The Ebrington Hotel,
The Clock Tower,
028 7122 0700
SOME years ago, a questionnaire appeared – from the council, I think, but it might have been some development organisation – asking people the kind of facilities they’d like to see in Derry’s Ebrington Square.
I know I said a cinema, a public art gallery and a museum, and maybe a youth club and a theatre and concert hall. I don’t know what other people asked for; I never heard anything more about the questionnaire.
I’ve often thought that Ebrington Square offers the kind of space other cities would kill for: central, expansive, elevated, soaked in the city’s history, capable of showing how swords become ploughshares.
Progress in developing the space has been glacial, for good reasons, I’m sure. But, nevertheless, there’s a terrific bar, a good restaurant, a popular bakery, and signs suggesting businesses are starting to occupy some of the buildings.
And, since early July, there’s a hotel, a particularly fine one from what I could gather while snooping around with my daughter. We were there, along with my wife and brother, for dinner the other Friday.
We’d booked for 6.15pm (I read a magazine feature where top chefs said early evening was best, before the kitchen becomes frantic). Though the bar was busy, the huge dining room was empty save for one couple. For a while, staff vastly outnumbered diners, but, by the time we finished, it was packed, the tables full of tourist parties.
The menu is brief but that didn’t make it any easier to choose. My wife picked the lamb, while I went for the hake, and my brother got the pork. My daughter chose the pasta.
The lamb was delicious. The meat was perfectly cooked – pink, meltingly soft, and full of flavour, with the strength of the braised lamb contrasting well with the more delicate rump.
I was expecting much more of a thump from the horseradish and pea tart that came with it, but the roast onion, black garlic and, especially, the thyme jus were certainly tasty. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more of the jus.
The pork fillet was moist and tender and, as with the lamb, the accompanying sauces were great. The beetroot was sweet and earthy, while the balsamic infusion was beautifully balanced, sharp, but not overly so.
The candied nut was a nice touch, sweet and crunchy. (If I were a smart alec, I’d point out the spelling mistake on the menu, which called it a candid nut, so you might expect a particularly frank Brazil. Luckily, I’m not, so I won’t).
I couldn’t have been more pleased with my hake, except the skin might have been crispier. Other than that, it was perfect: beautifully flaking, soft fish, enhanced by the – once again – terrific sauces, salty, sweet, sharp, earthy.
Incidentally, the dishes accompanying the mains were great: well-cooked broccoli stems, shining green, with almonds and chillies, amazingly good boiled potatoes seasoned by a gorgeous relish, and creamy mash full of crunchy scallion.
No-one complained about the desserts. No-one said anything, actually. All you could hear were soft, satisfied murmurings. Yes, my delice should have come with vanilla rather than chocolate ice cream, but it was smooth, rich, dark, and delicious. Yes, the tuille with the rhubarb bent rather than snapped, but the panna cotta was creamy and sharp, while the blackcurrant soufflé was light and sweet and ably supported by the intense flavours of the sorbet.
This was a delicious meal in a most impressive setting, served by friendly, smiling, attentive staff. I should point out the bar looks attractive too, as does its menu. It won’t be long before we try there, to be honest.
Ebrington Square still lacks many of the things people have long wanted there. There’s no museum or concert hall, no art gallery or cinema. Development remains slow. But it’s still a beautiful space, and now it’s enhanced by a lovely hotel and fine restaurant.
Two courses £36 per person
Lamb rump, braised lamb, horseradish and pea tart, roast onion, black garlic, thyme jus
Pork fillet, glazed beetroot, candied nut, confit carrot, balsamic infusion
Hake, roast celeriac, sea herbs, citrus and seaweed creamed sauce
Blackcurrant soufflé, blackcurrant sorbet, vanilla custard
Rhubarb panna cotta, rhubarb and ginger infusion purée
Chocolate delice, chocolate ice cream
Child’s penne pasta in tomato sauce - £5.00
Side of fries - £4.50
Child’s chocolate profiteroles, chocolate sauce - £4.50