and unruly bramble, these delicious, deep coloured berries are most commonly found between the months of August and late October. From jams to blackberry coulis, the chefs at The Merchant Hotel can use blackberries to brighten numerous dishes throughout the autumn season.
Where To Find
Blackberries are most commonly found in forested areas, and the most flavoursome blackberries are those which have grown on plants in direct sunlight.
Not only are blackberries found on the spikey branches of brambles, their juice will also stain hands and clothing. Therefore, gloves and old clothing are highly recommended. Be sure to bring a basket or suitable container, as they may bruise if they are squashed into a small bag.
A shiny, plump exterior and rich black colour, are the indicators of a ripe berry. Don’t pick berries that are red or purple, as they won’t ripen once they have been picked. Simply prise individual fruits off the bramble and enjoy.
How To Prepare
Blackberries are a wild food, so before using them in your cooking it is important to soak them in a bowl of salt and water for three hours to remove any dirt or bugs.
To Make Blackberry Liquor
Place a bottle of brandy into a 1 litre Kilner jar, add 150 grams of sugar, fill with blackberries and leave for three months.
Top tip – When you are decanting your liquor, reserve the blackberries and freeze them. Drop one into a glass before pouring prosecco over it for a refreshing and elegant drink. Also try liquidising the boozy berries and swirl into a good quality vanilla ice cream.
These tasty berries are a great source of vitamin C and dietary fibre. Studies also show that they have one of the highest levels of antioxidants per serving of any other food tested, making them ideal for battling autumnal colds and flus.
About the Product
Hailing originally from County Armagh, the Bramley apple can be traced back to the days of Saint Patrick and is world-renowned, not only as one of the most prominent culinary apples, but also as the only apple solely used for the purpose of cooking. Around one third of the world’s supply of the Bramley is grown in Ireland, particularly in County Armagh - better known as the Orchard County.
Since 1809, the business of apple-growing has remained within Armagh families, passed down from generation to generation, with growers taking pride in their ability to achieve the finest cooking apples to be used in drinks, desserts and savoury dishes.
The Merchant Hotel takes great pride in using local ingredients and produce a number of fine recipes based around this locally significant, protected status apple to create delectable dishes in the hotel restaurants throughout the season.
Take home the taste of The Merchant Hotel with two of the hotel’s favourite Bramley apple recipes.
Apple Brandy and Bramley Soufflé
Serves 4 people
· 15g unsalted butter, softened
· 100g caster sugar
· 380g Bramley apple
· 4 tsp cornflour
· 15ml Calvados (apple brandy)
· 2 large eggs, separated
· Cinnamon and icing sugar to dust
1. Brush the melted butter to coat the insides of 4 ramekin dishes and dust with a little caster sugar
2. Peel and core the apples, chopping them into small pieces. Place in a pan with 50ml water and half of the sugar. Cover and bring to the boil, before lowering the temperature and cooking until soft. Remove the lid and continue to cook until the mixture is smooth and thick
3. Blend the cornflour with a little cold water to make a smooth paste then add to the apple mixture and cook through until the mixture becomes thick
4. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool
5. When the apple mixture is cool, stir in the apple brandy and egg yolks
6. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they are stiff.
7. Add the remaining sugar and whisk again until the mixture is thick and shiny. Stir a spoonful of the egg whites into the apple mixture then gently fold in the remainder
8. Spoon into the prepared ramekin dishes and level the tops. To ensure a good rise, run your thumb around the edge of the dish making a slight indent in the edge of the mixture. Bake at 200°C for 10-15 minutes or until risen and golden brown on top
Bramley Tarte Fine
Serves 4 people
· 4 Bramley apples
· 4x12cm discs of puff pastry
· 160g unsalted butter lightly softened
· 40g caster sugar
1. Place the puff pastry discs on a heavy-based baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Using a fork, pierce each pastry disc a few times to create a vent
2. Divide the butter amongst the pieces of pastry and spread until each disk is covered evenly.
3. Peel and cut each apple in half, carefully removing the core so that the halves remain intact Place the halves on a chopping board and slice into 1mm thick pieces
4. Once all of the apples are finely sliced, arrange them in a very tightly packed spiral pattern on top of the puff pastry and butter, leaving a 1cm rim on the outside of the pastry. Take your time at this stage, as if the apple is not tightly packed, it will not hold the shape of the tarte
5. Once each disc is filled with apple, fold the edges of the pastry inward and sprinkle with sugar before placing upside down on a baking tray
6. Cook at 180°C for 16-20 minutes
There is no doubt that Hennessy is the world’s most celebrated and famous cognac brand, with the company producing more than forty percent of the world’s cognac. This year, Hennessy commemorates its 250th anniversary, with international celebrations and with the release of a rare limited edition Hennessy 250 Collector Blend.
The Merchant Hotel is Northern Ireland’s first licenced premises to receive the limited edition blend, and with this in mind, it seemed only fitting that the hotel should also mark the brand’s landmark occasion by hosting a Hennessy 250th Anniversary Celebratory Gala Dinner in collaboration with Dillon Bass.
The seven-course menu, taking place in The Great Room Restaurant on 1st October 2015, will take diners on an enriching, gastronomic journey through the last 250 years of Hennessy. Not only will the meal showcase the exceptional standards of the Great Room chefs, each dish will be inspired by, and paired with, Hennessy Cognacs, champagnes and fine wines, telling a tale of heritage and celebrating Hennessy’s legacy. The meal will also include the opportunity to taste the 250 Collector Blend, which Hennessy recommend should be served neat and at room temperature, with the blend pairing particularly well with savoury dishes.
