3 Belfast lunch options you need to try

I love to lunch. It's one of life great pleasures. But often, I love a cheap and quick lunch. An hour, something tasty that won't break the bank, all whilst catching up with a friend on my lunch break. I have 3 amazing options that you won't want to miss out on! 

Greens Pizza
Let me make this clear - Green's is the BEST pizza in Belfast. I've tried them all but I've been going to Green's for years and it continues to be the best. Not only is it the best pizza but their staff are lovely in both the Lisburn Road branch and the Ballyhackamore location (plus they are soon to open a third branch on the Ormeau Road!) Their lunchtime deal has pulled me out of many a bad mood and hangover. You get half a pizza & either house salad or garlic bread AND A DRINK for under a £8. It's the best deal around!

My choice? The Gilroy Twister. Meat, loads of peppers and 2 dips - divine! 

See their menu or order home delivery here.

Oliver's Restaurant
Oliver's is one of those 'suits everyone' type of restaurants (I also put Howard Street & Deanes at Queen's in this category). There's a little bit of everything on the menu from traditional fayre to daily specials. The best bit is that it's all super tasty and affordable. I've had a few lunch dates here lately and I love the setting. It's so homely and comforting. Made with lots of local ingredients, the food is hearty and delicious. I've had everything from amazing pulled beef sandwiches to the most AMAZING risotto. 

To book or to see the menu, head here

The best bit about Bubbacue is that they have 2 branches now - hooray! Botanic Avenue and Callendar Street are super handy for grabbing a bite during work, uni or during a shopping date. I've been a long time fan of Bubbacue for the sheer value - it's tasty food that comes in big portions. I've long been an advocate of their mac & cheese - even if you say you don't like mac & cheese, you need to try it out! I've made a few converts of my friends lately! The owners of Bubbacue are the original Boojum owners so the fact they added a burrito to their menu lately made sense. It's SO yummy - packed with the most divine salsa and cheese ever!

See their menu and locations here.

Tried one of my lunch recommendations? Tweet me & let me know @GemmaLEBond 

Why this Men’s Project is one worth shouting about

*Sponsored by Aviva Community Fund

The Fund helps to provide much needed funding for community projects across the UK. That’s why was was so proud to see a local project, the North Belfast Men’s Shed winning funding this year. The North Belfast Men’s Shed provides an amazing safe space for men of all ages to come together to learn new skills, chat and have fun. They say women talk face to face & men talk side to side. The North Belfast’s Men’s Shed gives men the opportunity to make these important new friendships. The men do everything from wood-work to fishing and ballroom dancing! The multiple generational nature of the project means it’s also keeping hard earned skills alive. It’s totally free to attend and it’s open 9am-5pm, 5 days a week!

Their project, the Buddy Bench at North Belfast Men’s Shed initiative was awarded Aviva Community Funding just a few weeks ago. The project will allow the men of the Shed to spend time crafting Buddy Benches that will be donated to local schools. They hope to give a bench to every primary school in North Belfast. The benches are intended to be placed in the playground & a child can sit there if they feel sad or if they need a friend to play with. It’s almost like a little bit of the Men’s Shed community spirit brought to life in the playground!

I was so taken with the amazing men we met – so many of who reminded me of my late grandfather. He was a gardener for Belfast City Council and I know he would have adored going to the Men’s Shed! The lady who runs the project, Geraldine, is an absolute sweetheart. She spends her day running after a massive group of men and hopes it will continue to grow as they are soon moving to even bigger premises!

Have a family member or friend you think that would love the North Belfast Men’s Shed, email Geraldine for more information on:

Belfast Men’s Shed is just one of the over 590 projects and charities that secured funding from the Aviva Community Fund this year. The nationwide initiative, now in its third year, launched in September 2015, called upon passionate residents to submit a project close to their heart to be in with a chance of securing funding ranging from up to £1,000 to £25,000.

Over 6,500 groups entered the funding initiative, each galvanising the support of their local community to vote for their entry in four categories: Health & Wellbeing, Skills for Life, Community Support, and Inclusivity.

5.5 million votes were placed this year and the 828 groups with the highest votes were shortlisted as finalists. Awards in the £1k category were decided on by public votes, with winners in the £5k, £10k and £25k categories selected from the finalists by a judging panel. 

If you’d like to find out about other Aviva Community Fund winners and find out who won in your local area, visit this page here.

All shapes and sizes

Hotel Chocolat kindly sent me some of their Valentine's Day range to try out (all delicious - I haven't met a thing I didn't like!) and it got me thinking about what Valentine's Day means to me. I typically find Valentine's Day hard. As an eternally single person, the concept of not being part of a pair to celebrate a holiday that is marketed to the high heavens makes me feel a little at a loss. It's a narrative I'm not part of. Valentine's Day can seem really twee and sickening but deep down, I find it sweet. 

