'We couldn't buy the right pasta locally, so decided to make our own'
As the Year of Food and Drink 2016 continues, we look at the Italian pasta maker in east Belfast, a tea stalwart celebrating 120 years and the launch of food awards
It's a hive of Italian pasta making flair, and it's located in the heart of east Belfast.
The Pasta Factory on the Newtownards Road churns out some of the tastiest ravioli, tagliatelle and penne for the Thornyhill Restaurant Group's popular restaurants.
In Belfast, it runs Coppi in St Anne's Square and Il Pirata in Ballyhackamore in the east of the city, as well as Bartali in Portballintrae, Co Antrim.
In a bid to bring diners fresh, authentic tasting food, Thornyhill director Tony O'Neill says they do what they can to source locally.
When the search for high-quality ingredients came to a dead end, Tony decided to produce his own, and The Pasta Factory was born.
The kitchen is now responsible for producing all the pasta, bread and pastries for the restaurants.
"The reason we started it was because we wanted to find our own product, as we couldn't really buy the right quality pasta," Tony said.
The Pasta Factory makes a range of homemade pasta to cater to everyone's taste, from tagliatelle to penne and ravioli.
And it's been cultivating its own yeast for making sourdough bread.
"We also use our own sourdough. It's over a year old now and we've been continuously feeding it. From the sourdough we also make our fresh ciabatta and focaccia," Tony added.
The Pasta Factory is based in the Portview Trade Centre in east Belfast, which is also the base for the Coppi truck, which caters to the public and businesses in the area.
"We fill the lunchtime void, opening up the truck and selling sandwiches and coffee," Tony said. "The Coppi truck has been going for a couple of years now; we travel around to various events, keeping up with the demand."
The truck also sells fresh pastries, fresh pasta and sourdough breads.
Tony and his team recently launched a food blog, The Pastifico, providing a wealth of information for any self-proclaimed foodies.
Not only does it share recipes, it also tells the story of some of the restaurants' most popular dishes, how they have been crafted and developed along the way.
"We started the blog as a way to tell our story, to tell the story of the whole restaurant and the people who work there. We wanted to give an insight into what we're doing," Tony said.
The blog contains recipes for sourdough bread, chicken parmigiana and fresh pasta, along with extensive instructions interlaced with anecdotes from Tony's own experience of the cooking process.
Each of his restaurants also makes its own desserts, from Il Pirata's tiramisu and salted caramel and chocolate torta, to Coppi's amaretto panna cotta.
The latest addition to the restaurant group is Bartali, which opened in the village of Portballintrae on the Co Antrim coast last year.
It was the Thornyhill Group's first foray outside of Belfast, and has been equally well-received.