Eating Out: Take me to Church Street – but not during Lent, so I can have dessert
Church Street Restaurant
23 Church Street
GOING out for Sunday lunch is always tempting. The last fling of the weekend, a final chance to relax with friends and relatives, with someone else doing all the work, before Countryfile and Call the Midwife herald the awful reality of the working week to come.
It can be a risky business, mind. Restaurant standards can drop, and out can come the dry, overcooked meats, soggy vegetables, and underdone roast potatoes that make us contemplate (although never more than contemplate) actually cooking for ourselves next week.
That’s not a risk you take at Church Street which, with wife and baby exiled in Omagh for the day, my brother and I bravely headed to on the Sunday in question. Bravely, because we both had heavy colds, and took turns sneezing and coughing for the entire journey from Derry, so much so that we possibly released some giant germ cloud into the Magherafelt air when we opened the car doors on arrival.
Church Street Restaurant is on a street with a church on it, and the interior designers obviously took their cue from that, because the furniture is heavy and black, with nods to pews and high-backed ecclesiastical thrones. Can’t say I liked it much, but I convinced myself it made up for the fact that I’d missed Mass that morning. Anyway, the furniture is the only thing I’d altar (altar!) about the restaurant, because the food was faultless.
My brother kicked off with the celeriac soup. This was beautifully thick and creamy, rich, sweet, and sharp, a lovely warm hug on a miserable wet day. Being a sucker for any dish that sounds like a 1950s jazz musician, I went for Tempura Monkfish. A knockout – stylishly presented on a delicate salad of finely chopped radish and celery, these meaty chunks of fish were encased in a crisp batter and were just brilliant.
Watch out for the accompanying sauce, though, which was too salty, I thought – and I normally like my food saltier than Lot’s wife.
The menu here is a clever mix of the traditional – rump steak, roast chicken and turkey, braised beef – with dashes of the new and inventive, such as a smoked bacon vinaigrette, gnocchi, and truffle mash, all of which suggests this is a place which both knows and leads its clientele.
Certainly, it made for difficult selections. My brother plumped for the roast chicken breast in the end, because he thinks, wrongly, that you can’t go wrong with chicken. And I went for the Trio of Fish, partly because it sounded fantastic, and partly because it sounded like Tempura Monkfish’s notorious triple album.
As far as this chicken was concerned, my brother was right – you couldn’t go wrong. It was cooked perfectly, so it was moist and tender and full of flavour. And there was such a lovely combination of tastes and textures to the rest of the dish – the firm gnocchi, the crunchy cauliflower, the sweet sauce and delicate gravy.
And this balance and blend of every ingredient was there in my Trio of Fish too. The cod flakes slipped away with a touch of the knife and melted in the mouth. The sole was light, the salmon soft, the prawns beautifully sweet. This was as subtle and elegant a dish as I’ve eaten in a long time. The care and attentiveness extended to the side dishes, too, with both the potatoes and vegetables cooked just right.
When it came to pudding, I stared at the list of desserts and cursed my noble decision to give up all sweets and chocolate for Lent. Sticky toffee pudding, lemon posset, crème brulee, rice pudding – the words mocked and taunted and tempted me, but I stayed strong. I guess I’ll just have to come back after Easter.
Churchy furniture aside, there is nothing about this place I don’t like. It’s a confident, stylish restaurant which pays great attention to detail. Great ingredients, cooked with simplicity and flair: Church Street is a lovely place to spend your Sundays.
£15.95 per person for two courses:
Celeriac soup and bread
Trio of cod, salmon, and sole, with prawn butter (£3 supplement)
Roast chicken breast, potato gnocchi, cauliflower, creamed leaks
Sides: New potatoes; Seasonal vegetables (cabbage, carrots, sugar snap peas)
Diet Coke x 2 £3.90
Tap water £0.50
Assorted breads £2.75