Entries in Belfast (23)


q&a with artist Peter Collins

It gives me great joy to welcome the wonderful Belfast artist Peter Collins to the Salt and Sparkle Q&A. Peter's work is full of a viseral power.  It is capivating and powerful all at once, he is suprenely talented.  His use of light and colour lingering in the mind's eye long long after you have first seen his paintings.  I met Peter through his brilliant fiancé Deborah Swain and am really delighted to feature him and his work.  You can contact to commission a piece by shooting him an email, or checking out his Facebook page.

Who are you, what’s it like being you ... 

Hi my name is Peter Collins and I’m a recovering IT professional. I’ve worked in IT for the last 20 years but did my degree in Fine Art. My whole team and I were made redundant recently which for me was a blessing in disguise. It was not a bad occupation but it was soul destroying working in a role that didn’t make use of my talents. It’s given me this amazing opportunity to get back to my art. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in a year’s time but my worst nightmare would have been to look back in another year and still be in the same job.

Where are you from, where are you based ...

Born and bred in Belfast. Love watching it reinvent itself having grown up in the seventies and eighties.

Talk about your work ...

I’m enjoying learning to paint in oils again after a long hiatus. The creative process of bringing something into the world out of nothing is an incredible feeling and is about as close as I get to spirituality. However it is only hard work that pays off. There is no such thing as the artistic genius –there are just those people who work much, much harder than everyone else. I try to remember this mantra but it doesn’t always work!

I’ve adopted many styles in the past for commissions and so never really thought I had a style but I hope I’m now closing in on a personal signature in my work.






What are your future plans ...
I’ve set myself the goal of getting some paintings sold in a gallery –after that…

How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...   

From my own experience and from what I’ve read of other creative people, inspiration tends to come while you are working so the most important thing is to be constantly working at your craft - whatever it may be. Being productive will take you in directions you will never be able to predict by sitting around thinking about it. “You can't plow a field simply by turning it over in your mind” 

That said, Van Gogh, Cezanne and John Singer Sargent are heroes for me. Colin Davidson’s work is superb and adds fuel to the fire every time I see it! Pascal Vilcollet and Conor Harrington are amazing artists who are also very comfortable working at a large scale. I admire people who have enthusiasm for what they do. Jamie Oliver taught me to cook over the years but it’s his genuine enthusiasm that is infectious. The same applies to Prof Brian Cox (on Astrophysics not cooking!)

Describe your space .. 

I’ve converted an unused front room into a studio. The light is great but I’ve also rigged up lots of daylight lamps for a boost due to our erratic weather. Years in the I.T. business has taught me the “clear desk” philosophy which actually applies very well to an artist’s studio. So I try to keep the clutter to a minimal by clearing up at the start or end of the day. (My fiance may dispute this!)

How are you feeling today ...Great! The the sun is shining!

A non-negotiable in your life is ...

Coffee; and the dogs! I’m lucky to have two amazing dogs who know how to keep me fit!

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

It’s not what happens to you in life but how you deal with it that counts. I used to stress a lot about things which inevitably turned out to be pointless and trivial.

Your work life philosophy is ...

Do whatever you want but work hard at it. What defines you is not your chosen calling in life but how you do it. For me happiness and fulfillment come from being creative and productive which lifts your mood and in turn lets you appreciate life and the people in it. I happiest when free time is coming up and I know I’ve achieved or created something good.

What is your favourite smell ...  

 Peat fires. Preferably in Cork or Kerry! Also Italian pine trees. Preferably in Italy! Did I mention coffee?

Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ...

Anonhi – “Drone bomb me” -very different. When I’m really concentrating or experimenting I need chilled out music like Massive Attack or even Classical music, but if I’m on a roll it’s got to be something more “full on” like Queens of the Stone Age or some Dance/HipHop.

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

I love to cook so that’s a tough one. But my “go to” comfort food dish would have to be pasta Puttanesca. 

3 ingredients? Basil, Lime, Garlic: For homemade Pesto, Margaritas and everything else, in that order!

Three things or products that have changed your life...  

My Fiancé Deborah: (not a thing!) One of the most positive and open people I’ve ever met and a joy to be around!

