Eating Out: Soda & Starch - Derry's own under cover open secret
Soda and Starch,
028 7116 5229
THE council must have got some kind of special deal, because Derry has broken out in an absolute rash of pavement seating. The Diamond, Bishop Street, the quayside... it's everywhere.
Leave your car in a spot you've used since Adam was a lad and these days you'll come back and find a picnic table underneath it.
I'm not having a go. I think it's great. It's continental. Very sophisticated, very urbane. And very secure, too, even managing to withstand the torrential downpour that tried its best to sweep the city into the Foyle the other week.
That's the only problem with outdoor seating. You need the weather. Or, you need a canopy.
Soda and Starch has a canopy. And underneath it are 12 tables and 24 benches laid out in three rows, filling most of the Craft Village's courtyard.
Soda and Starch has been around for a while, on and off, and this is its latest incarnation. It comes in two parts: indoors, just around the corner from its old premises (where Artis now is); and outdoors, where the lines of tables give it the feel of a bierkeller, and the charcoal grill pumps out smoke, and a DJ belts out music.
We – my wife, daughter, brother, and I – sat outdoors. And we had a great time and some really good food. The menu isn't extensive – a handful of small plates, mains, and desserts – but that means, in this case, that the concentration is on quality.
My wife chose the chicken tikka flatbread. A little lacking in punch, perhaps, but the chicken was tender and plentiful, and the bread crisp and then soft.
My brother, daughter, and I all chose things from the grill, and I'd say this is the way to go. Both burgers were absolutely top notch. The meat was succulent and moist, with a lovely smokiness from the grill. And the additions of cheese and thick bacon just added to the pleasure.
I was starting to regret my choice of ribs when I saw how good the burgers looked, but, once they arrived and I began tucking in, all doubt went out the window. I loved them. The meat came away from the bone easy as you like and was packed with flavour, which was enhanced rather than drowned by the delicious sweet and smoky sauce. Excellent chips. Great salad.
As good as the mains were, it was the pear and almond tart that took the gold medal. I can't remember having a nicer pudding. The sponge was soft and moist and deep, with a delicate flavour of almond, topped with a pear that retained just the right amount of bite. And fantastic custard.
My sorbet, however... Look, it was my fault. When I was a child in the 60s and 70s, TV was full of adverts for Campari. They made it look so sophisticated and chic, which is how I like to think of myself, too.
Problem is, I'm not. I'm sure if you like Campari, the orange and Campari sorbet is the dessert for you – light, refreshing, tart, bitter. But I don't like Campari, as it transpires, so it wasn't the dessert for me.
I loved this place. It's fun, informal, it has a real identity, a great location, a terrific atmosphere and delicious food. The only thing I'm not sure about is the indoors/outdoors arrangement they have going on.
The mains are served wrapped in foil, and the sides and puddings come in cardboard boxes. Whether things are different inside, where the setting is more formal, I just don't know. Maybe you get plates, which would detract from the sense of the place, or maybe the dishes still come like they would from a food truck, which wouldn't seem right, somehow.
As far as I can tell, the craic is out in the courtyard, where the music is good and the grill is smoking. So, if I were you, I'd get some mates together, call a taxi and grab a seat beneath the canopy.
Child's burger and chips - £6.00
Beef burger, bacon, cheese - £8.00
Barbecue chicken tikka flatbread - £8.00
Pork ribs - £9.00
Salad - £4.50
Chips - £4.00
Pear and almond tart, custard, cream x 2 - £10.00
Campari and orange sorbet - £5.00
Child's ice cream - £4.00
Diet Coke x 2 – £6.90
Decaff coffee - £2.40