Hillmount Garden Centre’s plants have been blooming in gardens across Northern Ireland for 75 years and, last Saturday (2 January), the garden centre celebrated its best trading day since opening its doors in 1940. Then, at the Garden Trade News and Garden Radio Awards, Hillmount Garden Centre beat off competition from garden centres across the UK to win two national awards.

Hillmount won the Gold award for ‘The Greatest Christmas Sizzle Team of 2015’ recognising their efforts in selling barbecues in winter to customers who wanted to use a BBQ for cooking their Christmas turkey. And, the family owned garden centre also won Northern Ireland ‘Greatest Festive Catering Team’ celebrating excellence in teamwork in The Gardener’s Rest.
Alan Mercer, managing director, Hillmount Garden Centre, said: “Last year was a very special year at Hillmount as we celebrated 75 years in the business. Starting 2016 with these two awards for our BBQ department and café is testament to the efforts we put into the business in the run up to Christmas. 
“And when we saw customers queuing outside before we opened last Saturday we knew we were in for a busy day on our first day back after Christmas. It’s just starting to sink in that we achieved our best trading day in 75 years on the first Saturday of January 2016! Starting off the year this way is very exciting and gives us a great boost as we plan for the rest of the year.
Trevor Pfeiffer, managing director of The Garden Communications and Media Company, publishers of Garden Trade News, said: “Our Greatest Awards are all about celebrating excellence in garden centre teamwork.”
Hillmount Garden Centre has two stores – one on Upper Braniel Road, Belfast, and one on Belfast Road, Bangor. For news of spring events and the latest offers at Hillmount – http://www.hillmount.co.uk, http://www.facebook.com/hillmountgardencentre, http://www.twitter.com/hillmountgarden

NI 2016 Year of Food and Drink Banquet

I was very fortunate to be invited to this amazing Banquet at The Ulster Hall last night.To be in the company of Northern Ireland’s top brass in the Food, Drink and Hospitality Sector was very humbling. The majestic venue was lit up outside by fire and inside dressed elegantly by Event-ful. On arrival there was a choice of local alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, whilst being serenaded by a guitarist.
There was a drinks and canape reception pre dinner upstairs and I had a chance to try some delectable delightful treats. There was Portavogie Prawn Tortellini (By Coppi), Leggygowan Goats cheese mouse on gingerbread and black pudding and chicken terrine. This was washed down with apple juice (cider was available). Just outside in the foyer there 
were samples of NI produce like chocolates, oils, breads and preserves.
Once seated inside the main Hall for dinner, we were really in for a treat. Firstly there were speeches from the First Minister Mrs Arlene Foster, who was really encouraging our superb Agri-food industry. This was seconded by the Deputy First Minister, Mr Martin McGuinness. Laura Briggs of Good Food Shows announced The Good Food Show will be taking part in The Waterfront in October, which really is a huge accolade for the NI food and hospitality industry.

The five course banquet menu and service was left in the very capable and large hands of Simon from The Yellow Door Deli (Portadown). For starters he presented Lough Neagh Eel and bacon cubes with Armagh Bramley puree and mustard frills – this really was a great starter, eel was succulent and bacon cubes crispy and complimented well by the apple. The piece de resistance was the Roast Baronscourt Vennison and Shoulder fritter accompanied by celeriac, Comber smoked potato fondant and a blackcurrant jus.The vession was so tender and literally melted in my mouth. Well presented and just the right amount. Strong bold flavours and worked well together.

The sweet dish did not disappoint. It was caramelised pear and Bushmills Tart with chocolate and candied hazelnut crumb and buttermilk sorbet. There was a real nice NI cheese board with Ditty Biscuits and preserve.The banquet was concluded with Tea, coffee and chocolates by La Coquine. The menu was a very bold one and it all married well together. Roll on 2016!!!! #enjoyni16

The A list of the sector were present eg Paul Rankin, Michael Deane, Dr Howard Hastings, Pete Snodden to name but a few. I was lucky to be sat beside Andrew (The GM of The Lough Erne Resort) and Zoe (Tedfords).The Enterprise Minister Mr Jonathan Bell was also present and the BBC presenter Mr Nigel Barden gave the closing speech.
I am excited and very confident that NI will make this The Year to remember for Food, Drink and Hospitality. Lets all embrace the year and show the world what we can offer!!