Travel: everyone should do it. When you are young it is literally mind blowing. Every child in this country should be sent abroad for a few months at the age of 14 or 15. It would solve a lot of problems.

The Internet: Having grown up pre-internet it still astounds me how empowering the internet is for expanding your knowledge and for practical research. Alas if only more people would make use of it rather than watching cats and indulging in public displays of ignorance.

How do you relax ... 

I love cooking. Especially for other people. I only worked out recently that I somehow find it relaxing! Walking the dogs in all our beautiful parks and green places, reading a good book or some quality TV.

What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ... I’m definitely happy when I’m being creative as it defines who I am and so gives me that fulfillment. My happy place is either on the sofa with, or travelling with my wife to be Deborah.

What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...

 My favourite journey is heading Cork and Kerry. It’s where my family are originally from and I haven’t really explored it properly. I would love to see Machu Pichu in Peru and also a long road trip around France. 

What do you most value in your friends ...  

The absence of expectations and the Craic.


What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now 

Favourite words: “We’re booked!”

I’m reading Moby Dick at the moment. I’ve a long list of classics that I thought I better start working through!


Share some words of wisdom ... 

Personality is how you behave around others. Character is what you do when you think no one is watching.



Thank you Peter it was such a pleasure to have you at our place.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Pizza Express St Anne's Square


Good pizza is back in Belfast.  I have been eating at Pizza Express for over a decade and my experiences have always been good.  The food is consistent, the service excellent and the atmosphere enjoyable.  The latest Pizza Express in the centre of Belfast at St Anne's Sq is no exception.  It is a glorious restaurant.  The setting is sweeping with heaps of natural light on both sides of the rectangular room.  The room has an edge and a funk to it.  Mixing brilliant lighting features, dipped copper pieces, and graphic art.  There is an outside section on the Square, with boxes of lavender and rugs to keep out the chill. 

 We visit on a Monday evening and the room feels full, not packed.  Funk jazz comes out of speakers creating an energy that is enjoyable to sit in.  There are couples very much in love, friends gathered in booths and a continous trade of takeaways.  I like the atmosphere which the room lends itself to with its high ceilings.  We sit at a table in the middle of the room, as much to see everything that is going on, as well as to truly absorb the vibe of the room.  if you want to truly get a feeling of a place always sit in the middle.  The chairs are very comfortable.

We have walked by over the past month on our way to and from Flow Belfast, wondering what is this space going to be.  We watched the building be transformed and then the signs went up.  Pizza Express was coming.  And we all breathed a sigh of relief.  A brilliant restaurant chain where the food is good, the wine selection enjoyable and the atmosphere a place we want to spend time in.  We made plans to visit and then it was open and we were there. 


The marble topped tables are set with distinctive blue glasses and red pepper pots.  Pops of colour that are pleasing to look at.  I really like this room and having visited at different times of day and on different days I really enjoy how the room lends itself to being packed or more relaxed.  There is always a fluid feeling where you are very welcome and served delicious food.


 Prosecco and Strawberries always a fun thing to sip on a Monday evening.  The staff heard it was my birthday and soon glasses of bubbles arrived.  Prosecco is always delicious with pizza the fizz cutting through the fats of the cheese and the fresh dough.

 We starting with the Dough Balls Doppio created to share with dips of a pungent pesto, a nicely balanced garlicky butter and a harissa that is sweetly hot.  All the balls come dusted with parmesan.  For hungry

 The striped shirts  of the pizza chefs move and flow around the ovens, tossing dough, adding finishing touches to the pizzas that go in and out of the oven.  They are a feature of the restaurant at the end of the room with an open faced kitchen.

 Staff are plentiful and very pleasant.  Friendly without being zealous they are knowledgable about the menu and fun to talk to.  Their smart red aprons also highlighting the pops of red throughout the room - it's vibrant.

We ordered a bottle of Gavi di Gavi DOCG from Piedmount, Italy.  Pale gold in colour with a fresh mineral finish.  It had a crisp, floral, peachy, flavour with a smooth aromatic bouquet.  It arrived in a wine cooler.  


 With a glass of wine we  plump juicy garlic green olives.  Perfect finger food as we looked through the menu. 


