Food & drink

Eating Out: Da Vinci's really cares

Dominic Kearney

Caterina's,

Da Vinci's Hotel,

15 Culmore Road,

Derry,

BT48 8JB.

028 7127 9111

davincishotel.com

IF I get the weekly shop right, by Sunday tea time, there shouldn't be much left in the fridge, and the family is treated to pot luck – whatever I can find, basically.

On this particular Sunday in question, it looked like we would have more luck round at Old Mother Hubbard's. In the morning, my five-year-old daughter announced she wanted to make bread and butter pudding. No reason was offered, and I have long since stopped asking why she does anything. I just looked up a recipe, and assembled the ingredients.

I didn't think things through. Sunday pot luck tea generally turns out to be poached eggs on toast. But all the bread and eggs were now in the pudding.

And so we had to go out to eat. Given we were looking to eat at around 5.30pm, the choice was limited, which is how we ended up at Caterina's, the restaurant in Da Vinci's Hotel. I know that doesn't sound like the most positive reason for going, but I think the main issue here is out of sight, out of mind.

The hotel is hidden from the main road by a parade of shops, and it overlooks an industrial estate. And while in a bigger city, it would be considered central, here in Derry it feels a little out of the way, whereas it's only a short stretch along the river from the centre.

The restaurant is modern, bright and comfortable, with chairs upholstered in soft, turquoise velvet, benches in blue leather, and warm woods throughout. There is attractive rippled glass panelling, and art deco touches in the signage and some decorative details.

And they have an interesting playlist here: I've never heard Joy Division in a family restaurant before.

Reminding my wife, daughter and brother that there was a delicious pudding waiting for us at home, we decided to have the starter and main for the two course deal on offer. (I should say here I was sorry not to see Da Vinci Cod on the menu).

The fishcake – a chunky customer – was encased in a lovely, crisp crumb and was full of creamy, sweet potato. It was good, certainly, and, although it might have had a bit more in the way of crab, there was plenty of salmon.

I asked for the squid, but they had run out, so I had to make a new order. My chickpea croquettes were mild and tasty, with some pleasant hints of lemon. Both the fishcakes and the croquettes came with curry dressing, which was sweet and robust, although not overpowering.

My pork belly was soft and full of flavour. I steered clear of the apple chutney as it was too much for the pork to cope with, but the cider sauce was just right. My brother's chicken was perfect in all respects – beautifully moist and tender, with a rich and deep velouté.

As good as that was, my wife's seabass illustrated the best thing about Caterina's. Not so much the dish itself, although that was lovely, but the circumstances around it.

My wife and daughter had gone for a wander outside while we were waiting for the mains to arrive, and my daughter took a tumble, grazing her knee and returning in tears. We were immediately given an ice pack to ease the pain, and the chef, spotting that my wife was too busy to eat her drying fish, called from the kitchen to offer to make her a completely fresh dish. And then my daughter got a free ice cream.

I often praise restaurant staff in Derry, but this went beyond a smile and asking if everything was alright. The staff here actively cared, noticed problems, and came up with ways to make things better.

It mightn't be easy to spot the hotel from the road but that kind of care doesn't go unnoticed, which is why we won't wait for the cupboard to be bare before we make our next visit.

THE BILL

Starter and main course offer:

Spiced crab and salmon fishcake

Roast sea bass - £24

Spiced crab and salmon fishcake

Crispy pork belly - £24

Spiced chick pea croquettes

Chicken supreme - £24

Child's burger and chips - £6.50

Total: £78.50

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