Restaurant review: We try The Walled City Brewery Restaurant
Ebrington Square, Derry City. 028 7134 3336
You have to admire a trier. Take Derry-Londonderry. Runner up in the all-Ireland Foodie Towns competition (scooped by Boyne Valley in an historically ironic twist), the city's food sector led by the indefatiguable Mary Blake has been building a reputation for itself as a culinary destination.
While the underpinning foundations of such a reputation appear a bit wobbly, there are some exceptional places in the city such as Brown's, the Custom House and the Sooty Olive. To this gallery of greatness we now add relative new-comer Walled City Brewery.
If Michelin describe their one star award as a signal that the restaurant in question is worth making a detour to visit, then Brown's is definitely a contender. But Walled City Brewery isn't far off the mark and would surely qualify for a Bib Gourmand (meals under £28). WCB is so good, so unusual and so very Derry, it should be on everybody's restaurant bucket list.
Owner James McKillop is a former top brewer who worked at the St James's Gate brewery in Dublin for 12 years, perfecting his skills making Guinness before setting up his own operation in Derry's sternly elegant Ebrington Square.
Because it's such a beautiful and graceful space, you should consider the approach carefully to make the most of its magnificence. (Twenty years ago, on our honeymoon, I insisted the advisor and I drive four hours through the searing summer heat in a small FIAT, skirting around Venice, just so we might approach the lagoon city by boat and see the 16th century skyline reveal itself slowly above the horizon. It's a bit like that if you park the car near the Guildhall and walk along the Peace Bridge and up into Ebrington Square. Work with me).
You'll have worked up a great appetite and more importantly you will have seen for yourself that the walk is actually short from the city side and very accessible (for prams and wheelchair users too).
Housed in one of the early Victorian former military buildings, the restaurant and brewery share the same space with the kitchen in between. Atmospheric lighting, high ceilings, blackboards with beer and cocktail names to make you laugh for the rest of the weekend create a warm mood which is further enhanced by staff who are welcoming and fleet of foot.
I am joined this rainy night by Ulster University's Michael McQuillan and Northern Ireland Local Government Association's Derek McCallan, both getting ready for the forthcoming NILGA conference in Derry next Thursday. The university has been supportive of the creation of WCB and the theme of the conference is Growing Enterprise, Strengthening Communities. This isn't the first time the UU has had a hand in the restaurant game. Holohans on the Barge was the creation of a former student who also received guidance and precious assistance. Both men intend to get as many of the 180 delegates to the conference into the place as they can.
But first those funny names: there's a beer called Cherry Londoncherry (rounded body, sweet forest fruit notes, throaty, cherry back taste), a pale ale called Boom (top elderflower flavours make it incredibly refreshing) and a stout called Derry Milk (they ran out of it so I can't report on it).
Very wisely, you can order a taster set of three little beers from a choice of ten or more, adding up to a technical pint.
Among the cocktails are a Brandywell, a Kir Foyale, Candy Stripes and Espresso Mart Heaney.
That's all very well, but is the food funny too? Following an exhaustive assessment of the pintxos, Basque-style tapas which we ordered as starters, the answer has to be resoundingly positive.
Roasted pepper hummus with pitta bread was deeply rich and balanced, potato boxty and chargrilled sausage with aioli was both light and intense and the smoked boneless baby ribs with tandoori BBQ sauce and roasted pineapples was utterly addictive, spicy, sweet, sour and savoury, the meat melting in the mouth.
Main courses of sea trout were flawless and the "vegivore" burger made of halloumi, chargrilled re peppers and courgettes, sweet corn and chilli salsa, pickles and mixed leaves would convince a meat eater to change his ways.
Walled City Brewery is a major asset to Derry and the municipality's efforts to promote Ebrington Square. People who live on the Waterside know they're blessed with this fabulous restaurant on their doorstep but the ambition is to get those tourists and visitors into the place and spread the love that Derry City already enjoys.
Trio of beers £5
Pintxo x 5 £13
Sea trout x 2 £28
Desserts Plate for 2 £10
Sparkling water x 4 £6