 There were the right ratio of staff to diners, we were looked after by Alicia and Ellen; and always felt like we were being looked after without feeling like we were being watched and pounced on.  Pizza Expresses' service could be bottled and sold.  




 We ordered the Padana and the American Hot on Romana bases.  These were thin and crispy with a good ratio of toppings to base.

 The Padana has goat's cheese, mozzarela, tomato and carmelised onion, with spinach, red onion and garlic oil.  It is a sweeter pizza perfect for those who are not fans of spice.

The menu although pizza focused has a range of other dishes pastas and salads.  There is plenty to chose from without it feeling overwhelming and the food is made from fresh produce.

 I asked for extra rocket on my American Hot - always one to add extra peppery flavours to spice, I added chilli oil as well - I love the variety of flavours of the hot green and Roquito peppers, pepperoni the fresh chilli, and spicy soft nduja sausage.  This is my favourite pizza - hot and full of flavour.




Our sides were the Superfood Superboost Salad and the Polenta Chips. 

 THe Polenta Chips were spiked with rosemary and finished with Grand Milano cheese, they were hot and crisp.  

 The desserts in Pizza Express are among the best in Belfast.  They like everything else the restuarant serves are consistently excellent.

I had the Brownies - never one to turn down chocolate.  These did not disappoint, they were rich and full of flavour, made with gluten free flour they had a nice denseness without being heavy.  They were served with a light vanilla gelato.

 The  Leggera Tartufor Limoncello mixed crunchy meringue with a crisp limoncello flavour.  It was sharp and sweet in perfect balance.

 Finishing the meal with properly made mint tea was delightful and fresh.  

Great pizzas and superb desserts combined with good service, consistency, and this great space at Pizza Express St Anne's Sq create a really enjoyable restaurant to eat out in. One I highly recommend.  This is a place that knows its strengths and plays to them without mucking about or trying to be something they are not.

The funky vibe, the friendly staff and the great food - it is a winning combination and one I will visit again and again.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Pizza Express, Bedford Street Belfast

 My rough estimate I've eaten in Pizza Express about a thousand times.  From my first meal in Soho Pizza Express where I ate the ubiquitous Soho Pizza - with black olives and rocket and more parmesan cheese than would be deemed acceptable in polite society.  To the time I forgot to book lunch after my graduation from university and we ate outside in the Pizza Express listening to a saxophonist play jazz.  Then there were my regular lunches there when I worked at the BBC, or the once a week suppers with my Uncle.  And, I have never, not even once had anything but a superb meal in Pizza Express.  That's right folks, I have never had a bad meal in Pizza Express and I have been eating in these restaurants for nearly 20 years.

 The service in Pizza Express, Bedford Street rivals that of many a Michelin Starred restaurant.  Staff are extremely knowledgable about the food and they speak with authority about the wine listt, matching dishes and good bottles of wine.  They want you to have a good experience in the restaurant and to enjoy what you order.  Friendly without being over familiar I was very impressed with the excellent service we received from Sean and Peter and the team.  In a frantically busy restaurant we were seated quickly and served smoothly.  Order after order left the kitchen which was just to the left of our table.  The breton stripped shirts of the chefs moved speedily across the narrow galley like space.  I later discover waiting staff go through an eight week intensive training school.  The care given to the staff's training in turn is an investment to those who come to eat in Pizza Express because the excellent service enchances the dining experiences of the customers.  

We ordered a bottle of Gavi di Gavi DOCG from Piedmount, Italy.  Pale gold in colour with a fresh mineral finish.  It had a crisp, floral, peachy, flavour with a smooth aromatic bouquet.  It arrived in a wine cooler.  With a glass of wine we nibbled spiced mixed nuts which were crunchy and fresh, alongside plump juicy garlic layen green olives.  Perfect finger food as we looked through the menu.  We decided we were going to try to the 'new' items on the menu, which is extensive without being overwhelming.


 Soft sweet yeast raised dough balls that were springy to the touch and covered with Gran Milano were served with butter at room temperature which was spiked with garlic.  They were morish and didn't last long on the plate.


The Pennette Formaggi another new dish is Pizza Expresses take on Mac and Cheese - it is a very good one too.  A rich Gruyere cheese sauce, loaded with mozzarella and Gran Milano, garlic oil, covers pennette pasta and it is served in a cute lack cast iron pot.

