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Bistro review: We try out Church Street Restaurant

Church Street, Magherafelt. Tel: 028 7932 8083

By Joris Minne

Magherafelt is quietly becoming one of the most desirable towns in the north. Judging by the Beemer and Merc count, there's plenty of money about.

The combination of fertile agricultural land and commuterability from Belfast provides a double whammy of rural and urban prosperity. But more accurate than the Beemer and Merc count is the restaurant index.

Take a look: Church Street Restaurant, District 45, Mary's Bar, Dorman's (which should be good now that Dean Coppard is there) and a good few other places not to be sniffed at are proof incarnate that things are looking up for the town.

Church Street Restaurant is Roly Graham's creation and has become a key fixture in recent years.

More than 20 years ago, the advisor and I used to go there when it was called Trompette's and was owned by wonder-chef Noel McMeel, now in charge of everything culinary in the Lough Erne Resort.

Church Street itself has changed and altered and recently expanded to include a 'cocktail garden' and an overflow room. Is it really that busy that it needs an overflow area? Well yes, actually, and unsurprising too because a visit earlier this week showed it's as good as it ever was.

The refurbishment and expansion has allowed the place to chic itself up a bit. Now the dining room looks complete, the staff are on the ball, no small thanks to their manager Adam who seems to run the place with a tight grip in a kid glove.

But more significant than anything is Roly Graham's cooking.

He's not just paying lip service to the local produce shtick as many restaurants are. This is proper terroir and the food on the table reflects it well.

Also, because it's the country, the volumes are more than generous so a pea soup with bread-crumbed egg yolk and chervil oil intended as an amuse bouche is a starter in itself, warm, velvety smooth and oozing with charm and rustic flavours.

The actual menu shows a careful balancing act between convention and innovation. On the specials sheet are a choice of starters of baked mackerel with trout croquette and horseradish or Hannan's sugarpit beef cheek with shallot puree and red cabbage.

Mains include halibut with prawns and new potatoes, roast Co Antrim turkey with Yorkshire pudding, sage and onion stuffing and cranberry, pan fried seabass with basil crushed potatoes, tomato vierge and crispy squid, and fillet of pork among others.

In an anthropological moment, I noted that the teen went for the turkey while the rest of us had the halibut. But not before another inter-plat dish of quail. This surprise brought us straight into the heart of the countryside, the quail breasts and legs like lollipops of game, meaty and rich and accompanied by salty foie gras on little, brittle toasts. This was excellent and unique. Travelling to Magherafelt takes about 45 minutes from the middle of Belfast. This dish transported us way up into the heart of the Sperrins or the top of the Glens, far from the town.

Less impressive was the halibut which, while generous, paled in flavour and texture compared to the accompanying side show of prawns and asparagus.

The mild disappointment was down to the blandness of the dish and the watery, overdone potatoes.

The fish needs to be spectacularly brilliant to get away with simplicity and melted butter won't do it, particularly when the fish has just gone the other side of well cooked.

But this is a minor point. The accompanying sides of mash (possibly the best in the north: heavy, buttery, dense and the essence of potato) and new baby spuds (firm but perfectly done) were outstanding. As were the desserts of sticky toffee pudding and blueberry and almond tart .

Very interesting was a sweet wine for the advisor, a blend of viognier and Riesling which was memorable.

Church Street is a key asset to Magherafelt. It's a tribute to Roly Graham that he has developed a loyal, local clientele.

And it is definitely worth the trip from Derry City or Belfast.

The bill

Bread for 4 ...................................... £3.95

Sunday menu x 4 ..........................£63.80

Supplements ............................... £15.00

Desserts ......................................... £9.90

Lrg sparkling water ...................... £3.50

Wine.............................................. £35.00

Glass sweet wine........................... £4.90

Total ............................................ £136.05

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