Derry blos­soms as pop-up food fes­ti­val raises the bar

Other parts of North­ern Ire­land should look to their lau­rels as the Maiden City an­nounces it­self as a wor­thy con­tender for best food des­ti­na­tion

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FOOD - Joris Minne

Belfast food and tourism chiefs should be look­ing over their shoul­ders be­cause lead­ing the charge in the race to be­come the north’s best foodie des­ti­na­tion and clos­ing in fast, is, er, Derry/Lon­don­derry. Yes. You read it right. Derry is grab­bing the horns of the bull firmly and em­bark­ing on a plan to sweep aside all pre­vi­ous mis­con­cep­tions and to con­vince you, food writ­ers and any­one will­ing to lis­ten that the cen­tre of grav­ity of North­ern Ire­land’s ar­ti­sanal food in­dus­try and restau­rant sec­tor has shifted away from Belfast, Down and Antrim and is now in the north west.

Let’s face it. Belfast and its en­vi­rons have had it easy. All the best restau­rants are con­cen­trated, nat­u­rally enough, where the peo­ple are. High den­sity pop­u­la­tion cen­tres mean there are more po­ten­tial cus­tomers, and this cre­ates com­pe­ti­tion the likes of which for the greater Belfast area has re­sulted in two Miche­lin starred restau­rants, a raft of Bibs Gour­mand and AA Rosettes and other award win­ners.

Good Asian restau­rants in­clude curry houses, Chi­nese and Thai and there is a cur­rent blos­som­ing of in­de­pen­dent qual­ity burger joints. The eat­ing out spec­trum is broad. So, if the culi­nary cen­tre of grav­ity is in the east, what chance does Derry and the north west have of claim­ing its place as a foodie des­ti­na­tion?

A re­cent out­ing in the Maiden City con­vinced me that ac­tu­ally, the city chiefs (Derry and Stra­bane Dis­trict Coun­cil) are not only madly am­bi­tious, but they have the back­ing of some of the best pro­duc­ers and most com­mit­ted restau­ra­teurs in the re­gion.

A pop-up food fes­ti­val last week in the Prim­rose restau­rant at the city cen­tre end of the Strand Road re­vealed just how good and var­ied the north west food and drink of­fer is.

I apol­o­gise to Derry and Stra­bane Coun­cil for sound­ing so sur­prised and I know that this makes it sound a bit pa­tro­n­is­ing, but whereas at first I made the jour­ney to lend sup­port to a no­ble and wor­thy cause, I didn’t think it would be such an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence which in­cluded world-class stan­dard food and cook­ing. Help­ing make the point, Prim­rose restau­rant own­ers, Ciaran and Melanie Bres­lin, he a butcher and she a baker, en­listed the col­lab­o­ra­tion of chefs from the classy Bish­ops­gate Ho­tel (soon to join Ire­land’s best in the fa­mous Blue Book) and a clat­ter of pro­duc­ers from sec­tors in­clud­ing brew­ing and fish­ing, meat and dairy to join head chef Bryn Evans to cre­ate a com­plex and so­phis­ti­cated din­ner made en­tirely of lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents.

I cal­cu­lated that ev­ery­thing that went into the en­tire seven course menu ac­com­pa­nied by food pair­ings from Walled City Brew­ery and North­bound and Cham­bers’ Redgate cider must have come from within a 25-mile ra­dius of Derry city. Ex­tra­or­di­nary. Not just be­cause of the va­ri­ety of stuff avail­able in No­vem­ber but be­cause the qual­ity was of a level which would pass muster in Lon­don and Dublin, eas­ily.

Take the Lough Foyle flat oys­ters from Foyle­more. Se­ri­ously, do, be­cause these are na­tive and rarely seen. Sus­tain­ably har­vested un­der the watch­ful eye of the Loughs Agency, a north/south body, these oys­ters are very dif­fer­ent to the more com­mon Pa­cific species we nor­mally gather from Strang­ford and Car­ling­ford loughs.

The tex­ture is firmer, the briney flavour more in­tense and the skill re­quired to open them, far greater too.

The Tir­keeran black pud­ding made by Ciaran Bres­lin, the hal­ibut from Done­gal Prime Fish, pork from Grants of Cul­more and Corn­dale Farm and ex­cel­lent blue and hard cheeses from Dart Moun­tain are names which have made food­ies sit up and take no­tice for good rea­son.

But to show­case these in dishes by chef Evans raises the bar to dizzy new heights. Add to this the lo­cal ales and beers and you have not only a fine din­ner, but some­thing very pe­cu­liar to the north west. For ex­am­ple, North­bound’s 34 Oak Smoked Beer is a per­fect pair­ing for the hal­ibut with as much char­ac­ter and sub­tle flavour as a clas­sic Sancerre or oaked Chardon­nay from Bur­gundy.

Walled City’s Milk Stout with the flat oys­ters is an­other stroke of ge­nius. In­ter­est­ingly, (and I pray my na­tive county of Ar­magh for­gives me for this treach­ery) Cham­bers Druma­hoe Redgate cider is com­plex, dry and beau­ti­fully bal­anced mak­ing it an ex­cel­lent part­ner for Dal­ton’s Farm potato soup.

I could go on, gush­ing all day. But frankly, I can’t wait un­til they do an­other one of these din­ners. In the meant time, make the trip to Derry and book a ta­ble in the Prim­rose. You’ll be de­lighted you made the ef­fort.

LON­DON­DERRY FAYRE: Prim­rose restau­rant

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