Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant Review: Queens Quay Social

24a Queens Quay, Londonderry, tel: 028 7126 3742

The cultural status of Derry/Londonderry was significantly raised during 2013, the year in which it was designated UK City of Culture, the first such appointment for any city. Until then, the perceived culture of Derry had been shaped by greyhound jokes, Phil Coulter and the siege.

 

The city has now shaken this off and replaced it with a portfolio of international standard music festivals, a brilliant walled city lighting project, that Peace Bridge and Ebrington Barracks and now, an enviable list of decent restaurants any city of about 100,000 would be proud to boast. It is the Florence of the north.

I have droned on in this column about the brilliance of Ian Orr and his series of Brown’s restaurants, the draped swagger of the Custom House and the cosy confines of the Sooty Olive. But to this register of recommendable bistros and brasseries we now must add Queens Quay Social.

I had heard great reports about it so three of us on a day-trip to the Maiden City, including a man in a hurry who could only stay for one course and an amateur thespian whose love for life stretches from a burgeoning property portfolio to food, dropped in unannounced.

Old hands will know this place as the former Garage, a few doors up from the vast Mandarin City Chinese restaurant. Now under the control of chef Darren Iddon, Queens Quay Social is a step into the future. Bright and modern, QQS looks and feels like a downtown Manhattan trendsetter, the kind of place you might expect to see in the meat-packing district. A bit of bare brickwork, wood panelling, quality crystal and white linen and very good lighting, create an atmosphere of refined hedonism. The bar is straight out of the book of best American saloon designs to frame the perfect poses being struck by Derry’s cool new cocktail generation.

And then there’s Darren Iddon’s food, full of surprises and exciting compositions. A board of amuse bouches includes a few sheets of “puffed pork”, a magically lighter rendition of pork scratching which can be eaten like a poppadom. Elsewhere on the board are dabs of mushroom ketchup, mango mayonnaise and powdered chorizo. The flavours and textures are sensational even if the mushroom ketchup is very sweet.

Cauliflower soup is presented in a two-stage act: a bowl with some smoked potato foam to one side and a small puffed cauliflower floret and then a little pitcher of the soup itself which is poured in by the server in a stylish swoop of the hand. It’s delightful, singing with flavours and wholesome.

Calamari with squid ink aioli are tender with a light crumbed coating and the piano black aioli lends a sinister drama to the little dish. Squid ink has a delicate, back of the mouth, saltiness and here it struggles to find its place above the garlic tones but it’s

there and anyway, the look of it is exciting enough.

The pork belly is a textbook exercise in textures with the moist fatty meat playing lead to the supporting crispy, chewy top layer. In addition there is a ball of pig cheek and some more of that smoked potato foam and a beer and gin sauce to cut through it all. It is a hit.

There are hints of America in the lunch menu. Iddon spent some years in New York working in good company so the thespian who has been to NYC and had dinner with restaurant and hotel legend Arrigo Cipriani cannot bypass the Reuben open sandwich. Made with venison pastrami on a slice of dark rye bread, there is a sauerkraut ketchup, deep fried swizz cheese croutons and five thousand island aioli. Thespian offers a taste and it really is outstanding with tangy sourness from the pale white “ketchup”, flaking tenderness from the generous heaped slices of pastrami and warm, gentle bitterness from the rye.

The lunch menu is not extensive but when you have a choice of the above or mini goat logs with pata negra ham brushed with truffle honey or empenadas of foie gras and duck confit with capers, burnt onion jam and duck fat chips or Social fried chicken, a leg confit in tempura and corn dip and gravy, (and more besides) you could spend some time wondering.

We loved it. The room is beautiful, elegant and sophisticated, the service attentive, polished and friendly and the mood is cool and informal. The three of us promised a return trip very soon.

The bill

Squid x 2 £12

Soup £5

Pork belly £8

Reuben £7

Large bottle sparkling water £3

Glass Domaine du Pellehaut £5.25

Glass Domaine de Triennes £5.50

Coffees x 2 £7

Total £52.75

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