Eating Out: Red Pepper adds to impression of Castlederg as a place with a bit about it
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ACCORDING to the Ideal Home website, it takes just eight minutes for someone viewing a house to decide they want to buy it. Often, it won’t even take that long. It’s the same with relationships. You sometimes don’t even need to speak to someone to know you’re going to get on, though, I must admit, that has led to the odd court order.
I had a good feeling about Red Pepper as I got out of the car and looked across the Diamond and saw the place starting to glow in the growing dusk. That sense of warmth and welcome only increased as we approached and saw the autumn wreaths that decorated the doors.
Inside, well, I have to say I wouldn’t choose a purple and green colour scheme for myself, but, at the same time, it felt a good place to be, a feeling confirmed by our greeting – courteous, concerned, natural, not at all slick – and sincere.
The four of us were there for our now-traditional weekly “Can’t stand any more of his cooking” meals out. These occasions don’t carry a three-course whip, so we gave the starters a miss and tucked into the mains without any ado. I was doing some colouring-in with my daughter when they arrived and, although I was just getting the hang of staying within the lines, I was more than happy to put my crayon down.
We’re not talking perfection here, but these mains were lovely, carefully thought out, well-cooked, and stylishly presented. The halibut was moist and succulent, its mild, almost delicate flavour given a helping hand by the salty bacon and the sweet and earthy cauliflower puree.
The duck was soft, pink and delicious. Although the skin could have been a bit crispier, the crunch of the spring roll gave the dish bite and texture. The pumpkin puree and toasted pumpkin provided a sweet, seasonal flavour.
My venison was well-seasoned, pink, and soft to the point of melting, clearly cooked with great skill and understanding. The meat inside the croquette that came with it had a powerful flavour within its crisp coating and the Dauphinoise potatoes added style and sophistication. The sauce was deep and sweet but there was nowhere near enough of it.
Actually, I could have done with more of the Dauphinoise, now I’m on the subject, although the chips we ordered were a delicious, albeit less cosmopolitan, substitute.
On to the puddings, and a forensics team would have found little trace of the cheesecake once my brother had finished with it. He pronounced it fabulous, although I was unconvinced. Chocolatey, yes, with a good, thick base, but the base lacked crunch and the cheesecake itself was just too light and creamy. It needed body, which would no doubt have helped with the forensics, too.
The lemon posset was a touch too runny for my liking, but there’s no doubting how sweet and tasty it was, and the shortbread biscuit was beautifully done. The lemon tart was almost faultless. A nice base, sweet, tangy filling, and a cracking top.
While we were eating, a woman – the owner, I’m guessing – came to the table, checking we were OK. Actually, she asked if we had enough to eat, a particularly Tyrone touch. I noticed she did the same with every customer, greeting most of them like old friends. This is clearly a restaurant to which people return again and again, for the food, the warmth, and the service.
Prior to this visit, I’d only ever been to Castlederg once before, and that wasn’t deliberately, a massive diversion taking me off the A5 before delivering me back to Derry. It’s a nice place, isn’t it? Feels like a place with a bit about it. And with a restaurant like Red Pepper, you can see why.
Cherry Valley duck breast, crispy duck spring roll, spiced pumpkin puree, toasted pumpkin £17.50
Haunch of venison, venison croquette, Dauphinoise potato, beetroot, apple £18.50
Line caught wild halibut, crushed new potatoes, bacon, cauliflower puree £19.95
Child’s cod fingers, peas, chips £5.95
Child’s ice cream £1.95
Burnt lemon tart, raspberry sorbet £5.95
Lemon posset, lemon sorbet, shortbread biscuit £5.95
Chocolate and honeycomb cheesecake, caramel sauce, caramel ice cream £5.95
Diet Coke x 2 £4
Sparkling water £2.20
Child’s fruit juice £1.25