 Bruschetta Originale 'Pizza Express'.



 Pizza Express Bedford St, had a great buzz, all the tables were full and once they emptied within minutes they were filled again.  Families with young children, couples of all ages on dates, large hen parties and groups of friends created a mixed crowd who in turn made a 


 Pennette Bolognese - a rich beef sauce served in the Italian style with penne pasta - had a smooth and sweet taste which comes from slow cooking.

 Pollo ad Astra on a (Romana pizza base which is thinner, crispier and my favourite) combined sweet Peppadew red peppers, red onions, mozzarella, to create a succulent sweet mouthful.

 America Hottest another 'new' item on the menu offers mouthfuls of spice combined with roquito peppers, jalapeno peppers, soft nduja sausage, pepperoni.

 Potato Nocciola are little potato tots baked and then finished with cheese and fresh parsley, they had crispy skins and soft fluffly centres.

 Polenta chips bare baked with rosemary and finished with Gran Milano Cheese, they are served with honey and mustard dip.

 Primo gelato is a soft sweet ice cream with a salted caramel ripple.  It is perfect in its simplicity.  I highly recommend it was a cool sweet way to finish a meal of spicy Hot Pizza.

 Treacle Tart Cheesecake is served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

 Dolcetti are a small and sweet pudding a mini desert for someone wanting just a bite of something sweet.  These salted caramel profiteroles are coated in sweet caramel and filled with a salted caramel cream.  A must for salted caramel lovers.

 We finished the evening with shots of lemoncello, a brilliant lemoncello made by Luxcarodo.  It had a sweet lemon flavour without the bitter sharpness sometimes associated with this drink.

Pizza Express is a great restaurant that does good food and delicious pizzas, the atmosphere is buzzing and the service superb.  I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


q&a with Cathy Martin

It is delightful to welcome Cathy Martin to the Salt and Sparkle q&a.  Cathy is dynamic, powerful, inspiring and interesting, not to mention very glamorous.  

The director of Belfast FASHIONWEEK and owner of CMPR, a media relations and events company. I first met Cathy when I interviewed her for a film I made for Channel 4 News several years ago, and since then it has been a pleasure to watch her success.  

During a lunch several years ago Cathy said to me, 'Nicky what are you doing for you, with your talents? You're doing a lot for others, but what are you doing for you?' At the time the comment slid into my head, and then stayed in my memory, gently nudging me to remember, I need to do things for me, with my talent.  

This short comment, during a quick lunch has been one of the most profound things anyone has said to me in my career. Thank you for that Cathy, and it is wonderful to interview you.

Cathy will soon be speaking at the Belfast Tedx at Stormont, she is a person worth listening to.


1.     Who are you, what’s it like being you ...

First and foremost I am a mummy to Valentina, a daughter to my lovely mum Mae, a sibling to six and a cousin to many. I’m also a colleague to Lucy, Leeza and Chris and a friend to quite a few people who are my rocks and my laughing partners in this wonderful thing we call life.

2.     Where are you from, where are you based ...

I’m from the Lisburn Road in Belfast, but I now live and work in Holywood, which I absolutely love. It is a wonderful community and a pretty place to live.

3.     Talk about your work ...

I have quite a few hats. First and foremost I am a PR consultant and advise clients across many sectors on promoting their businesses and projects. Secondly I own and manage Belfast FASHIONWEEK, which has been running for over ten years now.

4.       What are your future plans ...

I just want to be happy. Workwise, I have no ambitions for a massive company, I quite like being small and manageable – as well as personal.

5.     How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...  

I find inspiration in hard working people, honest people, those who are respectful and those who are creative. I love nature and music as well as a well written piece of poetry or prose and I am a big fan of art and nature.

6.       Describe your space ... 

My workspace is very modern and fresh, open and contemporary, with bright artwork and lots of light and mirrors. My home is grey and more traditional with a large fireplace and lots of art and photographs.

7.     How are you feeling today ... 

I always feel happy and blessed. I have a lot to be thankful for.

8.     A non-negotiable in your life is ...

I dislike lies and thieves, secrets and disrespect.

