Whilst classic cocktails form the foundation of our iconic cocktail list in The Merchant Hotel’s Cocktail Bar, original cocktails created by our own mixologists are also integral to our unique offering. Often, these original recipes are created for entry to mixology competitions and have challenged our staff to seek inspiration from new sources.
This is precisely how Andrew Dickey’s award winning entry to the Diageo World Class Competition became our Cocktail of The Season.
Named ‘Don It All Doc’, Andrew’s unique “Champagne-style” cocktail was inspired both by his beloved grandfather Peter Doherty, and by County Donegal - a favourite childhood holiday destination. The name combines both of these elements, referring to Donegal-Doherty; but it was also a nod to the fact that his grandfather had ‘done it all’ in terms of teaching him as a child. Finally, it makes subtle reference to Andrew’s chosen spirit, Don Julio Blanco Tequila.
Andrew said: “My cocktail was inspired by my trips to Ardara in County Donegal, where my grandfather would take me to visit family and to go fishing. He would often bring back rhubarb to bake with, and we would spend hours on the Ownea River, fishing for salmon. I decided to take this as the starting point for my inspiration, creating a drink that would incorporate rhubarb and would be a suitable accompaniment for salmon.”
He continued, “As this was a drink to celebrate everything that my grandfather had taught me from an early age, I chose a Champagne-style cocktail - the perfect drink for celebrations! My spirit of choice was Don Julio Blanco Tequila, as its fresh citrus notes complemented the flavours of the rhubarb and reminded me of fresh Donegal sea air”.
This is a challenging concoction to create, but if you consider yourself something of a mixologist, you may wish to track down/produce the ingredients below to recreate Andrew’s unique cocktail. Alternatively, we would suggest a visit to our Cocktail Bar, where you can relax and enjoy this cocktail in glorious surroundings with none of the hard work!
40ml mint-infused Don Julio Blanco
1 rose water sugar cube
Carbonated rhubarb cordial
“Champagne-acid” (equal parts lactic and tartaric acid combined into a water solution)
Combine the ingredients and top with Ron Zacapa 23 rum and salted ginger foam.
When we think of summer, we think of sunshine, beaches and ice-cold cocktails. What better spirit to capture the essence of summer than our Spirit of the Season, Don Julio Blanco Tequila?
If our mixologists were to point you in the direction of a “must-try” tequila, Don Julio Blanco would be at the top of our list. Not only is it a crowd-pleaser, with its smooth and rich flavour appealing to those who claim to dislike tequila; but it is also a delight for true tequila connoisseurs by virtue of its fresh, sweet and floral nuances, notes of citrus and black pepper and grassy undertones.
This key component of our Cocktail of the Season is a high quality white tequila, bottled immediately after distillation in a time-honoured tradition to maintain as much of its fresh agave flavour as possible and create a tequila in its truest form. Renowned as the number one luxury tequila in Mexico, its crisp agave taste and hints of citrus are what make this particular variety of tequila the perfect addition to your margarita. The smooth flavour of this spirit also makes it ideal to enjoy neat or on the rocks. Whatever your preferences, experts recommend that you store Don Julio Blanco overnight in the freezer for best results - and who are we to argue with the experts?
Founder Don Julio Gonzales started his journey into tequila production in 1942, pioneering the world’s original luxury tequila from 100% agave. His finely tuned process includes harvesting individual agave plants by hand to ensure maturity of the fruit, before cooking for three days and distilling in the sweet agave juice. Growing the agaves exclusively in the highland soil of Jalisco, Mexico, provides Don Julio Blanco with a distinctly sweeter style, whilst the process of double distilling in a stainless steel pot produces an exceptionally smooth and pure spirit that is simply too difficult to resist.
The Great Room Restaurant is renowned as one of Northern Ireland’s most extraordinary restaurants, from its exceptional Victorian interior to the innovative dishes presented in our carefully considered menus; our cheese board is no exception to this offering. Comprising of a carefully curated selection of Irish cheeses, served with chutney and crackers, this is the perfect way to complete any meal in The Great Room Restaurant.
Want to know more about our cheese offering? Allow us to take your taste buds on a gastronomical journey.
Coolattin Cheddar is a variety of Irish cheese produced by Tom Burgess for over twenty years on his farm in West Wicklow. Tom’s motto is ‘from pasture to cheddar the same day’, which ensures that only the freshest milk is used to produce the cheddar. This handmade cheddar is coated with red wax, offering a characteristic appearance to match its distinct flavour, which is sweet and fruity when young, with a more complex nutty note as it ages. It pairs well with Bordeaux blended wines and cider.
