Monday, November 20, 2017
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Tyrone Good Food Circle Guide

AS A GREEDYGUTS on a personal mission to eat my way around this tasty little country of ours, I'm delighted to give a welcome to the second - much expanded - edition of the Tyrone Good Food Circle Guide. It has nearly doubled in size, featuring an appetising selection of 14 great places to eat in every corner of the county, from Strabane and Fivemiletown to Dungannon, Omagh and the aptly-named Cookstown. It also has listings of producers and purveyors of the freshest, most flavoursome fare to be found in local Farmers Markets.

Three years ago Tyrone was the first place in Northern Ireland to follow the lead pioneered by Kinsale in the 70s and bring together the best restaurants in a given area - subject to unannounced inspection and strict criteria - under the umbrella of a free Guide.

My friend Sebastian Koellner, the nice German who helps run the Circle, turned down my application to be the secret restaurant inspector on the grounds that I could never keep myself secret no matter how hard I tried, so he got me to write the introductions to the booklets instead. My enthusiam for local fare is well-known, and I can honestly say that the food, ambience and service of Tyrone's family-run restaurants often exceeds that of some world-famous establishments which I have to sample as a globe-trotting travel journalist, whether I want to or not...

Lisa Williamson, the vivacious Chairperson of the Good Food Circle, apparently said flattering things about my encouragement of local food initiatives, during her speech at the Guide's launch reception in Vicounts Restaurant in Dungannon.

Alas, I had to miss the launch because it clashed with an important hydrotherapy session in Musgrave Park Hospital's new hydro pool. However, around the time Lisa was talking about me, I experienced a burning sensation and my ears went red - and I thought at the time that it was caused by the chemicals in the pool!

Piddling Zone

TALKING of pools and eateries, does it ever occur to anyone that a designated smoking zone in a restaurant is like having a designated piddling zone in a swimming pool? It's useless. Stinking smoke - like piddle - does not observe any boundaries, which is why I'm all in favour of a total ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and everywhere else where it gets up my nose - literally.

I'm prompted to raise this topic because of a series of recent meals ruined by tobacco smoke - including one in a swanky restaurant which should know better. A guy lit up a huge cigar in the smoking zone, just two tables away, as I was savouring a very delicate (and expensive) Aberdeen Angus fillet steak. It was disgusting.

Judging by his super-trendy black silk outfit and two gold ear-rings, I thought he was one of those camp hair stylists who are what passes nowadays as The Belfast Glitterati. Then I saw he was with a girlfriend, so he might even have been straight!

I'm told by a psychologist friend that a lot of straight male hairdressers adopt camp behaviour so that their female clients will tell them naughty secrets that they wouldn't dream of revealing to a hetero man.

Maybe the obverse of that is true - so closet gay hairdressers smoke big fat cigars to appear macho. In which case I just wish they wouldn't do it while I'm dining.

PS: Before I gave up smoking 11 years, 4 months, 2 days and 9 minutes ago, I used to get through two packets of B&H a day. That's a saving of £33,824 to date ‑ so that's why I can afford fillet steaks. I won't even hazard a guess as to the money I've saved by giving up drinking 21 years, 5 months and 8 days ago - probably enough to open a restaurant where anyone who dares to light up is immediately doused by a fire extinguisher containing chemicals which also turn men's ear-rings pink.

Here's to the fuchsia!

JUST IN case you think that I do not approve of gold ear-rings as such, I was enchanted by the pair worn by my fashionable friend and favourite broadcaster Wendy Austin when she opened the first Garden Show at Balmoral recently. They were in the shape of my favourite flower, the fuchsia. By an amazing coincidence, I had brought along my famous fuchsia necktie designed by my daughter Suzanne (famous because it is very bold and not easily forgotten). However, it was such a hot day that I took the tie off and left it in the Press Office in the care of brilliant show organiser Lucy Faulkner's team. Otherwise, I would have subjected you to a photo of Wendy and I raising a glass to our accessories, with the caption 'ears to the fuscia!'

Wendy commissioned her delicate adornments from local goldsmith Graham Harron. I have known Graham since he played rugby against me for Sullivan Upper. Years later, when he was establishing himself as Ulster's busiest goldsmith, I ordered a piece of jewellery from him as an anniversary gift for my wife Karen.

Alas, his gold-smelter, or something vital, broke down and I had to find another artistic prezzie to meet the anniversary deadline. As it happens, my stand-in gift - a painting by Markey Robinson - has gone up in value by about 800 per cent since then. So thanks, Graham, for helping us strike gold!

Smokey Ribs

STILL on the subject of restaurants and smoke, I am chillingly reminded that I owe £22.50 to the ultra-cool Grill Bar of the Ten Square boutique hotel behind Belfast City Hall.

The last time I left a restaurant without paying was in my student days when my mates and I found ourselves unable to meet the bill at the New Blue Sea, Ulster's first Chinese restaurant. We made an unorthodox exit via the toilet window and found ourselves in a locked backyard surrounded by kitchen staff armed with cleavers and red-hot woks.

Never again, I vowed, so you can be assured that I left Ten Square Grill Bar with no criminal intent. This is what happened: We were enjoying an early dinner before going to the utterly brilliant - and fabulously free - BBC concert of Leonard Bernstein's movie music at the Waterfront. (When it is televised in the autumn, I'm the guy in the third row crying during Maria's death scene song from West Side Story.)

I was halfway through a mini-mountain of barbecued ribs, and was waiting for the charming Tasmanian waitress to bring a finger bowl to wipe my fingers - plus face, shirt, chinos, shoes and all the other places the sauce had splattered - when suddenly the fire alarm went. We were ushered out in an orderly manner into Donegall Square South where we were joined by about a hundred other diners and drinkers from the packed bar. As a veteran of many a long bomb scare in Belfast's olden days, I had the know-how to take with me our bottle of fizzy water and what was left of my ribs, wrapped in a linen napkin.

I happily nibbled ribs while three fire engines arrived and dealt with a small outbreak in the kitchen. However, we were already in fear of being late and locked out of the concert which was being broadcast live on Radio Three. So we left the scene in a hurry. That's how I came to owe for a Chicken Caesar Salad, a Rack of Ribs, a Baked Potato and a bottle of Ballygowan. I'll pay the next time I'm passing, and I'll return the napkin, too.

My concience will then be clean - but I can't say the same for the napkin which still shows signs of BBQ stains after two washes.

Ding,dong Dungannon

THE day that time stood still - and Dungannon Ingenuity Time took over from Greenwich Mean Time - is one of the priceless anecdotes in the priceless (ie, free) Dungannon Heritage Trail Map Folder, just out.

The ceremony for the unveiling of the town's Cenotaph in Market Square was due to be performed in 1922 by local bigwig Lady Ranfurly, exactly as the town clock struck the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Her Ladyship's car was held up somewhere, and the organisers were in a panic until one of them had a brilliant idea. He ran across to St Anne's Church clock tower and stopped the clock until she arrived.

As a flustered Lady Ranfurly began to unveil the monument, the mechanism was re-started and 11 o'clock chimed over the hushed Square - 22 minutes later.

John Trew

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