Posted on Friday 24 August 2018 by Ulster Business
John Mulgrew takes a domestic trip to Derry to sample the cuisine, culture and the city’s emerging brewing scene... and there’s not a tobacco onion in sight
Northern Ireland’s second city seems to be going through something of a renaissance in the last handful of years.
And while the semi-global attraction dealt to Derry through a series of flagship events – from being named UK City of Culture, to hosting the Turner Prize, Clipper festival and Fleadh – it now seems to have settled in to being something more than the north west’s peripheral populous.
It’s a compact city, as with most of Northern Ireland, split by the Foyle, and is becoming, for many tourists, the second spot to visit after Belfast.
There are a raft of places to stay, but the Bishop’s Gate hotel on Bishop’s Street is one of the finer spots.
Opening its doors in 2016, it’s an extremely friendly, welcoming and grand hotel.
There’s a bar and eating spot, called the Gown, on the ground floor, along with private dining and afternoon tea, which is held in Hervey Library room upstairs.
We had the fortune of getting the penthouse suite – a grand, top-floor room with spacious bedroom, bathroom and a living space comparable to a luxury Belfast city centre apartment.
The Gown restaurant is an upmarket bistro, not rocking the boat with anything particularly unfamiliar, but executing classics well.
A generous serving of squid, followed by a well-cooked piece of ribeye, all worked well.
There are a number of historical and tourism spots on offer across the city, including the Siege Museum and Museum of Free Derry.
And nestled in the city’s famous walls is the Tower Museum. During our trip, a mere £2 got us in the door to peruse a lengthy history of the city, dating back to its inception, going through the Troubles and ending up in post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland.
Now, like the rest of Northern Ireland, I can’t in any way guarantee you’ll be subjected to the deluge of baking, cloud-free sun we experienced on a day which also played host to the city’s annual marathon.
One thing Derry is playing catch-up on is the better beer scene – something Belfast has really led the way on over the last few years.
If landing into the city by rail, the Walled City Brewery at Ebrington Square, is a brewpub and restaurant, run by James Huey.
We opted for a pint of Paradise City – a strong IPA by Manchester’s ever-burgeoning Alphabet Brewing Company – one of the pub’s guest beers.
There’s a full lunch and dinner menu, but a few small plates of hummus, olives and well-smoked and, seemingly, cured pork ribs, provided a more than suitable snack.
Some other pub spots offering up something other than the usual litany of commercial lagers include the Guildhall Taphouse – where you’ll find brews from Yellow Belly, Galway Bay and Donegal’s Kinnegar – along with Blackbird and Sandinos.
The city has a variety of straight-forward bistros, most offering a solid range or hearty fare for very little dough. Some also still have a penchant for offers such as 30% off an entire bill (plus a somewhat unhealthy interest in serving tobacco onions with almost everything).
Also across the Foyle on the Waterside is Browns. Ian Orr’s flagship restaurant has, since opening almost a decade ago, been one of the highlights of the food scene in the city.
But despite a strong culinary reputation, it offers up very good value lunch menu as well as a regular al la carte.
While driving is an option, and the bus from Belfast the quickest form of public transport, Tranlink’s hourly link from Belfast, cutting around the coast, is a more relaxing way to travel, and offers up vistas worthy of a tourism brochure, especially when the train hits Castlerock.
But before heading back, another relaxing and luxurious food option for visitors is the Bishop’s Gate hotel’s afternoon tea.
In the intimate backdrop of an upstairs ‘library’ and wingback chairs, there’s a selection of symmetrical sandwiches, pastries, cakes and mini-desserts, with a seemingly endless supply of tea.