Smooth and amber toned, this iconic blend is a rare commodity, with just 250 barrels produced in keeping with the celebratory theme. The blend was crafted over four years and completed its aging in ideal conditions to produce a cognac with a spicy aroma, including opening notes of bitter orange, peppermint and saffron, and a sweet and honey-like finish.
The Hennessy 250th Anniversary Celebratory Gala Dinner will begin at 7:30pm, with tickets priced at £69.50, available at the Great Room Restaurant desk only. For more details call The Great Room on 02890 234 888.
Click here to view our full menu.
At The Merchant Hotel, a commitment to exceptional local produce is at the heart of our kitchen, from locally sourced meats right down to a tiny grain of sea salt, harvested from the scenic shores of Achill Island.
What started with pots and buckets on the shores of County Mayo has developed into Achill Island Sea Salt, a thriving family business founded by the O’Malley family in 2013 to revive the island’s forgotten tradition of salt production. Our head chefs, John-Paul Leake and Saul O’Reilly, recently travelled the whole way to Achill to meet with the O'Malley family and discover first-hand their story of success.
Inspired by a documentary on the history of Irish sea salt production, dating back to the 1820s, this award winning business started in the family kitchen and has gone from strength to strength resulting in the move to their current pilot plant. The process of creating this salt is an intricate art which includes harvesting the water, boiling it and drying it at the optimum temperature of 40°C to form salt crystals that are natural, traditionally produced and 100% Irish.
The Merchant Hotel’s preference towards Achill Island Sea Salt is not purely on account of its local provenance– the quality of this salt is unique and among the best in the world. As a result of the unique combination of water conditions and the cleanliness of these Grade-A Atlantic waters, it is possible for Achill Island to produce a completely natural, snow white salt with a soft, flaky texture, without the use of preservatives or anti-caking agents.
What does this mean for The Merchant Hotel’s recipes? Every aspect of cooking requires salt to enhance flavour, and the use of a more naturally derived sea salt results in a finer quality of food. Achill Island Sea Salt also includes more than 60 naturally occurring trace elements including potassium, magnesium, calcium and zinc, all of which are beneficial from a health and wellbeing perspective.
Achill Island Sea Salt is used throughout the hotel, from The Great Room kitchens to Berts Jazz Bar and The Cloth Ear.
Serves 8 people
For the crepes:
100g plain flour
· 80g whole egg
· 150ml milk
· 20g butter (soft)
· Salt and pepper
For the beef fillet:
· 1.5 kg Hereford beef fillet trimmed
· 400g chestnut mushrooms
· 400g wild mushroom (fresh)
· 4 medium shallots peeled/diced
· 1 clove garlic
· 40g chopped parsley
· 40g chopped spring onion
· 30g chopped chives
· 480g sliced puff pastry
· 1 egg (whisked)
· 4 sprigs of thyme
For the crepes:
1. Hand blend the plain flour, egg, milk and butter until smooth and pass to avoid lumps. Leave to sit in fridge for 30 minutes before use
2. Place a medium non-stick pan on the stove at medium heat with just enough olive oil to cover the pan
3. Add just enough crepe mix to cover the pan
4. Cook until golden brown and then turn over for 15 seconds
5. Take out off pan and cool in fridge
6. Repeat this process until all of the mix has been used
For the beef fillet:
1. Season the beef fillet with salt and pepper then colour in a warm pan all the way around before leaving to cool in the fridge for 1 hour
2. Wash and slice the mushrooms
3. Cook the shallot, garlic and picked thyme in a little butter on medium heat until soft then place the mushrooms inside and cook until nice and soft
4. Season well, then take off the stove and leave at room temperature for 10 minutes, then add the spring onions, parsley and chives
To assemble the Beef Wellington:
1. Roll out cling film on a bench, roughly double the size of the beef fillet and place 4 crepes in the centre side by side, overlapping slightly
2. Place the mushroom mix on to the crepes, around 7mm thick and wide enough to wrap around the beef fillet
3. Place the fillet into the centre of the mushroom mix and wrap the beef fillet, tying the cling film at each end to form a cylindrical shape
4. Place in the fridge to set for 2 hours
5. Once rested, take from fridge and place onto the puff pastry
6. Egg-wash the puff pastry, place the beef onto the pastry and roll until covered before tucking the ends in.
7. Pre-heat the oven to 185°C and then place the assembled Beef Wellington on a tray and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.
8. Turn the tray around and place a meat thermometer into the centre and cook until the core temperature reads 46°C for medium rare, or 39°C for a rare serve.
9. Take out of the oven and leave to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serve with the vegetables and potatoes of your choice.
Whilst many of the ingredients used by the chefs at The Merchant Hotel are locally sourced, the passion to create fine, high-quality dishes and desserts has, upon occasion, taken the hotel’s chefs further afield.
In the quest to uncover the practices of luxury chocolatiering, The Merchant Hotel’s Executive Chef John-Paul Leake travelled to Tain-l’Hermitage to visit the hotel’s chocolate supplier Valrhona and learned first-hand the delicate art of chocolate making.
Just as The Merchant Hotel are passionate about showcasing their finest ingredients, so too are Valrhona committed to creating a partnership with its professional clients since its establishment in 1922. Not only do they limit their clientele to a small, handpicked collection, they also work closely with each client to understand their needs and expectations.