9.       Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

It’s nice to be nice.

10.    Your work life philosophy is ...

Work hard, play hard.

11.   What is your favourite smell ...  

I have many! Coffee – although I don’t drink it, and bread – although I don’t eat bread! I also love a rich chocolatey smell, and the cinnamon smell of Christmas, plus, lastly, I love the smell of faint aftershave on my other half’s neck.

12.   Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ...

I listen to a lot of opera and classical music which would probably surprise people.

13.   Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

I love sea bass in butter and rock salt with fine green beans, broccoli, courgette or any other greens done in butter with a tiny bit of garlic. I could actually eat that most evenings for dinner!

14.  Three things or products that have changed your life...

Having my daughter Valentina has changed my life. But losing my daughter Rosie to stillbirth a few years before Valentina came along changed it much more. I had a very serious infection and in years gone by, probably would’ve died giving birth, so I am grateful for every day I’ve been given on this earth and have made some decisions recently to allow me to live this wonderful life to the full.

15.   How do you relax ...

I love to laugh in the company of good friends. We eat, drink and dance usually!

16.   What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ...

I love having fun with Valentina – at the park, in our home, wherever. But equally, I love being alone on a beach, reading a book and enjoying the warm sunshine, the breeze from the sea and the noises of nature.

17.   What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...  

I’d love to visit more of Asia… The mountains and cherry blossoms of Japan, plus the beaches and islands of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. I’d love to go back to Australia and sail the Whitsundays or snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.

18.   What do you most value in your friends ...  

Loyalty, a sense of fun and adventure, plus they need to have a good ear. I talk a lot! And they also need to understand that my job means I won’t make every social occasion, but it can mean some fun ones for them!

19.   What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now ...

I used to read at least a book a week, and then I became a mum. It’s harder now to read even a magazine at home, so I look forward to holidays and a blast of literature.

20.  Share some words of wisdom ...

Never cut what can be untied…

 Thank you for spending time at our place Cathy.  You can connect with Cathy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or check out her website.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


q&a with Niall McKenna from James St South

It is with great pleasure we welcome chef Niall McKenna from James St South to the Salt & Sparkle q&a.  When I first met Niall I think we talked for an hour straight about local produce, eating, cooking and food.  Since then we have had some great conversations, and I have eaten some of the best meals I've ever had at his restaurants.  Niall is an inspiration to be around, he cares passionately about what he does and its evident in every part of the James St South empire.  You can connect with Niall and the James St South team on Twitter and Facebook.

Who are you, what’s it like being you ...

Niall McKenna, worked in London but wanted to put my roots down at home. I always wanted to be a chef as I love food and cooking.

Where are you from, where are you based ...

From Belfast and have 3 restaurants now, James St South Restaurant, The bar + grill at James St South and Hadskis as well as the The Cookery School at James St South

Talk about your work ...

I have always been passionate about food and have been cooking in kitchen since the age of 16. 

What are your future plans ... 

We always have ideas for expansion so keep an eye on things in 2015, it's all very exciting.

How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...  

The fantastic produce and ingredients that we can get here in northern Ireland inspires the great food that we put on a plate.

Describe your space ... 

They are all different. James St South’s recent refurbishment has created a lovely clean, fresh room with linen clad tables and an element of colour. The Bar + Grill feels like a New York Steak house/French Brasserie with bare brickwork and high ceilings.

How are you feeling today ... 

On top of the world, we are planning new exciting ventures for 2015 and I cannot wait to get working on them!

A non-negotiable in your life is ...

Family time, my wife and two kids are my biggest priority 

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ... 

Never give up, anything is possible.

Your work life philosophy is ...

Work hard, play hard.

What is your favourite smell ...  

It has to be the charcoal Josper Grill, it gets the taste buds going in the kitchen.

Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ... 

At the moment it is whatever is on the radio and whatever keeps the kids happy.

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ... 

My favourite meal has to be Sunday Brunch, when we are altogether. Check out our brunch in Hadskis.  

My 3 favourite ingredients would have to be steak, chips and bernaise available in the Bar + Grill.

Three things or products that have changed your life... 

Joanne, Conrad and Charlotte

How do you relax ... 

Long walk on the beach 

What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ... 

