Belfast Telegraph

Joris Minne: Copper Restaurant

By Joris Minne

This Newry restaurant manages to get most things right ... it’s just a shame that the food doesn’t always match what’s on the menu

The city of Newry has done wonders for itself. Made derelict by the Troubles, it was a town whose warm heart nevertheless beat louder than the bombs of the Seventies and Eighties.

As a teenager I used to hitch lifts from Armagh to Dublin and always looked forward to walking through Newry to get to the Dublin road and continue the journey. It mightn’t have been the prettiest settlement in the north, but it had plenty of character and generosity — you could always count on a randomer or two in Newry to ask you where you were going and willing to engage you in a bit of a chat and you never had to wait long for a lift out of it. But then Newry became a city and that generous heart was swapped for something altogether more business-like.

Nowadays the welcome is a bit more corporate and a good bit more commercial. Thanks to its border location on the north-south axis there are great businesses here, including Independent News & Media’s state-of-the-art print works that prints just about every newspaper on sale in the island of Ireland.

But the border-town trade ethos is now infecting the areas of life such as restaurants, which should be putting their heart where their mouth is and be a bit more subtle about turning a buck. The hospitality industry is all about combining showbiz with a sense of kindness and warmth of spirit and value for money. It’s about making customers feel good about the place they’re in — so good, in fact, that they’ll want to come back time after time.

And it’s not just about friendly platitudes either, it’s about delivering on expectations. So when a restaurant puts stuff on a menu that appeals to you, you order it expecting to find that it more or less matches the description. A good restaurant does this and then a little more. For instance, in Newry’s Deli-Lites, you order a pie and it comes beautifully presented with a few extras such as salads and pickles and the like to enhance it.

At recently-transferred-from-Warrenpoint Copper Restaurant, the menu says one thing, but the chef this Sunday provides otherwise. This is a shame because Neil Bradley, the chef/patron, has a gold-plated reputation and the front-of-house operation is excellent, offering good service by attentive and genuinely friendly staff. The place itself is a handsomely refurbished Newry townhouse with charm and comfort and the food itself is perfectly edible.

The problem lies in the kitchen’s loose interpretation of the menu. The rocket salad showed no evidence of any rocket leaves at all. The skinny chips that were served up were big and chunky, yet we were reassured that these were the skinnies. The crispy confit of duck was a generous serving of two legs, neither one crispy, and the seasonal fruit pavlova featured strawberries ... in October.

It would have been acceptable had they made some room for explanation. This is clearly down to a problem of communication because the server was doing very well to accommodate our demands — closing windows, putting up the heat, offering to fetch wine for us from the offy across the road as they don’t have a licence yet. Had the same guy been told to alert customers to the fact that there there was no rocket, the skinny chips were big and the fruit wasn’t seasonal, he would have delivered this news to the table in a way as to make it acceptable.

On the other hand, a starter of Kilkeel crab and prawn salad was very good quality — fresh, chilled and packed with flavour. It came on a pool of gazpacho that was also very good, but it had presentation issues. Firstly, the pale pink gazpacho looked all wrong spread out underneath the snowy white mound of shredded crab meat. It combined to look like something I wouldn’t care to describe in too much detail, but of which you might see lots on a Saturday morning on street corners. This could have been simply dealt with by putting the gazpacho in a little pot or bowl on the side. Believe me, it needs this degree of separation. The visuals demand it.

The fillet was a generous big slab of a thing, a bit overcooked after having requested it rare, but very good nonetheless. The tiny

pot of béarnaise was flawless and a dozen of these would have approached the right quantity.

The leek and potato soup was watery but it more or less tasted like it had been made from leek and potato.

The Copper Restaurant may be suffering from early teething problems. Its previous incarnation was widely praised and loved so it stands to reason that with some perseverance, the Newry Copper will soon be up to scratch.

The Bill

Crab starter x 3: £24

Soup: £4.50

Steak: £22

2-course x 2: £25

Salad: £3

Chips x 2: £6

Dessert: £5

Coffees: £2.70

Bottles water x 2: £5

Total: £97.20

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