New tea room gives historic Co Antrim estate the perfect showcase for the best of its produce
A new tea room overlooking the kitchen gardens at Glenarm Castle has offered a fresh opportunity to showcase the historic Co Antrim estate's produce.
The 70-seat tea room will welcome visitors and enable the estate to show off its produce, including award-winning beef.
The venue, which replaces existing tea rooms, took around four months to complete and involved a £250,000 redevelopment project at a listed building.
Lady Dunluce, who owns the estate, said: "When my husband and I first opened the tea room in 2005 we were absolutely delighted with this little mushroom house at the bottom of the garden and thought this would make a lovely tea room - and it did for about five minutes because we realised almost immediately that it was too small.
"So for the next few years we were adding on extra units every year and it got rather ridiculous. Anyway, 12 years on and we have finally doubled it in size."
The redevelopment also solves problems for Adrian Morrow, estate manager, with the addition of a shop.
"People would come and be able to look around and the first thing they would ask was if they could buy some of the meat and couldn't because we didn't have the facilities," he said.
"They were able to buy it in London and in Moira, but not on the estate and they always found that frustrating, so the shop and tea room will help to complete the story told here."
The eatery will use Northern Ireland produce where possible, and between June and Christmas all lamb served in the restaurant will have been reared on the estate.
Visitors will also be able to discover Glenarm Castle-branded tomato and chilli jam and rapeseed oils, and relish made with herbs from the walled garden.
The castle and its grounds, located close to the scenic Antrim Coast Road, are off-the-beaten track, and home to the acclaimed Glenarm Shorthorn Beef and lamb breeds. The farm's 1,200 acres are used to graze its 100 Beef Shorthorn cattle and 450 ewes. The estate also provides a base for well-known Glenarm salmon, although the fishery is run separately.
The estate launched its Shorthorn Beef brand just 10 years ago, but this year won Supreme Champion at the Great Taste Awards with its salt-aged four rib roast, a product made in collaboration with Co Down butcher Peter Hannan.
Glenarm beef and lamb can be found on the menus of several of the UK's top restaurants and hotels. Locally, customers include The Stormont Hotel, The Culloden and The Merchant. The estate is also the exclusive supplier of beef to Fortnum & Mason.
However, its popularity comes at a price and means demand significantly outstrips supply.
As a result, the estate launched its Glenarm Shorthorn Beef scheme where other Northern Ireland farmers are paid a premium to breed the cattle in accordance with a list of standards set by the estate.
In return, producers are guaranteed 10% extra premium on the top grade price, and given technical support and guidance.
Currently, the estate works with around 70 to 80 Shorthorn breeders across Northern Ireland.
Around 10 years ago, Shorthorn Beef was a rare breed native to Ireland, however, numbers have rapidly increased and today the breed is no longer considered rare.
Adrian Morrow said they began to breed the cattle at Glenarm Castle lands after the owner of the estate questioned why managers were buying in such large quantities of meat.
At the time the estate was rearing continental beef breeds, however, although they were winning awards the meat was not deemed suitable to serve to guests staying at the estate on shooting parties.
"It's farming for flavour," Adrian added. "The native breeds can be fattened only on grass. We use very little concentrates so the cost of production is lower and the quality of the meat is very good."
Since then the brand has gone from strength to strength and has become a favourite among chefs.
It's not the only way the estate has had to cut its coat according to its cloth. "We're a bit out in the sticks here," Adrian added. "On one side of us we are surrounded by the sea - anywhere inland, that area could have had potential customers so we try to use the sea to our advantage and reach out to tourists."
Each year the estate welcomes tens of thousands of visitors including 10,000 horticultural visitors, and 25,000 for the Dalriada Festival of sport, music and fine food.