I love being in the kitchen, it’s where I feel at home. My role has changed in the company but I still love to get in and work with great local produce and ingredients.

What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...   

Italy, we just love to get away and relax with the kids.

What do you most value in your friends ...  

Honesty, honesty, honesty

What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now ... 

Great service guys, there is nothing more rewarding in work than having a great service and commending the team.

Share some words of wisdom ...

Anything is possible, never say never.


 Niall it was a pleasure to interview you, thank you for joining us at Salt & Sparkle.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable 




Don't invite stress into bed with you - Ikea Sleep Retreat

We spend nearly 2/3's of our life stressed, that's approximately 14 bouts of stress per day, and we are stressed before we even get out of bed.

Nearly half of us in Ireland and the UK, report they have interrupted or bad sleep.  It is a chronic condition because sleep is a vital part of our wellbeing.  It is not negotiable and lack of sleep can lead to a huge array of physical and mental health problems. 

Recently I was invited to spend the night in Ikea.  That's right inside the store in the bedroom department! During the Ikea Sleep Retreat in the Belfast store we learnt methods of relaxation and the importance of having a stress free comfortable bedroom in allowing us to get good sleep.

Research shows that pillows should be changed every one to two years, and duvets every three to five.  Ikea have a beautiful range of bedding, Salt and Sparkle love their pure linen range as well as pillows, duvets and blankets.

Waking up in a bedroom that is right for you, can change your entire day, as well as give you a sanctuary space to retreat to at the end of the day.

Salt and Sparkle team member Jude and I went along, to see if it really was possible to sleep in the store!

With pristine white cotton sheets, very comfortable mattresses, the double beds and plump pillows alongside a media player preloaded with a deep sleep meditation, made getting into bed in Ikea Belfast was certainly a joy.

Some people complained of not sleeping well, but as Jude rightly said, 'They admitted they don't sleep well at home, so why on earth would they think they would sleep well in a shop.'

Jude and I both slept soundly!  The beautiful massages we had right before bed, were differently a bonus.

Ikea Belfast, had brought in sleep expert Gillian Killiner, massage therapist Fionnuala Dunleavy and a yoga teacher Suzanne Cromie, alongside other sleep advisors, to give advice on how to get better sleep.

 Sleep expert and nutritionst Gillian Killiner top sleep tips were - 


  • Have a cool room and a warm bed
  • Don't have any screens in your room - computers, tv, mobile phones, tablets etc
  • Don't use a mobile device with a screen in bed
  • Keep a notepad by your bed and write things down if you find your mind is anxious and full of thoughts
  • Ensure your blood sugar levels are stable, if you are concerned about this, visit your GP for tests
  • Don't drink caffeine in the evenings
  • Drink camomile/valerian tea or milk topped with cinnamon just before bed
  • Ensure your bedroom is ventilated
  • Mobile phones emit waves all night, if you can limit the use of sleep apps and use an alarm clock to waken
  • Eat a good natural diet high in fibre, full of green leafy vegetables and protein
  • Bananas are a great food to eat before bed
  • Don't eat a heavy or carb loaded meal before bed



 Massage Therapist Fionnuala Dunleavy's advice for good sleep 


  • Remember to breath and relax your muscles
  • If you find anywhere in your body feels tight, visualise yourself breathing into that space
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day
  • Breath in for the count of four and out for six, keep your mind on your breathing, bringing it back to the breath if it wanders off
  • Have massage treatments to help relieve stressed muscles
  • Use a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow to help you relax


 Ikea have put together this rather fun video with lots of great sleep ideas.  