However, what sets Valrhona ahead of other opulent brands is its dedication to creating exceptional chocolate, by combining the world’s best cocoa beans with carefully considered flavours, and traditional chocolate making techniques. It was these techniques that were discovered and explored by John-Paul on his two-day trip to the development lab, otherwise known as the Cité du Chocolat.
Much like a fine wine, a chocolate can be defined by its tasting notes, ranging from scents of coffee to subtle floral notes. These notes are a result of both their cocoa content and the techniques used to produce each unique flavour.
During his visit to the École du Grand Chocolat, which was established in 1989 by Frédéric Bau, John-Paul was immersed in the fascinating business of chocolate production and uncovered the intricate processes that take place in the journey of a cocoa bean. In a blind tasting session, he discovered the distinct characteristics of each variety of Valrhona chocolate, bringing the theory of chocolate production to life at the hands of expert chocolatiers.
John-Paul’s experience not only invigorated his taste buds, but also offered a deeper understanding of the nuances attributed to this luxury brand, which will undoubtedly come into practice when it comes to creating new and innovative recipes for The Great Room.
Valrhona’s creamy and luxurious chocolate is used daily in The Merchant Hotel, both in The Great Room’s famous Afternoon Teas and throughout the lunch and dinner menus.
When it comes to decadence, nothing sets the bar higher than gold, so what better way to garnish a glamorous glass of Valdo Prosecco?
Adding a special touch of sophistication to this indulgent drink, The Merchant Hotel now hold a stunningly designed 24-carat gold leaf shaker, reserved exclusively for customers who purchase a magnum of Valdo’s flagship prosecco, Valdo Marco Oro. This shaker contains fine gold flakes, which are shaken over the glass of Valdo Marco Oro, causing the glass to shimmer, creating a magical and captivating effect.
This concept was developed to complement Valdo’s prosecco, Valdo Marco Oro, with the word ‘oro’ translating as ‘gold’ in Italian. But when did gold leaf become a form of edible luxury? It is in fact an extremely well-established practice, dating back to the Renaissance era and made popular in the Middle Ages, when it was used by the houses of Medici and Gonzaga to decorate their meat and desserts for grand banquets and feasts. Carrying on the tradition to the present day, it is now a popular and decadent way to add the finishing touches to an exquisite dessert, a short and sophisticated cocktail or, in this case, a glimmering glass of Valdo Marco Oro.
Valdo prosecco itself derives from the Valdobbiadene region of north east Italy, a cut of land that is flooded with light, whilst sheltered by the impressive Dolomites to the north, overlooking the Adriatic Sea to the south. Valdo, established in 1926, are one of the leading wine producers in the area, creating unique sparkling wines designed to appeal to the most refined palates.
Spice up the autumn months with the vibrant flavours of The Merchant Hotel’s Cocktail Bar. The hotel’s renowned cocktail menu includes an encyclopaedic collection of drinks, from long and elegant, to rich and fruity, many of which have been uniquely created by our expert mixologists.
Our distinctive and flavoursome Señorita Cucurbita adds an autumnal twist to the popular Jamaican Daiquiri, taking inspiration from the flavours of a Central America squash known as Curcurbita Moschata. Using butternut squash (a close relative of the Curcurbita Moschata) to create a sweet cordial-like liquid, and a small extract of ginger to add a hint of Caribbean spice, this cocktail has a rich and intense flavour that perfectly encapsulates the season.
The Señorita Cucurbita contains Appleton VX Jamaican Rum, an authentic Jamaican export produced in Jamaica’s oldest sugar estate and distillery. As one of the few rums to be produced in a unique and fertile terrain, the weather conditions, soil and geographic demarcations impart a unique quality to its flavour and contribute to the cocktail’s distinct flavour.
40mls Appleton VX Jamaican Rum
30mls Roasted Butternut Squash Cordial (find recipe below)
15mls Fresh Lemon Juice
2 ½ ml Fresh Ginger Extract
1. Slowly bake butternut squash at 90°C for 100 minutes until soft and sweet
2. Blend with 150ml water and 50g caster sugar to achieve a consistency similar to cordial
3. Add the cordial and other ingredients to a shaker and shake over ice
4. Strain the contents into a 5oz champagne saucer
5. Garnish with a lemon twist
Seasonal Tips – Celeriac
It might be unattractive in its raw form, but this largely uncelebrated vegetable has the potential to create some of the most elegant dishes of the season.
Favoured in The Merchant Hotel for its versatility, this root vegetable emulates the flavours of celery with a slight hint of nuttiness and can be used to create a variety of delectable recipes. Celeriac is most popular in France, where it is used in its raw form to create the famous Celeriac Remoulade; but it can also be served roasted, in mash, in a tasty seasonal soup or as an ingredient in a selection of slow-cooked dishes.
Place the celeriac on a board with the flattest side facing downwards and cut off the dark skin around the outside using a sharp knife or potato peeler. The side of the vegetable which contains the root will need to be well trimmed in order to remove any dirt of dark parts of the flesh before cooking.
Celeriac can keep for 2-3 weeks when refrigerated, but to prevent discolouration, immerse in a bowl of water with a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar.
Celeriac takes roughly 40 minutes to roast once chopped into chunks and proves the perfect autumn addition to your traditional Sunday roast.
Having been home to the world’s most expensive Mai Tai cocktail at £750 as well as the world’s oldest Old Fashioned, it seemed fitting that The Merchant Hotel should continue to break the mould with the launch of Ireland’s first dedicated water menu.