I've really spent a lot of time over the past number of years thinking about love and what it means to me. A lot of this time has really helped to build out what my expectations of my 'perfect match' are - and maybe why he's so hard to find! I've learned so much about love from the relationships I see around me - the 30+ year marriages of my friends parents, the love my best friend has for her son and the love I have experienced in my daily friendships.

It is with that spirit of friendship that I celebrate Valentine's Day this year - and remember that love should be celebrated every day of life. I have been incredibly blessed with outstanding friendships that have taught me so much about sharing, caring, sacrifice and patience. All of these qualities I hope will build me into  a great partner when that person comes along. I really do think that every good relationship - romantic or otherwise, starts in the basis of good friendship. Friendships come in so many shapes in sizes unlike people who often have a romantic ''type' (mine is usually tall, dark and handsome!) - another stark reminder that if we only looked for friendship in one place that you'd never find what you are looking for. 

I remind my friends that I love them when I can - whether that's when I'm leaving their house or over long winded WhatsApp conversations. It is the love of my friends that keeps me going & motivates me to be a better person.

Remind your friends you love them Valentine's Day & as often as you can. Write them a card. Send them a text. Bring them a bunch of flowers - spread the love. It's only when someone isn't here that you realise you wish you would have said it more so say it now. 

Wishing you all love this Valentine's Day & every day

The Products That Rocked My 2017

2017 was the year I explored more brands than EVER! I loved trying out lots of new things & I feel I've found so many amazing HERO products that I will purchase for years to come. This is my 2017 list of products  - I hope you try them & love them as much as I do! Everything is linked if you want to click through to buy - happy shopping!

Glamglow is the only brand to have two products on the list. The brand overall really impressed me this year. I've always been a fan of their original mask but their range has expanded hugely and will continue to do so in 2018. 

I've used Glowstarter & Glowsetter every single day since I received them.  Glowstarter is a rich, glowy moisturiser that acts beautifully both on its own & as a makeup primer. A little goes a long way - I've even been known to put a bit on my legs for a night out! If you like Strobe Cream by MAC or Wonderglow by Charlotte Tilbury, you will love this. It comes in three different shades - I wear Nude Glow. The scent is also DELICIOUS! 

To accompany this, their Glowsetter makeup setting spray is divine. I've tried lots of makeup setting sprays over the years to varied success but this is truly the first spray I've tried that I feel shows a dramatic difference after spraying - it's literally like an Instagram filter spray! 

If you regularly watch my bathroom live streams, you will have seen me use this more than once. I absolutely love how fine this scrub is and the vitamin C gives you a much needed glow boost. It has definitely helped reduce my acne scars over the years with twice weekly use. I'd say I'm into double figures of how many times I've repurchased this and I don't see myself stopping now!

If you'd told me that I'd regularly be buying £64 serum, I would have laughed in your face. Beyond Skin, where I go for my skin treatments and laser hair removal, is a stockist of Dermaquest and always use their products when I get a treatment. I bought their B5 serum - a serum to hydrate and nourish last winter. I'm on my 4th bottle. My skin hates being without it and it truly helps to plump and perfect my skin. I cannot imagine not using this. I once told myself I didn't need it because of the price tag. 2 weeks later my skin was broken out and dull - off I ran back to Beyond Skin

Put simply, this is the only hair oil I need in my life. It's light, it smooths and no matter how much of it I put in my hair, it never makes it heavy or greasy. I use it before I dry my hair, on second day hair to smooth down any fly aways and to sleek down my bun or ponytail on third day hair! 

I tried lots of hair products in 2017 & this was a huge stand out for me. As someone with really thick hair, I hate when hairspray leaves my hair sticky or weighed down. This Aveda hairspray smells incredible, doesn't contain any nasty ingredients for your hair and holds your hair in a way nothing else does. I've noticed my mum stealing this a few times too! 

If I was sent 1 tan in 2017, I was sent 20 (not even joking.... tan coming out my EARS!). However, locally made tan He-Shi has come out trumps. The colour is fantastic, the wear off is SO natural and it applies like a dream. It's a real no fuss product that does what it claims. 

Apart from drying out a few new foundations, I kept returning back to Urban Decay All Nigher Foundation. It's medium to full coverage but it doesn't feel heavy like other foundations in this category. The texture is great & wear time is fab. If I wear it to work, it looks great even when I'm leaving to come home. Plus, if you are a normal to oily skin girl, the foundation is fab for you. You can read my full review of All Nighter Foundation here

This was a late comer to the party this year but after so much hype, I was delighted to try some of the IT Cosmetics range. There's lots of amazing products in the range but this was a huge stand out for me. It takes a lot for me to spend more than £10 on a mascara as I am SO devoted to my L'Oreal Telescopic so take this as a HIGH recommendation for Super Hero Mascara. The formula is SO black and makes your lashes so curly & gorgeous!

