Dinosaurs, the Troubles, Takabuti, insects, fashion and the Spanish Armada, all share a home in the Ulster Museum. Next week, as part of a new collaborative show with Londonderry's Nerve Centre, they will be joined by the famous Derry Girls blackboard on which was scrawled all the small features of our lives which makes Catholics and Protestants different.
ncluded in this fantastic mix (it's all free to see) is the museum restaurant, Wynne & Pym, named after the two architects who created the original classical 1920s building and then the controversial, modernist, brutalist extension in the 1960s respectively.
As the PR man for the National Museums NI I was tasked with letting the world know that Wynne & Pym is a cafe of quality, style and substance. You'd think this could run the risk of creating a conflict of interest. First of all, I'll be the judge of whether or not it's a cafe of quality, style and substance. Secondly, I'll be writing it up for the Belfast Telegraph truthfully and accurately. And anyway, if you don't believe me, try the Irish News next week where Allison Morris will have written her review (it better be good, gulp!).
Wynne & Pym is operated by Compass Group "the market leader in contract catering". Those very words are enough to set foodies sprinting all the way to Build-a-Burger on Botanic Avenue.
Its only redeeming features were the bullet holes in the window
But I have had to swallow my initial cynicism because Wynne & Pym is as much a tribute to local producers of food and drink as it is to the team of on-site bakers and chefs who are producing a range of simple but very appetising and wholesome dishes.
I remember the old days before the museum went through a £17m upgrade in the late 2000s. There was a cafe upstairs overlooking the gardens but which had the worst tea and stalest buns in Belfast. Its only redeeming features were the bullet holes in the window, a legacy from a much earlier gun battle which carried an air of appropriate and historical significance.
These days, the ground floor restaurant which is entirely wheelchair accessible and very handy for prams, is busy morning and lunch time place serving up all the traybakes and scones you'd expect from a self-respecting Belfast cafe but also quality Irish stews, a spectrum of salads and loads of vegan and vegetarian sausage rolls, sandwiches, wraps and rolls.
Showcasing all of these one evening last week, Wynne & Pym invited a group of us to get through most of the menu via an array of small plates and shots of soup. These were literally bite sized snapshots of the new daily menu.
Soup shots included parsnip and Armagh apple and roasted plum tomato and basil, both packing a flavour punch much more powerful than expected. A traditional Irish stew, served in small bowls, was a classic as were the Loughrans sausages and Comber mash with gravy and crispy savoy cabbage.
Pattons Belfast baps with thick slices of Comber honey roasted bacon loin and Ballymaloe relish would keep you right for 12 hours. I love that hard, almost burnt black crust on a Belfast bap and this one sets the standard.
Biggest surprise was how, er, meaty, the vegan sausage roll is. All the satisfaction of a crumbly flake pastry encasing a generous, baby's arm-sized filling was there and stood up well to the actually meaty one. The vegan one featured quinoa, chickpea and roasted squash whereas the real one (sorry!) was packed with Irish pork, black pudding and red onion.
Salads with goats cheese and beetroot, curried cauliflower and chilli, homemade Granny Grace wheaten, Armagh Apple Black Butter and all the culinary hits of the north are present and the Draynes Farm Yellowman ice cream, Suki tea and Bailies coffee mean that you can take anyone visiting for a convincingly authentic Ulster experience; cultural, culinary and complete with local beers.
Belfast bap with bacon . £4
Sausages, mash, cabbage, gravy £7.50
Sausage roll (meat) ....................... £3.95
Sausage roll (vegan). £3.75
Suki tea . £2.50
Coffee Americano .........................£2.40
Draynes Farm ice cream tub . £2
Total . £26.10