Brewer’s Gold is a semi-soft, rind-washed cheese produced by Knockdrinna Farmhouse Cheese and made using organic milk from the Little Milk Company. This milk has a much richer and creamier taste, as well as a very subtle grassy aroma, which can be picked up on in the cheeses produced with it. These cheeses are washed by hand every 2-3 days in Irish craft beer to create a rich and creamy result with subtle hoppy flavours and a bright amber rind.
Knockdrinna Kilree Goat’s Cheese
The cheese has a rich golden colour, which is developed totally naturally by rind washing with white wine, salt and water. Beneath its fine orange, leathery rind is a smooth, rich pale ivory interior that breaks rather than crumbles into large flakes. The flavours are complex yet well-balanced, with a hint of almonds and marzipan.
Cratloe Hills Sheep's Cheese is an Irish cheese that has been produced by Sean and Deirdre Fitzgerald at their farm in Brickhill, Co. Clare since 1988. It is the first sheep's cheese to be produced in Ireland. Their hard cheese is made using vegetarian rennet and pasteurised sheep's milk sourced from their own flock of Friesland ewes. It has a semi-firm texture with small holes throughout, with flavours varying from mild, sweet and apple notes when young to a more robust and complex flavour as it ages.
This little circle of cheese has an amazing story. The Kearney Cheese Company was established in 2010, with their first cheese produced in a kitchen pot near Kearney village, County Down. Inspired by the local landscape, it evokes images of the dry-stone walls and old windmills around the southern tip of the Ards Peninsula. It has a rustic texture, a blue grey rind and round shape, and a creamy interior with blue streaks. The taste is creamy, fresh and a little salty with a piquant blue finish.
If you want to try a different Irish blue, try some of Mike Thomson’s ‘Young Buck’, a roguish, raw-milk hero of a cheese made in Newtownards, Co. Down. Young Buck is a blue, unpasteurised, cow’s milk cheese made to a similar recipe to Stilton. It is creamy and subtle with a blue taste, along with the sweetness of the milk. It is aged for three to four months.
Carrigbyrne Humming Bark
Humming Bark is made by Carrigbyrne Farmhouse Cheese in Adamstown, Co. Wexford, Ireland. Aged in spruce bark, and produced with only the finest milk, this is a semi-soft cheese with a strong nose and full-flavoured taste; it has already been awarded Reserve Champion at both the Irish Cheese Awards and the British Cheese Awards in 2014. Not for the faint hearted and a connoisseur’s delight, this particularly pungent cheese is a delicious new member of the Carrigbyrne line up.
The name sorrel, derived from the French word for 'sour' is used to describe several plants, including wild sorrel and French sorrel. Known for their distinct acidic flavour, these leaves taste similar to kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries. Other names for sorrel include spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock.
Where to find
Sorrel's pear-shaped leaves are among the first to appear in February and March, and provide the perfect antidote to the earthy flavours of winter. They can be found in shady areas, along trails and in lawns or gardens- essentially anywhere that does not receive a great deal of direct sunlight.
How to use
Sorrel is very easy to prepare- simply wash well, remove any tough stalks and shred the leaves by rolling into fat 'cigars' and slicing thinly. These leaves can be added to salads to add a unique flavour, puréed to make soups and sauces or used as an alternative to basil to make a delicious pesto.
As well as adding a unique flavour to your dishes this summer, sorrel has a number of nutritional benefits. It contains a significant amount of fibre, a small amount of protein and is rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin C. It is soothing to the stomach, boosts the immune system, increases circulation, boost eyesight, relieves indigestion, and can help stop vomiting. Sorrels are also attributed with blood cleansing properties and are sometimes used by cancer patients.
The attractive Purple Globe artichoke, known colloquially as the violet artichoke, is similar to the common Green Globe artichoke but with a finer and more delicate flavour. Not only are they a tasty delicacy, popular in French, Italian and Spanish cuisine; but they are packed full of nutrients that improve stomach and liver function, as well as being an excellent source of fibre.
For the inexperienced cook, violet artichokes might look somewhat intimidating, but fear not! The Great Room chefs are on hand to help.
To cook 10 artichokes
You will need:
• 75ml white wine vinegar
• 1 lemon
• Water to cover
• Salt to taste
1. Discard the fibrous upper part of the leaf and the inedible “choke” (the prickly part at the centre of the vegetable) to reveal the edible heart. The thin leaves covering the choke are also edible.
2. Place the edible parts of the artichoke into water, slightly acidified with white wine vinegar and lemon juice to prevent discolouration.
3 Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil, before allowing to simmer slowly until slightly soft.