Exploring Belfast for Small Business Saturday

Sponsored post in association with American Express®

This Saturday is Small Business Saturday - a day to support amazing local businesses owned by the wonderful people our country! I've teamed up with American Express - the founder of the Small Business Saturday initiative to show you my favourite small businesses to shop at all year around. 

Envoy is a treasure trove for fashionistas. Located a stone's throw away from City Hall, they are the only Northern Ireland stockists of cutting edge brands such as Acne, Comme des Garcons and Marni. Owner Ruth has a fantastic eye for selecting pieces that really stand out for both their fit and quality. I loved their special collaboration with Japanese brand 'orSlow', the chic 'orSlow x Envoy jumper' is a must have.  They also stock Mansur Gavriel - their bucket bag has been on my wish list forever! 

Sawers is the oldest deli in Belfast. Established in 1897, the store is filled with delicious preserves and deli goods sourced from far and wide. Whether you need a new coffee blend to try out (they have hundreds of choices!) or simply something for a dinner party, they have everything you could imagine. I highly recommend their homemade pizzas - they make the best lunch if you want to chill with friends on a sunny day! If you are searching for ingredients to recreate a dish you have seen on TV, you are likely to find it here! My mother has always bought pasta from Sawers as they have so many amazing unique varieties. 

Lauren May is a jewellery shop located in the stunning Queen's Arcade. Queen's Arcade is one of my favourite places in Belfast - it has really sweet shops and it feels like a little bit of old Belfast that has been preserved. From traditional Irish pieces like the Claddagh Ring which represents love, loyalty and friendship, to really unique items made from fiery coloured Amber, Lauren May is a great place to pick up a special gift for someone (or something lovely for yourself)!

Owned by Northern Irish makeup legend Paddy McGurgan, Make Up Pro Store is a makeup lover's dream. I've known Paddy since I started blogging and his knowledge and skills are amazing. The half shop/ half workshop space allows you to browse products from some of the best professional brands on the market including Make Up Forever and Make Up Studio. You can also go into the store for a makeup lesson, application or workshop. Lessons are a great way to learn from experts like Paddy to pick up the best tips and tricks. I dare you to enter this store without leaving with something - I usually walk away with a fabulous new eye glitter! Before heading to Maven, I dander back to the City Hall to jump on a bus to the Lisburn Road. 

Maven is one of the best interiors shops in Belfast. Run by passionate sister duo Catherine & Patricia, the girls search the globe for the best brands to bring to their Lisburn Road store. From every colour of Hay sofa, to Irish prints to hang on your walls, to locally made ceramics by Derek Wilson and their own hand poured Maven candles, Maven has loads of pieces to make your home look and feel a little bit cooler. They host lots of great design events with local music too! 

Take in the beautiful Botanical Gardens just off Botanic Avenue before enjoying at delicious lunch at Sakura, an Asian restaurant that serves a full range of dishes from miso soup to Sake! I adore their sushi - in fact, I didn't really like sushi until I tried it at Sakura! The staff are absolutely lovely and they do a great lunch deal. The sushi train is addictive - I never know when to stop lifting plates! They do the best dragon rolls I've ever had and their service is fantastic. 

Across the street from Sakura is No Alibis - one of Belfast's most loved little bookshop. It's handily down the street from Queen's University Belfast and I spent my university years buying both my Politics textbooks and poetry books from these amazing Irish creatives. The store also hosts lots of book launches and readings from the authors themselves. If you are stuck for reading inspiration, the store owners are great at recommending something to suit your tastes. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of my favourite small shops in Belfast. If this has inspired you, visit to find out where you can support small businesses in your area throughout the year and get some further ideas for your Christmas shopping.

What’s more, if you’re an American Express Cardmember you will be rewarded for supporting your local high street with the Shop Small offer. When you spend £10 or more in a single transaction using your American Express Card at a participating small business during the campaign period (2-17 December 2017) you will receive a £5 statement credit. There is no limit to the number of participating businesses you can receive your £5 statement credit from – however, you can only claim it once at each small business. Terms apply.

But the Shop Small offer is just one way that American Express can make every day more rewarding. The range of Cards from American Express is packed with ways to reward you for your purchases*; from Membership Rewards® points that can be used to treat yourself to virtually anything (and that never expire) to discounts at top restaurants and hotels, money back on everyday purchases, or collecting frequent flyer miles* – check out the American Express website for more information

*Selected Cards only. Terms and conditions apply. Subject to availability.

Promoter: American Express Services Europe Limited has its registered office at Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom. It is registered in England and Wales with Company Number 1833139 and authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.