The menu, which launched this summer, includes a range of 13 bottled waters, handpicked to reflect some of the world’s finest and purest water. In our search to curate a water list reflecting the most unique, and high-quality waters, our list spans 10 countries across the globe, with the most expensive water hailing from Arctic Canada, which is harvested from glaciers to produce the purest water on earth.
But what exactly differentiates one water from another? According to Michael Tanousis, founder of Aqua Amore, The Merchant Hotel’s chosen water supplier, the secret is in the texture rather than the taste. His studies have shown that water absorbs the minerals of its surroundings, which has a huge impact on how each feels on the palate. Some waters, such as Fiji Still, can feel heavy and viscous, whilst others, such as Newfoundland’s Iceberg Still, are naturally cooler and more thirst-quenching – these properties are defined by the levels of calcium and magnesium present in the product.
Not only does The Merchant Hotel’s water menu offer a description of each water, complete with its mineral content and defining attributes, but the hotel have also appointed two water butlers to advise guests on the perfect water based on their health benefits and unique characteristics.
The ethos behind The Merchant’s unique water menu is to extend the range of choice offered to guests, allowing them to curate their own bespoke experience. By using the expertise of the water butlers, guests can pair their water with chosen foods and wines in order to extend flavours or cleanse the palate. These waters are available throughout The Merchant Hotel, offering a luxurious addition to our services to enhance guests’ restaurant experience.
With autumn upon us, sloe gin enthusiasts are venturing outside, each making their way to the secret spot where they annually harvest the fruit of the Blackthorn tree, completely free of charge.
Whilst those who take pride in creating their own gin will soon begin the three-month process of steeping sloes in good quality gin and sugar, there are alternatives on the market for those who can’t wait to sample their wares, including Plymouth Sloe Gin. One sip of this luxuriously bittersweet and boozy liqueur is enough to confirm to the drinker that they too can enjoy a taste of autumn without getting their hands dirty.
Plymouth Sloe Gin celebrates the age-old tradition of fruit gin production, with a recipe dating back to 1883. Its distinctive rich red colour is created by steeping sloe berries in high-strength Plymouth Gin and Dartmoor water for four months. This creates a smooth taste, striking the balance between the sweet and bitter flavours of the fruit and subtle hints of almond. The result is a full-bodied taste on the palate, with a long, fresh and fruity finish.
Sloe gin was a popular digestif in the Victorian era, and has stood the test of time to become the perfect accompaniment to dessert and cheeses, or an authentic winter warmer.
The leaves are crisping up and there’s a chill in the air, which can only mean one thing – it’s time to forage for sloes and start to prepare your Christmas liquor. These vibrant purple berries, at their ripest in the autumn months, are probably best known as the prime ingredient of sloe gin. What’s more, they can be found incredibly easily, provided that you know where to look!
With this in mind, follow our foraging guide and you will be enjoying your homemade sloe gin in time for Christmas Day.
Where To Find
Sloes are the berries of the blackthorn bush, a strong and thorny bush that is commonly found as hedgerows in wooded areas. The berries will be similar in appearance to blueberries, but are slightly larger.
Blackthorn bushes have a tendency to be strong, thorny and harsh on bare hands, so ensure that you bring a pair of gloves before seeking these berries. A pair of shears may also be useful to cut through particularly stubborn branches, and a basket or container will be required to store your berries.
In order to identify if sloes are ripe, simply check if they pop between your finger and thumb. Once you have identified some ripe sloes, simply prise them off the branch whilst wearing your gloves and stow in a basket or container.
How To Prepare
Sloes can only be eaten once cooked, but they are more commonly enjoyed in sloe gin. Place a bottle of gin into a 1 litre Kilner jar, add 150 grams of sugar, and fill with sloes that have been pierced with a fork. Sloe gin is best enjoyed at Christmas, and sloe gin requires at least two months to mature, so leave the mixture to infuse until Christmas, then decant and enjoy!
Top Tip – After decanting, reuse the sloes to make sloe sherry, which does not require sugar syrup. Just pour enough sherry to cover the gin-soaked sloes and allow to rest in a dark cupboard. Finally, decant again at Easter and use the leftover berries to create a delicious cooking sauce.
Sloes may be commonly known for their liquor-flavouring properties but they are also good for your health. Nutritionally, they include calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium, but it is important to note that sloes cannot be eaten unless cooked.
A little bit about the product
Peter Hannan has worked his magic on these bacon ribs which are sourced from local animals and cured to a traditional recipe and then sweetened in a sugar pit for 10 days. This product was awarded 3 stars in 2014 great taste awards and was runner up to the supreme champion. It was awarded the Golden Fork for Northern Ireland (best product in Northern Ireland) and this is the 3rd year running they have received this award. We will be using these glouriously sweet and sticky bacon ribs as part of our daily developing specials in the cloth ear for the next few months .
How to prepare and cook
There is not much preparation in the bacon rib as you want to keep as much of the fat as possible which will keep the pork moist. It is best to cook at a very low temperature for 2-3 hours and by doing so the fat will render to a crisp coating. Turning them regularly will also help to cook evenly. Although its already a perfect bacon rib, it is also a product that you can adapt to adding so many exciting flavours like single malt whiskey, coriander and chilli with our favourite being naga chilli which has a hot but Smokey flavour. Below we have two recipes to whet your appetite and to try at home.
