Eating Out: Music, ethos, food – Derry's Hidden City Cafe is quite the find
Hidden City Cafe
3-5 London Street
I'M VERY quick to form an opinion. Usually based on no evidence whatsoever, and certainly without any informed and considered deliberation, I will make my mind up about something on, or even before, the spot. And it's normally a negative reaction – taking an instant dislike to something saves so much time, after all.
Sometimes I'm right (I don't care what anyone says, or how many millions he makes a minute, Ed Sheeran is dreadful). But invariably I'm wrong, in which case I will either claim to have been joking or insist I never ever said that, or blame it on someone else.
I made up my mind about the Hidden City Café about a year ago, based on a quick glance at it from across the street while it was dark. Looked nice enough, but pretty bland and ordinary, the kind of place you might grab a sandwich if you were in the area and hungry, but not a place you'd make a point of going to. Having dismissed it so cursorily, I continued to ignore it.
Turns out it didn't exist a year ago. It only opened last September. I was thinking of a different café, albeit in the same location.
Time to admit I was wrong? No chance. Time for some brazen lying…
I've been meaning to try the Hidden City Café for some time now, having kept tabs on it since it opened last September. And so, on this roasting hot Friday lunchtime, after pushing my daughter round town (she wasn't in a pram; she's just lazy), I decided to call in and try it myself.
The café's bigger than it looks from the outside, with stairs at the far side that lead down into the Bedlam antique and vintage shop. And it's cool, light and bright, too.
The first thing that struck me was the brilliant music – a bit psychedelic, daddio, a bit groovy. That's not just a throwaway observation, by the way. The home-made playlist shows a taste that is very particular in all senses of the term. It wasn't carelessly thrown together by someone who thinks any old generic pop will do. No, this was a selection compiled with love, passion, and knowledge.
It might not be to everyone's taste, but those who like it will seriously like it, and anyone open-minded to give it a try might just end up loving it.
The café's Facebook page makes its ethos clear: “…healthy and tasty food… a different eating experience… clean honest plant based foods… imagination and creativity… organic and local ingredients…” All very laudable, but you can't eat an ethos – at least not a whole one – and principles count for little or nothing if the food isn't much cop.
Well, they've got that covered. The food here is not only lovely, but it's exciting too – vivid in both colour and flavour, not to mention texture – and the chef painstakingly uses new and interesting techniques and ingredients to ensure your lunch is special.
Pretending I was intending to give some food to my daughter, I ordered three dishes. The tortizza is a crisp flatbread topped with sundried tomato paste and mozzarella. This was very good – the bread was crisp and toasty, the paste was sharp, sweet and intense, and the mozzarella was calming, creamy, and mild.
The red pearl shrimp was an interesting dish – generous helpings of prawn/shrimp on a crisp salad, with bread to soak up the dressing. Fresh and full of flavours of the sea to begin with, the red pearl seaweed gave colour to the plate, and also an extra flavour dimension – subtle, but deep and strong, too.
If you order the three or six salad plate, make sure you have your sunglasses with you. Vibrant isn't in it. The salads here positively bounce with colour, but they're also packed with flavour and texture, so while the eye is dazzled, the palate zings with tastes and aromas. The range of ingredients is boggling, the attention to detail truly impressive. Oh and they're good for you, as well.
While it's not exactly off the beaten track, Hidden City Café, tucked down London Street, nevertheless doesn't shout its presence from the rooftops. Unless you know it's there, you wouldn't know it's there. Once you know it's there, however, you'll find yourself there again and again.
Red Pearl Shrimp £7.95
Pick and mix salad £5.95
Rooibos vanilla tea £2.50