Beech Hill Country House
Ted Kennedy's room
3 Meals in Derry, Northern Ireland
“Everyone knows this city has various names - Derry, Londonderry, Stroke City, and the tourist board’s latest, LegenDerry, but my favourite is the nickname, Maiden City. They say it’s for historical reasons because the city walls were never breached in battle but everyone knows it’s because there are far more women here than men. Five to one when I was young. Paradise!”
Ebullient walking guide Martin McCrossan goes on to explain that Derry’s dominant female population flocked to the city centuries ago to work in the shirt factories and mills. Those industries are gone but the women are still 65 percent of the population, many in top jobs as Derry gears up to be City of Culture 2013.
2013 will be full of events but now is a good time to get to Derry to be sure of a place for dinner at small, Michelin recommended Browns restaurant.
In an unprepossessing side street, chef Ian Orr, formerly of London’s River Café, serves up locally sourced wonders. There’s home made breads with goat cheese terrine; Mourne mountain lamb; seared monkfish; prawn ravioli... Ian Orr is going for a Michelin star; he deserves it. Oh, and the deserts – wild honey and lavender panacotta; caramelised lemon tart; hand made sherry chocolates… And the best bit is that a Sunday lunch or a weekday evening three course special are only £18!
A good way to work up an appetite is to accompany Martin McCrossan on his entertaining walks. Admirably, he started the tours twenty years ago. No one believed him that tourism had a future in the city; “Don’t like to say I told you so but I did and I do!”
Martin’s unofficial base is the Java Café just below the city walls. If you need to eat a cream filled home made scone about the size of your own head, and I often feel that need, this is the place to visit. Best Italian coffee in town as well as sandwiches and cooked breakfasts.
You have to have a cooked breakfast in Derry. It’s not quite a legal requirement but people wonder how you can turn down fresh mushrooms, farm eggs and bacon, kippers, potato farls and soda bread and be a right minded citizen.
Enormous breakfasts are included at the Saddler’s House, a comfortable family run guest house in the central conservation area. Or just outside the city, you could really treat yourself - breakfast and a suite with a four poster at Beech Hill Country House. Previous guests have included Ted Kennedy, the Clintons, Will Ferrell and Tommy Hilfiger.
Set in quiet parkland this historic country house offers bargain weekend breaks and serves every possible breakfast combination in a conservatory dining room, overlooking waterfalls and sweeping lawns. You’ll feel famous, whoever you are.
Any maiden who loves her food should dash to explore the Maiden City before the world surges in for next year’s festivities and gets all the best tables.
- To find out more about Derry walks go to www.derrycitytours.com
- Browns restaurant www.brownsrestaurant.com
- The Java Café is at 33 Ferryquay Street, City Centre
- Saddlers House room with breakfast £45-55 www.thesaddlershouse.com
- Beech Hill Country House room with breakfast £65-£195 www.beech-hill.com
- For more information on the city and further restaurant choices go to www.discovernorthernireland.com
Annie Caulfield (images by Martin McNamara)
Annie's book Travel Writing: A Guide is out now. Visit www.localbookshops.co.uk to buy a copy from your nearest independent bookshop.