Some of our favourites are 

  • A warm bath before bed relaxes your muscles and clears your head. You’ll find you fall asleep quicker, enjoy better quality sleep and a better day as a result of an evening soak.
  • Lavender is known to slow down your heart rate, lower blood pressure and put you into a relaxed state. So keeping some next to your bed will give you quality sleep with less tossing and turning. And it’s nice to wake up in a room that smells lovely.
  • Between 18 and 22 degrees is perfect for a night’s sleep. That’s why changing your duvet with the seasons will help you sleep better and wake up felling refreshed.
  • Light is a powerful instrument to regulate sleep cycle. You’ll get a much better night’s sleep if your room is in total darkness.
  • Eating a big meal late in the evening stimulates your body’s metabolism at the very time you need it to be slowing down. So for better sleep, try eating earlier and if you get hungry at bedtime, eat a banana. The source of magnesium and potassium help to relax muscles so you sleep better
  • A kiss from your partner when you wake up in the morning before leainv for work means you'll live on average 5 years longer
  • If you can't sleep - get up, get out of bed, go into another room, read, walk, listen to music, then try getting back into bed

Our lives are increasingly hectic, so it is well worth putting some order back into them, starting with a good nights sleep, so why don't you give some of these tips from Ikea a go and don't invite stress into bed with you.

What are your top tips for sleep?

Alright, good night, sleep tight

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Eating in Belfast - James St South - delicious, dedicated and delightful

Money talks, but class whispers, and there is class to be found at James St South.  The restaurants redesign is confident and elegant.  Much like its food.

The clean lines, cool tones of blue, pale wood, and crisp lines are offset with pops of teal in the smooth leather banquettes, and darker wooden chairs.  And, it works brilliantly.  Creating a room that is at once cool, refined and warm.  The new look James St South restaurant brings a joyful freshness to the Belfast restaurant scene. 

 Opening up the bar and service area makes James St South's dining room feel spacious and adds to the formal but relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant.

The blending of colours, the use of pale blond wood, against dark ebony wood, the splash of blue and teal, creates an overall the atmosphere in the restaurant that is smooth and mellow, Scandinavian in feel.  The teal and rust tones are accented in small details, waiters ties, the writing on the menu, place cards, to effortless effect.  The lighting is low, and the music chilled, there is an enchanting vibe in the room, which enhances the tastebuds.

The breads are as appetising to look at as they taste with their puffed tops, and soft succulent crumb.  There is nod to history as the breads look like they were baked in tincans, a method of baking bread popular during the World Wars.  The Treacle Bread has a deep rich sweetness, the Champ bread, is a fantastic take on potato bread, but is light and fluffy, all are served with Abernethy Butter.

Owner Niall McKenna and his head chef David Gillmore are to be applauded for their creation of a menu, which is stands out because it is not full of the ever so common usual suspects.  This is a menu with boldness and flavour, daring and creativity, and it is very welcome.

Coffee Roasted Comber carrots, creme fraiche, and tarragon vinegar caramel, brings together a strong vegetable with a strong taste, and it works.  The coffees slight bitterness adds a depth of flavour to the carrots sweetness, which is enhanced by the creamy texture of the creme fraiche.  The blue plate adds a depth to the dish, which would not be achieved in the same manner on a white plate.

We chose the wine pairing menu, something I highly recommend to all diners.   It shows off both James St South's extensive wine list, wine knowledge and ability to perfectly pair wine with the dishes on their menu. The combinations allow the flavours of both the wine and the food to really come alive.  

The smooth and creamy Pinot de Alsace which we had with the ever so slightly bitter carrots brought a balance to the flavour the dish and the wine, that would not have been so easy if I had just chosen a bottle of wine that I wanted to drink.

The Chargrilled radicchio, scallops and orange hollandaise married sweet cream with bitter lettuce, and meaty scallops.

James St South service is sublime - smooth, subdued, spacious. Perfectly polished into effortlessness without a hint of pretence.  Staff strike the balance between friendliness and professionalism, and impressively each who served us truly understood the menu, and where excited about it.  They took time to understand our desires as diners, what we liked and disliked, and recommended dishes with authority.  

Paul, Geoff and their team are to be commended on making the diner feel like royalty while in the restaurant.  

Ancient North Down tomatoes with crunchy prosciutto and baby gem puree, was light refreshing and full of flavour.  A burst of fresh flavour on an dark evening.  The wine pairing was perfect and the tomatoes, lifted the wine, giving it a warm sunshine feeling.  

The flavours of this dish were delicate and not overpowering.  It was well thought out, and served with a precision, the white plate here lifted the dish, making it seem more colourful. The nuts adding depth and texture to the soft tomato flavour, and light lettuce puree.  Crisp prosciutto added a hint of smoke and another layer of flavour, to this very success, and highly attract dish.

