I felt that a visit to the North was long overdue so I arranged a short break away and booked a table for dinner in Browns Restaurant & Champagne Lounge in Derry. The restaurant is conveniently located close to the centre of the city at the lower end of Bond’s Hill overlooking Lough Foyle. As runner-up in the prestigious Restaurant Association of Ireland’s (RAI) Foodie Towns Awards for 2015, Derry has an impressive foodie pedigree so I was really looking forward to visiting the historic Walled City and to my meal in Browns.
Browns on Bond’s Hill is one of a group of restaurants which includes Browns in Town located on Strand Road, also in Derry - providing a more casual dining experience - and Browns on the Green in Letterkenny, County Donegal. Under Head Chef Ian Orr the Bond’s Hill restaurant has a fine dining focus but the food is still accessible and unpretentious. Ian who trained under Robbie Millar in Shanks - Northern Ireland’s formative Michelin starred restaurant has also worked in London’s famous River Café and at Rathmullan House Hotel in Donegal. Passionate about Irish food, his commitment to using fresh, seasonal produce and supporting local suppliers was evident throughout my meal in Browns.
There are a number of menus offered in Browns; a set dinner menu (with two courses for £17.95 or three courses for £21.95) and an à la carte menu. Also available is a six course tasting menu which, after some initial indecision, was the one that I eventually plumped for. Even allowing for a less-than-favourable euro/sterling exchange rate, I think that at £40 per person (or £65 with optional wine pairings) the tasting menu represents phenomenal value-for-money and gives the diner the chance to sample a variety of dishes.
A pre-starter consisting of Canapés and Soup was next to arrive. I loved the crisp texture of both the basil and parmesan crackers which were served delicately balanced on the edge of a bowl of tiny pebbles. Normally I’m not a fan of gimmicky presentation but this arrangement was forgivable as it accentuated the almost geological, organic look of the crackers which came topped with pearlescent dots of creamy mayonnaise. The small cup of Butternut Squash Velouté with its velvety texture and sweet, earthy notes was the perfect counterfoil to the crispness of the crackers. With a swirl of pesto and a sprinkling of puffed rice, I found it amazing how such a dainty dish could seem so full-flavoured.
|Chicken Wing, Goat's Curd, Artichoke|
Langoustine Ravioli with Onion & Squash was next up and looked wonderfully appetising. The silky pasta had been expertly made and with its filling of sweet langoustines it was a pleasure to eat. A ‘leaf’ of charred onion provided refuge for some tiny cubes of butternut squash which also appeared on the plate in the form of an exquisitely smooth purée. The caramelised edges of the onion added a very subtle bitterness which prevented this dish from tasting too sweet and also served to accentuate the meatiness of the langoustines.
The simplicity of the next two dishes was confirmation, if any was needed, that there is a highly accomplished and assured chef at work in Browns. The Duck, Cabbage & Celeriac and the Beef – Sirloin, Shin, Potato & Onion both relied on some skilful yet restrained cooking to showcase the wonderful quality of the ingredients that were used. Both plates of food were outstanding and provided high points in what was a memorable meal.
The meal finished on a high with a Hot Chocolate Fondant, Milk Sorbet & Chocolate Tuille. Fondants are sometimes known as chocolate lava cakes and when made as well as this one was, it is not hard to see why. Once I broke through its spongy exterior the fondant released a flowing river of hot chocolate. I particularly liked the accompanying milk sorbet which was delightfully refreshing and finished off the dish perfectly. Feeling in a rather self-indulgent mood I decided to order a glass of Maison Sichel Sauternes (£7.00) to enjoy with my dessert which with its pale golden colour and nose of summer fruits stood up well to the chocolate in the dessert.
Browns Restaurant & Champagne Lounge
1 Bond’s Hill