Belfast Telegraph

Come all ye faithful: Armagh's 4 Vicars Restaurant

By Joris Minne

A husband-and-wife team have created something pretty special in the heart of Ireland's ecclesiastical capital.

If it wasn't for an Australian lovebird who blew in and hooked up with a local girl, Armagh might be the culinary equivalent to, er, Ayers Rock. When chef Dean Coppard landed in the ancient ecclesiastical capital, he brushed the sand off his boots, adjusted his hat and set to work.

Soon, he and his partner Sarah were running Uluru, a ripper of a restaurant, invigorating the august city's very slim restaurant scene.

Uluru was later followed by another independent, the Moody Boar which has captured hearts, souls and stomachs with equal success, winning awards from the Restaurants Association of Ireland.

Now there is a third quality player: 4 Vicars. Housed in one of the oldest streets in the city, Vicar's Hill, it is a welcome addition to the city's offer. Just a couple of steps up from Armagh's Georgian jewel is the modestly named Public Library.

It was known to us, when we were dopey teenagers trying to get girlfriends, as the Library of Romance due to its impossibly beautiful, graceful and timeless atmosphere. With romance and dinner within yards of each other, Armagh can boast now one of the great visitor experiences available in the country.

If nearby new-money Newry is raking it in as a border town with its supermarkets, euro-friendly shopkeepers and fluctuating prices, Armagh's strength is its air of frayed aristocracy, the depth of its history, the ease of access to its extraordinary heritage and the serenity of its cathedral quarter with its tiny streets and that library.

4 Vicars happens to be pretty much in the middle of all this crumbling brilliance.

You'll find no ornate, gilded, dining rooms or grand perspectives, however. 4 Vicars is housed in a former private home which some say could be as old as the late 1500s. But there's nothing old or tired about the menu and the food.

This is a little humdinger of a place which comes alive in the second half of the week. Opened from Wednesday lunch time to Sunday, evening dinner is available at weekends. But the lunches are so substantial I get the idea.

For instance, an open crab sandwich is like no other you will taste in Ireland. The best crab on toast is a toss up between James Street South and the Barking Dog in Belfast. The 4 Vicars version is at least up to these standards.

Fresh, seemingly hand scraped crab meat is in abundance and perked up with tiny pebbles of cucumber, chilli and a hint of orange. Do not be alarmed by the orange. I don't like orange in anything except when freshly peeled and eaten alone. But here, it is literally a hint which does not invade everything else. The crab flavours, light and salty, are a welcome throwback to favourite seaside memories.

The bread beneath is dark, crumbling, buttered treacle wheaten whose crust is brittle and shatters. Big generous chunks of butter are on the table in case you need more.

There is chowder, confit of duck, battered sea bass and chips and excellent leaf salads. Green leaves, tomatoes, fresh herbs abound and every dish comes enlivened with quality greenery.

But just when you think it's been pretty good for a place outside Belfast, out comes the creme brulee which is the best one I've had in memory. This is textbook. The wafer thin top cracks reassuringly.

Beneath it, the rich, custardy, firm crème is viscous yet set enough not to gloop off the spoon. The million spots of black vanilla seeds give the crème a deep rich sweetness and sets the standard.

Husband and wife team Gareth and Kasia Reid have created something very special. My advice is go to Armagh as soon as you can (especially over Christmas), visit the library of romance (and see the original Gulliver's Travels by Swift), the Church of Ireland Cathedral and then hit 4 Vicars.

All of this is within 80 yards and even the most godless and cynical among you will be thanking me for the tip.

The bill

Crab open sandwich x 2   £20.00

Chowder£4.00

Confit duck£11.00

Seabass x 2£22.00

Chips £3.00

Crème brulee£4.50

Coffees x 5£9.10

Total£73.60

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