Sugar pit bacon rib with naga chilli, coriander, slaw and sweet potato fries - 4 people
1 Rack of sugar pit bacon ribs
1 oz Naga chilli paste (easily found in any Asian or African super market)
60z Fresh coriander
1 Star anise
6 large Sweet potatoes
1 Red cabbage
1 White cabbage
1 large White onion
3 medium Carrots
1 jar Mayonnaise
1. Pre heat oven to gas mark 4 or 180 o/c
2. Place the bacon rib on a deep tray retaining the sugar syrup until later then place into the oven to colour slightly
3. Once your rib has become golden brown turn the oven down to gas mark ¼ or 110 o/c add your sugar syrup, naga chilli and water then cover with tin foil and place back into the oven for around 1 ½ to 2 hours turning continuously every 20 minutes.
4. Whilst the ribs are cooking finely slice the red cabbage, green cabbage, onion and grate the carrot at this stage it is best to check your seasoning add some salt and pepper to taste as when the mayonnaise is added it is harder to mix evenly through the mixture. Once mixed, place into a container with a lid and place into your fridge until later
5. The next step is to thoroughly scrub the sweet potatoes and remove any remnants of soil. Then cut to the desired size for your sweet potato fries.
6. To begin with the fryer should be no higher in temperature than 120oc once your sweet potatoes are soft place them on a tray and hold in an oven at 100oc .
If you prefer a healthier option you could roughly dice the sweet potato, coat in olive oil and roast them in an oven.
7. When the bacon ribs are cooked then turn the temperature up to 170 o/c to let the fat crisp and the sugars caramelise further.
Slow cooked sugar pit rib, spiced bulgur wheat and beetroot salad with its own cooking liquor - 4 people
1 Rack of sugar pit bacon ribs
6 Cooked beetroots
2 Red onions
30 Cherry plum tomatoes
6oz Bulgur wheat
1 Curly endive lettuce
2oz Basil leaves
20ml Extra Virgin olive oil
1. Pre-heat oven to gas mark 4 or 180 o/c
2. Place the bacon rib on a deep tray (reserving the sugar syrup) then place into the oven to colour slightly.
3. Once the rib has become golden brown turn the oven down to gas mark ¼ or 110 o/c add your sugar syrup, water then cover with tin foil and place back into the oven for around 1 ½ to 2 hours turning continuously every 20 minutes.
4. While the rib is cooking place 1½ litres of boiling water into a pot and season lightly with salt and black pepper, then add bulgur wheat and turn down to gas mark 3. This will take roughly 20-30 minutes to cook. Be careful to not let it dry out so keep an eye on the water level and add extra boiling water if needed. Once cooked, drain in a fine sieve over a sink, once drained, spread onto a large tray to cool.
5. Whilst the wheat is cooling, thoroughly wash the endive in a sink of cold water and remove just the yellow leaf centre as the outer leaves can be too bitter for a salad. Pat dry between 2 cloths, halve the cherry tomatoes, peel and slice the red onions, adding the juice from the cooked beetroot, olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste. Cut your beetroot into around 8 pieces each and add to mixture. Zest the lemon on the fine side of a grater and then just wait for your rib to finish cooking.
6. Once the rib is cooked remove from tray and cut into 4 portions - not forgetting to keep the syrup in the tray as your cooking liquor- then mix the bulgur wheat with the beetroot mixture and toss lightly adding the endive just before serving.
At this time of year for The Great Room Restaurant we source Lough Erne lambs native to the surrounding grasslands and islands of lough Erne. They are from the traditional Suffolk/cheviot dams and Texel rams and have superb flavour and texture.
For the leg-
1 medium (3kg) Lough Erne lamb leg
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Pinch of rock salt
4 medium Cloves of garlic (thinly sliced)
1 medium Carrot peeled and diced
2 medium Onions peeled and diced
An oven temperature probe.
4 tablespoons Flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)
4 tablespoons Rosemary (finely chopped)
1 small bunch Spring onions sliced (washed)
400g Extra fine breadcrumbs
60g Smoked Gubeen cheese (extra fine)
50g Unsalted butter
50g White wine vinegar
10g Sherry vinegar
40g Light brown sugar
1 medium Bunch of chopped mint
For the crust-
1. Place all ingredients into a food processer for 2 minutes
For the lamb-
1. Rub the lamb leg with the Dijon mustard then season with the rock salt and leave for 5 minutes
2. Place the vegetables into a bowl, toss lightly with some olive oil and place into a pre-heated (180c) oven tray with the lamb leg on top for 50 minutes
3. Remove from oven then place the herb crust on the top of the lamb leg
4. Return to the oven and cook until the lamb leg temperature is 48c in the centre (pink),
5. Rest it for 25 minutes then serve.
For the Mint Sauce-
1. Place the vinegars, water and sugar into a pan, bring to the boil
2. Add the mint and cook slowly until you have a suitably thick consistency.
It’s best made the day before so it can take on more flavour overnight and then served slightly warm the next day.
During this season, excitement builds in the kitchen as the first fresh peas, broad beans and UK asparagus start to appear in our morning vegetable deliveries. These wonderful ingredients make their way proudly on to many garnishes across the menu heralding the start of spring and summer.
Spring peas – the spring pea is so sweet that all you need to do is pod them, wash them in ice cold water and eat, no need to cook (lovely in a salad)!
Broad beans – should be podded then, blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove their skin to reveal a beautiful green bean that will taste sweet and creamy.
Asparagus – blanch in boiling salted water for 20 seconds and toss with some toasted flaked almond
The quintessential fine dining experience awaits guests visiting The Great Room Restaurant in Belfast. The Grandeur of the perfectly preserved original Victorian architecture provides a stunning and fitting backdrop for the divine 2 AA Rosette food conjured up in The Great Room Kitchens by Head Chef John Paul Leake.
Whether its breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner, al a carte or our mid week set menu, The Great Room Restaurant offers a 5 star dining experience in Belfast’s grandest dining room.
At The Merchant Hotel we are constantly refining and improving our offering to guests. Needless to say our choice of Champagnes is carefully considered; so it was with great pleasure that we introduced Ruinart Champagne as our new house Champagne late last year.
Ruinart - the world’s oldest Champagne was first established in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart, a draper by trade. His first account ledger devoted to "wine with bubbles" on September 1, 1729 serves as the birth certificate for the first Champagne House ever created.
In terms of its taste, the Chardonnay grape is the very heart of Ruinart, which creates a bright, intense and elegant Champagne. The delicate, fragile Chardonnay only displays the full breadth of its aromatic richness however, after a slow maturation in the coolness of the Ruinart Crayères (chalk cellars): up to 3 years for non-vintage wines, and 9 to 10 years for a Dom Ruinart. A vibrant, clear yellow colour with golden reflection, at first the nose is delicate, fresh and fruity, filled with white-fleshed fruits (pears, Bosc apples), apricots, as well as hazelnuts and fresh almonds. Several floral and spicy notes add an extra hint of complexity.
We think you’ll agree that Ruinart makes a worthy addition to our portfolio of fine wines.
RUINART TASTING NOTES
A vibrant, clear yellow colour with golden reflections. Good brilliance with sustained effervescence and a very persistent foam.
At first the nose is delicate, fresh and fruity, filled with white-fleshed fruits (pears, Bosc apples), apricots, as well as hazelnuts and fresh almonds. Several floral and spicy notes add an extra hint of complexity.
The second nose reveals superb olfactory intensity on a more biscuity, brioche-like base.
Frank and direct attack on the palate. A balanced wine, rounded and full-bodied, with an attack scented with ripe fruits (greengages and nectarines). The finish is long, the well-integrated dosage giving way to the characteristic freshness of the Chardonnay, which makes up most of the blend.
Dandelions are generally considered as a weed to most people, but to a chef it’s a welcome addition to any salad! They have bright green, spikey leaves and bright yellow flowers that brighten up any meadow from January to November.
Equipment Needed - Before you set off, the following tools are needed to help you: a pair of rubber gloves, a suitable container to store the leaves and flowers in, a pair of sharp scissors and a sharp knife.
Picking - When picking dandelions remember to pick from an area not close to any roads, and it is best to go off the beaten track a bit so the plants are not contaminated and rarely come into contact with people. All of the plant can be harvested from the flowers to the leaves and even the flower stems.
Where to Find - Dandelions are found pretty much anywhere and everywhere! From your garden, to sprouting out of a crack in the pavement! It is a very versatile plant but you will find it at its best in short grass fields and meadows.
How to Prepare - Once your dandelions are harvested, keeping the flowers separate from the leaves, wash them thoroughly in cold water and place into a colander. Once drained the leaves can be patted dry with a cloth and stored in an air tight container. The younger leaves can be used in salads, older leaves and flowers are good to blanch and use in risottos, soups, pies.
Nutritional Value - Fresh dandelion greens, flower tops, and roots contain valuable nutrients that are known to have antioxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties. Fresh leaves are very low in calories - providing just 45 calories per 100 g. They are also good source of dietary fibre.
Berts Jazz Bar encapsulates the sleek elegance of the art deco era, complimented by the very best in live jazz, fabulous cocktails and mouth-watering food.
Transport yourself back to the Art Deco glamour of 1930’s New York and the Jazz Age in Belfast’s only dedicated Jazz bar and restaurant: Berts Bar at The Merchant Hotel. Soak up the sophisticated atmosphere and let the cool jazz melodies wash over you. A handpicked list of cocktails completes the extensive drinks selection. A French bistro style menu is complemented by an extensive wine list and, of course, exemplary service.
Berts offers live jazz seven nights a week from 9pm as well as perfectly relaxed weekends complete with delicious brunch and all day dining menus from 12pm and live jazz from 12pm to 2pm.
Stinging nettles are very abundant in the spring and are easily found in a lot of areas surrounding Belfast. Pick when the plant is young. Older plants can be bitter and fibrous. Make sure that they haven’t flowered - you will want to pick before they reach that point. We are fond of blending the nettles with wild garlic and nuts to make a great pesto as an accompaniment for some of our salads in The Cloth Ear.
Equipment Needed - You will need a pair of sharp household scissors, thick gloves, and a plastic bowl with a lid picking. Pick/cut the top 1-2 inches of the plant (this will be the most tender part), it will regrow very quickly and then you can harvest again.
Where to Find - Make sure that you are picking nettles in an area not subject to possible contaminants. For example, you should avoid picking any right by any road, where toxic fumes from cars will have contaminated the nettles. One of the best places to pick them would be from a local forest park, close to a river and well away from any tracks and roads.
How to Prepare - Once you have selected/picked your stinging nettles, place them in a sink of cold water with a couple of sprinkles of salt and leave for at least 10 minutes. The salt will help kill any insects that are present. Once the nettles are washed, dry gently between two cloths remembering to wear gloves when handling. Now your nettles are ready for your next step should it either be for a soup, pesto or maybe even sautéed and added to a pasta dish
Nutritional Value - Nettles are a rich green colour revealing their extremely high iron and chlorophyll content. They are also very high in the minerals calcium, magnesium, silicon, sulphur, copper, chromium, zinc, cobalt, potassium and phosphorus. Furthermore, nettles contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K as well as riboflavin and thiamine. A veritable “super food”!
At The Merchant Hotel, our preferred coffee supplier is Bailies Coffee Company.
The company was founded in 1993 by Russell Bailie, who recognised the growing demand for quality freshly roasted and traceable coffee amongst an increasingly knowledgeable consumer base in the UK and Ireland. Bailies Coffee Company has since earned industry recognition for its commitment to supplying only the finest, freshest, hand-roast coffee and has supplied espresso beans to two of the last four Irish Barista Champions. Bailies specialise in sourcing single origin and single estate coffees and aim for full traceability to origin, farm and farmer wherever possible. They also source and roast Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and organic coffees, and develop working relationships with ethical suppliers who have a strong focus on sustainability for local farmers and growers. However, roasting coffee is only one part of what Bailies do!
Serving great coffee requires educated staff, who are passionate and proud about the coffee they are serving. To that end, Bailies also specialise in barista training and have developed a unique barista training programme which is delivered by the 2004 UK Barista Champion, who personally delivers all of our in-house and on-site barista training. They are passionate about ensuring our staff are trained to consistently serve the best cup of coffee possible. Serving good coffee requires good machinery, and only the best is supplied. Bailies are the only locally approved supplier of the market-leading La Marzocco traditional espresso machinery.
At The Merchant Hotel, we use Puccini blend: A winner of 1 star at the 2012 Great Taste Awards and 2 stars at the 2013 Great Awards! Experience dark chocolate, caramel and red merlot wine in this delicious espresso. This coffee has a buttery body, mild balanced acidity and a long sweet creamy finish. This blend is 100% Arabica beans which ensures a smooth and balanced mouthfeel. Our blend consists of the finest coffee beans from Brazil, Guatemala, Sumatra and Ethiopia. Each origin is carefully roasted separately by hand and then blended together to create this fine espresso.
For more information about Bailies coffee, visit their website at http://www.bailiescoffee.com/ or pop into The Merchant Hotel and enjoy a cup.
Wild garlic is a bulbous, perennial plant which thrives in damp woodlands, it’s best to harvest the plant when it’s half way through the season (from early March to end of July) as the leaves are bigger and the flowers are in full bloom. We have already been busy this month, foraging in a local forest where this fantastic plant grows in abundance and is completely untouched. When in season we use it daily in The Cloth Ear for pesto and dressings to bring a beautiful mild and fresh garlic flavour.
Equipment Needed - Sharp kitchen knife or a pair of house hold scissors, wooden basket or a plastic bag, pair of rubber gloves
Picking - Remember when picking wild garlic to not disturb the bulb of the plant as this will only stop it from growing the year after. All of the wild garlic plat is edible from the stalks of the flowers to the bright green leaves when harvesting cut the leaves as close to the ground as possible trying not to damage them.
Where To Find - Wild garlic plants are often found in woodlands also very close to rivers. Wild garlic can be found throughout Northern Ireland in early March to end of July depending on the weather
How To Prepare - Fill a sink with cold water; once full, separate the wild garlic leaves from any other plants you may have picked up inadvertently and place into the water. Keep the white flowers from the wild garlic wash separately as these can be used as an elegant garnish for any dish Once the leaves are thoroughly washed, put into a colander to drain and pat dry with a cloth. Wild garlic is a very versatile plant as it can be used to make a variety of dishes. From vibrant green garlic butter to pesto, and soups; it is also good to add to a nice spring salad. Remember when cooking, to add at the last minute as you don’t want to dull its bright green colour.
Nutritional Value - Wild garlic has high levels of folic acid, an essential B vitamin, and has positive benefits on the digestive system. Wild garlic also acts as a pre-biotic, encouraging the growth of friendly bacteria. This is vital if you suffer from diabetes, have been on a course of antibiotics or have a weakened immune system. It also has mild antibacterial properties to keep the colds at bay!
Wild Garlic Pesto Recipe
80 grams washed wild garlic
50 grams finely grated pecorino
50ml extra virgin olive oil
50 grams toasted hazelnut
Simply combine all of the ingredients in a liquidiser and pulse until the mixture is coarsely bound. Season with black pepper and sea salt
Morchella, the true morel, is a genus of edible mushrooms closely related to anatomically simpler cup fungi. These distinctive mushrooms appear honeycomb-like in that the upper portion is composed of a network of ridges with pits between them. They are very distinctive in their appearance, taste and aroma.
Morel Mushrooms come into season from around spring and are a feature of many cuisines, including Provençal. Their unique flavor is prized by cooks worldwide, with recipes and preparation methods designed to highlight and preserve it. As with most edible fungi, they are best when collected or bought fresh. They must be cooked before eating. Morels are not improved by extensive washing or soaking, as it may ruin the delicate flavor and require long cooking times. Due to their natural porosity, morels may contain trace amounts of soil which cannot be washed out. Morels contain small amounts of hydrazine toxins that are removed by thorough cooking; morel mushrooms should never be eaten raw. It has been reported that even cooked morels can sometimes cause mild intoxication symptoms when consumed with alcohol.
Best eaten fresh but can also be dried or frozen which will affect their distinctive texture slightly.
One of the best and simplest ways to enjoy morels is by gently sautéing them in butter, cracking pepper on top and sprinkling with salt.
Perfect for Saturday or Sunday brunch in our Jazz Bar and Restaurant Berts, accompanied with some fresh baked brioche, a poached hen`s egg and some great company!
The award winning credentials of The Cocktail Bar at The Merchant Hotel continue. The following cocktail has recently won the Shortcross Best Summer Serve Cocktail Award. We've provided a recipe for making this at home but the original, award winning version can be found in The Cocktail Bar for £9.95
The inspiration for the drink, 9 Hour Bill comes from the classic cocktail, Maidens Prayer, dating back to 1907 which consists of gin, orange curacao, orange and lemon juice.
This riff on the classic uses the Northern Ireland 'craft gin' Shortcross. Perfect for this drink, it has a subtle sweetness and citrus notes which are further enhanced by the inclusion of the fresh orange and lemon juice. The addition of Campari further adds to the zesty drink and brings a bitter element, along with the egg white this rounds the flavours off nicely. It is a refreshing drink which will help you to welcome the sunshine back in style.
The name takes its inspiration from William Sherman - Crawford, a prominent landowner in Co Down and a radical reformist of his day, he stood as a representative in parliament and held the position of Sheriff of Down. He fought for the 9 Hour Bill, Irish tenants rights and many other important social issues for Irish people and workers as a whole. There is a stone obelisk standing on the Rademon Estate, where Shortcross gin is made, erected in his memory by the people of Down.
30 ml shortcross gin
15 ml campari
20 ml orange juice
10 ml lemon juice
10 ml sugar syrup
1 egg white
1. First ice a sour glass or small wine glass
2. Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker and dry shake*
3. Add ice and shake again
4. Empty pre chilled glass of any ice
5. Strain contents of shaker into the glass
6. Garnish with an orange twist and serve
At The Merchant Hotel we take our cocktails seriously. So seriously we won the prestigious World's Best Cocktail Bar at the world renowned 'Tales of the Cocktail Award'. So what is the secret to this success?
Firstly of course a lot of hard work, dedication and years and years of experience. But the second element is an obsessive attention to detail. Whether it is our twice frozen hand carved ice or the fact that all of our juices and tinctures are crafted on site by hand, every process is completed to perfection.
However, all of that hard work and attention to detail is nothing without the right base products for our drinks. We regularly review our portfolio to ensure we are using the best possible liquor. One of our favorite Vodka's is Absolut Elyx.
Aboslut Elyx is made in Åhus, Sweden, exclusively from single estate wheat from the Råbelöf Castle, where they have been producing wheat since the 1400s. The wheat grown here contains exactly the right amount of water and has the perfect balance of starch. From seed to bottle, everything is done within a 15-mile radius of the distillery, ensuring quality control and perfection in every detail. Elyx is manually distilled in a 1921 copper rectification still known as Column 51, made entirely of copper. It is operated by a selected few who inherited their knowledge and expertise from past generations of spirit and vodka makers. The manual operation and the old copper still naturally catalyses trace compounds in the spirit, purifying the vodka and adding a highly prized silky texture and taste.
The resulting product has similar characteristics to the original Absolut marque, but where the wheat is the dominant flavor profile in the original, Elyx has citrus notes of grapefruit and lime, a silky smooth texture, a hint of spice, and a smooth, clean finish. It's also has a slight hint of butterscotch, macadamia nut, caramel, and a bit of the low wheat note found in the original. It's a delicious vodka so we recommend sticking to simple cocktails or simply on the rocks.
Our iconic Merchant afternoon tea is served in the magnificent surroundings of The Great Room Restaurant, probably the most decadent dining room in all of Ireland.
In order to ensure we deliver a superlative experience for all our guests who join us for afternoon tea (nearly 50,000 each year), we are constantly refining, developing, and planning our offering all year round. As soon as one season or important occasion is finished we start planning it again for the following year. We search for strive for perfection in both the skills of our six pastry chefs and in choosing our preferred suppliers with utmost care allowing us to deliver an experience for our guests that is unique and memorable.
We spend six months to a year on the development of any new patisserie, from inception to menu. When considering the creation of new products for afternoon tea, we are inspired by current culinary trends, but also take customer feedback very seriously. We relish the opportunity to experiment with new and innovative techniques, but flavour, texture and appearance are always of paramount importance. When incorporating new ingredients and methods into our menus we look to global patisserie leaders for inspiration and to keep abreast of innovations.
One of the most important products that we source is chocolate and our preferred supplier is Valrhona. They have created a range of unique and recognizable aromatic profiles by perfecting their techniques for making chocolate. Valrhona has taken unique steps in mastering taste; enhancing the flavour of rare cocoa beans grown on land that has been masterfully selected for its terroir. In so doing they can guarantee the consistency of the taste qualities and flavour potential of their product.
In the summertime we place more emphasis on fruit based patisserie with vibrant colours and light textures, ensuring a fresh and, of course, delicious experience. Whilst strawberries and raspberries are the stars during this season, we like to combine them with more exotic flavours by sourcing ingredients such as yuzu and kalamansi. Both these fruits originate from the oriental citrus family. During the winter months warmth and comfort are all important and of course this is reflected in our patisseries. Warm spices, mulled fruits and nuts are used as key ingredients to celebrate the season.
Quality and consistency in every item that we produce is a must, maintaining this ethos means that each customer receives a high-end product made only with the finest ingredients and to the highest specification. Every element used in the finishing of a product is not only aesthetically pleasing but has its own individual purpose by either adding colour to the final product or by adding a variety of textures and flavours. But don’t just take our word for it! The proof, as they rightly say, is in the pudding!
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