Carrickbrack Organic Farm Lamb, fennell, apricot and spices had a fresh flavour, to which the spices added depth, and the apricot a sweetness.  The lamb had a melt in the mouth tenderness and had been cooked to perfect with respect.  

Respect for and an understanding of ingredients is a recurrent theme at James St South.  McKenna and Gilmore know what they are doing, and they have an innate understanding of taking produce to the plate, in a manner that is digified, interesting and delicious.  It is this respect that makes all the food and drinks served in the restaurant rise to another level.

Compressed potatoes with delicate lamb jus, and shaved fennel with the odd caper brought more textures to the plate and on the palate created a perfect balance of sweet, crisp, soft, making this a very enjoyable dish to eat.


Baked gnocchi, summer vegetables and tarragon, came in an attractive blue grey bowl, which lifted the colours of the ingredients, and tantalised the eyes and the palate with what was to come.  A nod to Asian cuisine saw the gnoochi served in a light broth which was a pleasant surprise.  

 This vegetarian dish rises above others with its thoughtful combination of textures, firm beetroot, crunchy leeks, soft slightly chewy gnocchi, and gently crunching beans and peas, set in a light liquid.  This is a stunning dish, offering vegetarians the care and attention they deserve.

James St South serve the best champ in Belfast.  Smooth, silky, soft and oh so buttery.  Spiked with scallions and served with a pool of butter in the middle, just like its supposed to be.  It would be possible to eat plates of this on its own. Champ is a notriously difficult dish to get right, and Chef Gilmore does it perfectly.

Cassoulet of bean, charred feta and artichokes was an unusual dish, and in a very good way.  The sharp crumbly cheese sat against the firm meaty artichoke, with the soft beans smoothing the flavour.  Due to its firmness feta grills well, without melting or loosing the texture of the cheese.  

This is another divine vegetarian dish, and McKenna and Gilmore are to be praised for understanding their ingredients enough to create vegetarian dishes which sit right beside meat ones.  Not to mention head and shoulders above any other fine dining vegetarian dishes I have ever tried.  Dishes like this cassoulet are intriguing and full of flavour.  Worthy of all the gold stars that can be awarded.

A selection of petit fours are served in a tin box, much like what might be imagined to have been shared by Roald Dahl and his chums at boring school.  This box of delights is just right for those who don't want a heavy desert at the end of dinner, but are in the mind for just that little something sweet.

Iced Nougat looks spectactular as it is served with its spun sugar hat, and caramalised peach and delicate raspberries.  The combination of soft cool ice, crunchy firm fruit, and a sweet sharp raspberry is almost breathtaking.  

James St South's Dessert menu is innovative, it combines popular flavours, and childhood favouritess with expertise, and panache.  The ability to order a dessert, Irish cheeses, a freshly baked Madeleine or a box of petit fours, gives great joy to the diner as they try to chose.  This is no normal dessert menu, but one elevated and classy.

The boxes contain, crunchy butter shortbread, soft melt in the mouth macaroons, divinely scented rose marshmallows, a home made jaffa cake and a jammy joey.  McKenna and Gilmore could sell these individually, they are that good. 


Desert wines are available, but then so are brilliantly blended cocktails, which as the waitress said, 'contain plenty of fruit, definitely one of your five a day.'  The Mixed Berry Martini presented in a champagne saucer is a balance of alcohol, and sharp sweet fruit.  There is a crispness to its taste which revitalises the palate.  I would suggest ordering one of the choice of four cocktails after dinner, but before dessert.

James St South, a restaurant I recommend on nearly a daily basis to the barrage of messages I receive asking for my recommendation on where to eat out in Belfast.  It is consistently good.  The care taken in the development and preparation of the dishes, results in sublime food, that you will remember.

Their desire to get feedback, something Niall McKenna and I talk about regularly, is now a part of the dining experience, with the opportunity to sit once a week at the critics table, where guests are served an unknown banquet, and asked for their notes and comments.  It is not often that chefs, open themselves to such comment and McKenna must be congratulated in his daring desire to serve the best food possible, that he is willing to listen to his customers and critics.

Salt and Sparkle recommend you book a table at James St South today.

That's it for now ...



Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable