Meet the Locals:
Portia Woods has lived and worked on the Antrim Coast all her life. She’s in love with the local produce and cooking traditions that have developed here, and she’s passionate about sharing them with others. That’s why she started her food tour business - Toast the Coast - leading groups on journeys of exploration to the best artisanal producers and eateries in the county.
Toast the Coast
“I’m extremely proud of the Antrim Coast,” she says when we caught up with her for breakfast at Whitehead’s Bank House. “Toast the Coast tries to acknowledge this overlooked part of Northern Ireland’s coastline. It’s home to some of our best local artisans, crafters and tourist destinations.”
We're digging into Clandboye yoghurt, fine Irish cheeses, and boiled ham - all washed down with Armagh apple juice - care of Sinead Brennan, the proprietor. She took over a Northern Bank branch in 2013 and turned it into a bustling cafe, serving Belfast’s Bailies Hand Roasted Coffee.
Toast the Coast offers a selection of public tours that take place twice a month and a ‘menu’ of private tours that you can enjoy a la carte at any time. We’re on Portia’s Signature Full Day Tour, mixing with a happy crowd on a luxury coach tour.
It will take us all along the sea and stone coast, stopping in at a selection of unique eateries. She also offers tours by chauffeur-driven car or she can join you on a self-driving adventure.
On the Road
Next stop in Ann’s Pantry in Larne, Northern Ireland’s best bakery and an institution with over fifty years of baking for local people. Their speciality is an award-winning spelt and black pudding potato bread. Owner Helen Porter is only too happy to sit and chat over a coffee with her guests. The tour continues to Ballygally Castle’s Garden Restaurant, where the culinary team ensures quality by carefully monitoring their supply chain. Your hosts will share with you the story of each ingredient on your plate - local and seasonal foods from trusted Irish producers. You’ll have a chance to explore this unique building - a hotel built inside a 17th-century castle, haunted by a benign ghost.
Next is Glenarm Castle, where the gardens are enclosed by an ancient bawn - a defensive wall that protected Irish tower houses.
Today, a walled garden like this is a beautiful place to relax. In former times, it was a functional part of the castle. Small crops were grown here, sheltered from the elements and enjoying a slightly warmer microclimate thanks to the heat stored in the stonework. Those features are being put back to work - many of the ingredients served in the Walled Garden Tea Rooms were grown on site. Sample the Glenarm smoked salmon and locally-grown beef.
Pull into the Londonderry Arms Hotel, built just after the Antrim Coast Road was completed by the Marchioness of Londonderry, Sir Winston Churchill's grandmother. It had a long history as a coaching inn, and the Arkle Whiskey Bar - named after a famous racehorse - keeps that ambience alive. Sample some of the finest aqua vita that Ireland offers.
Last stop on Portia’s Signature Tour is Mary McBrides in Cushendun. It caps off an extraordinary day of amazing sights, fine food and good company. Cheers!