To serve, heat up in the cooking liquid, or remove, slice length-ways and pan fry with a small amount of butter.
These will make a delicious addition to many dishes, but especially to a salad or pasta dish.
On our quest for superb local produce, we have worked with some amazing suppliers: Broughgammon Farm, Achill Island Sea Salt and of course The Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay to name but a few. With this in mind, we are delighted when we track down a producer with a similar level of passion to our own. Vanessa Drew of Ballyroney Cottage is no exception and she has just teamed up with The Merchant Hotel to supply us with goat’s milk.
Vanessa has a lifelong passion for animals and currently shares her home with 9 goats, 12 sheep, 8 beehives, 4 cats, 20 hens and a peacock! Our chefs recently visited Ballyroney Cottage to see Vanessa working. They found that not only does Vanessa take a completely natural approach to caring for the animals, in harmony with nature, but her love for her work shines through; this ensures that her produce meets her (and our) impeccably high standards.
Vanessa explained that the goats are fed on a high carrot diet to capitalise on the carrot’s natural antibiotic quality which reduces the need to use anything unnatural in their diet. The result is a unique milk with a fantastic natural taste, and a very slight sharpness.
Whilst goat’s milk has any number of potential uses, we currently use it in our vanilla ice cream, as this cuts through the sweetness of many desserts to create a delectable and balanced flavour. Try it for yourself with the help of this simple recipe from our kitchens:
· 250ml goats' milk
· 250ml double cream
· 125g caster sugar
· 125g egg yolk
· 1 vanilla pod
1. Place the milk, cream and vanilla pod into a pot and bring to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined.
3. Add the boiled milk mix VERY slowly to the egg yolk mix and whisk (if you go too quickly the eggs are likely to “scramble”). Pour the mixture into a clean pot.
4. Cook until the mixture reaches a temperature of 80 °C (a cooking thermometer is a must).
5. Leave to cool and fold in the whipped cream.
6. Churn using an ice-cream maker and store in the freezer.
When it comes to foraging, the season never ends! There are always new and interesting plants to be found throughout the whole the year. One of this season’s most interesting is the ‘three-cornered leek’, so-called for its unique cross section which resembles the keel of a ship.
The three-cornered leek, also known as “bear’s garlic”, can be identified by its glossy-green leaves, parallel veins, acutely pointed leaf tips and a prominently ridged mid vein. After flowering season which occurs in April and May, they are also identifiable by their delicate white flowers. Whilst at first glance these wild leeks may look like a grass of some kind, you can easily confirm that you have the right plant by the distinct garlic smell emitted upon crushing the leaves of the plant.
Picking and Storing
When foraging for three-cornered leeks place your hand to the bottom of the leek, next to the base, and give it a firm shake to release the root, as these vegetables tend to be firmly rooted to the ground. After foraging, three-cornered leeks can be stored for up to six months.
As every part of the three-cornered leek is edible and can be used in cooking, these vegetables are extremely versatile. The delicate flavour is similar to garlic. In fact, it is the closest species to cultivated garlic that can be found in the wild. Recipes include soups and salads, but they can also be thinly sliced and added to mashed potatoes, or blended with some pine nuts, sunflower seeds and olive oil for a tasty dip or salad dressing. Finally, the delicate flower of the leek makes for an exquisite, edible garnish on any number of dishes.
In the last edition of Season, we introduced The Walled Garden at Helen’s Bay. Since beginning our partnership, our chefs have visited The Walled Garden on a regular basis, assisting David Love Cameron in restoring the gardens to their former glory. David has introduced us to a wartime method of preservation, known as ‘clamping vegetables’, that we are very interested to experiment with in the Walled Garden in the months and years to come.
The method of ‘clamping vegetables’ can be applied to all root vegetables and potatoes, and is derived from an old World War Two method of gardening, when householders set their gardens aside to produce vegetables in a bid to counteract the effects of rationing. Whilst this may seem like an old-fashioned method of preservation, it is actually the perfect way to store vegetables without the use of a refrigerator and is a useful skill to have in your armory.
This traditional method of preserving the root vegetables was known as 'clamping' and it involved storing the vegetables in what was known as a 'clamp'. The principles were:
· To store only those vegetables that were in sound condition and to remove excess stalks and leaves that could rot in storage
· To keep the stored vegetables slightly moist so that they did not dry out while keeping out the wet which would have made them rot
· To prevent the frost getting to them
· To prevent the light getting to them.
The simplest way to try your hand at this method of preservation is the sandbox method, which could be attempted in a garage or shed, if you happen to have the space to do so. It’s a very straightforward process – just make sure any local moggies can’t access your lovingly created sandbox!
1. Dig the vegetables carefully, cut back the foliage close to the root and wash off the soil to prevent any fungal damage during storage.
2. The much cosseted vegetables are kept in a frost-free place in damp sand. As with all stored vegetables, it’s vital to keep them moist: whilst they are growing, they absorb the liquid they require, but once harvested, they stop doing so. The vegetables must be kept damp, but not wet, to prevent the dehydration that would result in wrinkly, rubbery specimens.
3. It is also important not to store vegetables close to apples. When in storage, apples give off ethylene, a gas that first encourages crops to ripen and then to decay. This could cause the dormancy of your vegetables to be broken.
As we approach the summer months, it’s time to start thinking about al fresco dining, and succulent barbecue flavours. With the help of the chefs at The Merchant Hotel, you could achieve the optimum combination of tender and moist, exquisitely cooked meat, with all of the flavour of your traditional barbecue.
At The Merchant Hotel, experimenting with new techniques is what helps us to achieve the most successful recipes, and brining is just one example of these techniques. The process of soaking meats in a solution of water, salt and sugar, known as brining, leads to incredibly moist cooked meats and poultry. Despite requiring significant preparation, it is well worth the wait. Follow our recipe and enjoy the ultimate, melt-in-the-mouth ribs, cooked using a smoking grill or barbecue.
4 racks of baby back ribs
For the brine
· 3.5l water
· 280g sea salt
· 170g brown sugar
1. Remove the membrane from the back side of each rack of ribs, pulling with a paper towel in your hand to maintain a good grip.
2. Combine the brine ingredients in a stainless steel stock pot, or divide the contents into quarters and combine in heavy-duty vacuum pack bags, which will allow you to refrigerate the ribs overnight.
3. Add all four racks to the pot, or add one rack to each bag. Push the ribs into the brine and cover the pot, or seal bags and refrigerate overnight.
To cook the ribs
· 70g freshly ground black pepper
· 150g salt
· 35g ground paprika
· 42.5g brown sugar
· 1 large handful of apple wood or hickory chunks
· 1 litre apple juice
· BBQ sauce (optional)
1. Remove ribs from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
2. Combine the black pepper, salt, paprika and brown sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle one quarter of this rub over each rib, coating the front and back side of each rack well. Massage the rub into the ribs with your hand.
3. Preheat smoking grill to 95-105°C and sprinkle wood chunks in the bottom of the grill to add flavour.
4. Add ribs to the smoker, overlapping slightly. Smoke ribs for 3-4 hours, adding additional wood chunks each hour and spritzing hourly with apple juice.
5. Brush with barbeque sauce if desired during the last 15 minutes of cooking
Despite our changeable weather conditions, the summer months are a time to cast our mind towards warmer climes, and perhaps summer holidays in the warm and enticing Mediterranean. Whilst we may not be able to guarantee the sunshine in time for summer, we can bring a flavour of the Mediterranean to your kitchen in the form of the myrtle berry.
The blackish-blue myrtle berry is native to dry, warm areas of southern Europe and western Asia, but can sometimes be found growing in local sheltered areas. These berries grow along thin stems with bright green leaves, and have the appearance of elongated blueberries. Beneath the blue-black skin is a reddish-purple flesh, with small kidney-shaped seeds. The taste is between a juniper and rosemary, with an initial aroma of pine.
Interested in growing your own myrtle berries? Myrtle grows best in a well-drained, sheltered position and yields the best results when planted in late spring, in order to give it the best chance of establishing a root before winter sets in. The shelter of a warm wall beneath the eaves of a house is the optimum location.
You can also grow myrtle in a container in soil-based compost. Water and feed with a potash-rich tomato food throughout growing season, as this will encourage more flowers. Ease off watering in August before over-wintering the container for best results.
Many Mediterranean pork dishes include myrtle berries, and can be easily replicated from home. Roasted suckling pig is often stuffed with myrtle sprigs into the belly cavity to add an aromatic flavour to the meat. The berries, whole or ground can also be used as a substitute to pepper in some dishes. However, the most common modern uses of these berries are in desserts and liqueur.
Myrto is a syrupy Sardinian liqueur made by infusing myrtle berries, alcohol and honey. Simply steep your freshly picked or bought myrtle berries in vodka - just enough to cover them - and infuse in a jar for 1-3 months. Remove from the jar, strain the liqueur and sweeten with honey before serving, well chilled and ideally al fresco.
With a new season comes a burst of unique and interesting vegetables to incorporate into our diet and liven up our tried and tested recipes. In this Season magazine we are looking at kohlrabi, a member of the cabbage family with a distinctive appearance something similar to a turnip. They are available in both pale green and the less common purple.
Whilst the kohlrabi is available all year round, it is at its finest between July and November. Its name translates as ‘turnip cabbage’ and its flavour is often compared to something between a turnip and water chestnut. The taste is similar to that of a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter and with a higher ratio of flesh to skin. The young stem can be as crisp and juicy as an apple, but much less sweet in flavour.
The best kohlrabi tend to be medium-sized, but heavy for their dimensions, as larger bulbs can be excessively tough. Search for kohlrabi with crisp and intensely green leaves, and avoid any bulbs with soft spots or yellowing leaves.
To prepare the kohlrabi, snip off the leaf stems, trim off the base and top of the bulb and use a potato peeler or sharp knife to peel the vegetable like an apple. Thinly slice, chunk or cut into wedges.
Kohlrabi can last up to two weeks. Simply trim off the stems and refrigerate in a perforated bag.
Kohlrabi can be roasted, steamed, or stir fried, and the leaves can be cooked similarly to cabbage, but for something a little different, why not try our recipe for kohlrabi remoulade?
- 2 tsp English mustard
- 2 tsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 75ml olive oil
- 75ml sunflower oil
- 2-3 kohlrabi, weighing around 750g each
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2-3 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped
1. Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, sugar and salt.
2. Pour the oils into a jug and then very slowly whisk them into the mustard mixture, until you have a creamy, emulsified dressing.
3. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
4. Peel the kohlrabi, cut it into matchsticks and toss into the dressing along with some freshly ground black pepper and the parsley.
5. Leave for around 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend before serving.
Branching out with your summer fruits? Why not try greengage plums, a fruit seasoned throughout the summer months and typically cultivated in Europe. This freestone fruit is green in colour, approximately the size of an apricot and is perfect both to eat fresh and as an ingredient for desserts and cakes. Complementary flavours include tropical fruits, citrus, butter, chocolate and vanilla; all lending themselves to this delicious trifle recipe, taken straight from our exceptional pastry chefs!
For the greengage compote
· 4 greengage plums, quartered
· 1 vanilla pod, with seeds scraped out.
· 50g sugar
1. Place the plums, vanilla and sugar into a pot
2. Cover slightly with water and simmer on a low heat until soft
3. Drain and leave to cool
For the passion fruit jelly
· 9 leaves gelatine
· 150ml passion fruit purée
· 150ml stock syrup*
1. Soak gelatine leaves in cold water
2. Place sugar and purée and stock syrup into a pot, and bring to the boil
3. Add the gelatine leaves and strain
4. Place in the fridge and allow to set slightly
For the trifle sponge
· 4 eggs, separated
· 150g caster sugar
· 100g plain flour
· ½ teaspoon baking powder
1. Preheat oven to 200 C / Gas Mark 6. Line two 30cm x 45cm baking trays with baking parchment. Fit a large piping bag with a plain round tube.
2. Place egg whites in bowl and whisk until soft peaks start to form.
3. Slowly add two tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy.
4. In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and remaining sugar until thick and very pale in colour.
5. Sift flour and baking powder
6. Fold half of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, fold in the flour and baking powder, and then add the remaining egg whites.
7. Transfer the mixture into your pre-prepared piping bag and pipe out onto a prepared baking tray, creating “fingers” with an approximate size of 5cm x 1.5cm.
8. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes.
For the Tonka bean pastry cream
· 800ml full fat milk
· 200g egg yolks
· 1 whole eggs
· 150g caster sugar
· 30g cornflour
· 30g plain flour
· 2 Tonka beans, grated
1. Whisk the eggs, flour and sugar until pale in colour and thick
2. Combine the milk and Tonka beans into a pot, and bring to the boil
3. Slowly add half of the milk and Tonka bean mixture to the egg mix and whisk again.
4. Add the rest of the boiled milk into a fresh pot, along with the whisked egg mix and cook until the mixture begins to bubble
5. Remove from heat, place in a fresh pot and cover with Clingfilm to prevent a skin forming. Leave to cool.
To assemble the trifle
1. Add the quarters of the greengage plums into a trifle glass along with a finger of the trifle sponge
2. Fill 1/3 of the glass with the passionfruit liquid jelly ensuring the sponge fingers are soaked completely
3. Place in the fridge to set
4. Pipe the tonka bean pastry cream on top of the jelly
5. Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings
*To make a stock syrup simply dissolve 60mls caster sugar into 90mls of warm water (cooled, boiled water).