Eating Out: Brown's 1894 Restaurant – less an amuse bouche, more a gobful of giggles
Brown’s 1894 Restaurant
Portstewart Golf Club
WHENEVER you think of the best places to eat in Derry – and there’s stiff competition – one of the first restaurants that comes to mind is Brown’s, on Bonds Hill, an award-winning delight, with a reputation that spreads far beyond the city.
Of course, Brown’s itself has already spread beyond the city, with its ventures at Ardtara House and Letterkenny Golf Club. That operation is winding down, but that’s not an indication that Brown’s is on the retreat, because they’ve got a new iron in the bag, again at a golf club, but this time in Portstewart.
The first thing you notice is the fantastic setting, high above Portstewart Strand, looking out over the Atlantic. The second thing you appreciate is how they’ve made the most of the setting. The restaurant is on the first floor, with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a fantastic view of the ocean. The restaurant is open and expansive, with a real sense of space and place, unlike at Bonds Hill, which is much more intimate and enclosed.
One similarity with the Derry HQ, though, is the quality of the cooking. The menu combines the delicacy and flair of Bonds Hill with the down-to-earth nature of Brown’s in Town. The food is both robust and refined, and all delivered with the usual high standards associated with head chef, Ian Orr.
It’s not faultless, but it is very special.
The four of us, toddler included, had booked for five o’clock and arrived as daylight was starting to die on the handful of golfers still playing. We intended having just the two courses, and chose starters over puddings, a decision that went out the window within the hour.
The soup was delicious – sweet white carrot offset by the savoury walnut, blended in a satisfyingly creamy, warming finish. The blowtorched scallops maybe could have done with a touch more caramelisation for texture, but the taste was beautiful, as was the white crab. The berry compote was lovely on its own, but the clash of flavours with the seafood was too much for my palate.
No clash in the cheese salad, however. The salty cheese, the perfectly poached pear, and the sweet and crunchy walnuts all combined beautifully together.
For mains, the chicken was cooked just right, soft, juicy, full of flavour, and I loved the little mushroom and leek tart that came with it – stylish, earthy, and with a pleasing crunch from the filo case. Like the chicken, the fillet steak was cooked perfectly, nicely pink on the inside, and given a sweet richness by the red wine sauce, although the blue cheese butter threatened to overpower at times.
The plaice on the bone was simply gorgeous. It’s my favourite fish, often underrated, I think, although no-one could doubt its quality if they’d had this serving. The flakes eased off the bone effortlessly, simultaneously sweet and salty, with a nice, tangy hit from the capers, enhanced by the creamy sauce.
Sometimes, when you eat at Brown’s, you get lucky, and the waiters bring a little extra something from the kitchen, something maybe that the chefs are trying out and you get for free. Boy, did we get lucky. A bowl of fries, they said. Well, it’s a chip, Jim, but not as we know it: thin fried slices of potato cake, rich and brilliant. Less an amuse bouche; more a gobful of giggles.
Just two courses? Who were we kidding? My wife and I nibbled our way through a selection of wonderful Irish cheeses, while our daughter slurped her delicious ice cream. I have no idea what my brother’s chocolate nemesis was like. It didn’t hang around long enough. One minute it was there on his plate, the next, just a big, happy grin on our kid’s face.
This place is just great. Brown’s at Portstewart is going to stay the course.
Child’s white carrot soup, walnut pesto £3
Blowtorched scallops £11.95
Young Buck cheese salad £5.95
Chicken breast £15.95
Whole plaice on the bone £18.95
Fillet steak £24.95
Child’s fish goujons £6
Parmesan and truffle fries £3.50
Mashed potato £3.50
Chocolate Nemesis £5.95
Selection of local cheeses £7.95
Child’s ice cream £3
Diet Coke x 2 £4
Sparkling water £2.50
Glass, milk £2
Sauternes dessert wine £7.35