The Red Door Country House,
00353 (74) 9360289
I KNOW it's been a few weeks now, but it still rankles, joining the long list of injustices suffered by the blue half of Liverpool at the hands supposedly neutral referees. (At the head of that list, of course, is The Bryan Hamilton Incident, which happened only yesterday, in 1977).
I certainly awoke the following morning seething with rage, bubbling with bitterness. I mean, how could the ref not give Konaté a second yellow? Beto was through on goal.
The fact we'd booked a table for four for a 'lovely family' lunch (inverted commas because we're not a 'lovely family'...) was no consolation. Still, it takes a lot to put me off my food, by which I mean nothing does, so I deigned to go along, on the condition I would impose my black mood on my long-suffering wife, daughter and brother who, in fact, aren't long-suffering, because they ignore me.
Weather-wise, the day couldn't have been better, as a chill sun lit the clear autumn skies, burnishing into copper the trees' brown leaves as they readied to fall.
The Red Door is, of course, a location made for any weather or time of day. On this lunchtime, with the lawn sloping gently towards the charcoal Swilly, mildly rippling, the old country house was less a refuge than a viewing platform for the glorious day and the green banks of Inch Island across the channel.
It's a grand place, the Red Door, warm and comfortable, full of easy charm and jovial assurance. We were seated by the window, but soon found ourselves absorbed in the menu rather than by the Swilly or Inch. Land and seascapes are all well and good, but, let's face it, they're not food, are they.
To be honest, I was the only one struggling to decide. Both brother and daughter had no hesitation in anticipating Christmas and going for the turkey and ham. Once their plates arrived, we didn't hear from them for a while. The turkey was moist and tender, and the sweet, salty ham lifted every forkful.
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I eventually plumped for the lamb. Now, I wouldn't say this was a mistake exactly, but I wouldn't choose it again. The lamb wasn't the pink the menu promised, for one thing. It wasn't dry, though, and had bags of flavour. And the sweet, deep flavour combined very nicely with the freshness of the mint salsa, the sharpness of the pickled courgette and the sourness of the sheep's yoghurt. Great flavours and lovely textures – no doubt about it.
No, I wouldn't choose the lamb again because the roast beef was so fantastic. I knew I'd gotten it wrong as soon as the plate was put in front of my wife.
Now this was pink – perfectly cooked, properly seasoned, with extra depth and crunch from the beef dripping crumb. Absolutely brilliant, and just what you want for Sunday lunch.
The vegetables could have been better, as they didn't feel fully cooked through and definitely lacked caramelisation, but the mash was smooth and buttery and the gravy was gorgeous – albeit more would have been nice. However, there were no roasties. Shouldn't every roast come with roasties?
The desserts were good. Both the panna cotta and the baked custard were smooth and rich and sweet, the custard just getting the edge. I really enjoyed my crumble. The fruits were sweet and sharp, sitting in a flavour-packed sauce, and the big chunks of crumble were just great, crunchy and with the earthy sweetness of walnut and almond. But, it was served cold, and it would have been so much better warm.
We left the Red Door after my daughter and I had a post-prandial wander down to the shore, where we skimmed stones towards Inch Island. On the journey back to Derry, we all agreed we wouldn't leave it long before returning.
The food was smashing, the service attentive, the house full of charm and ambience, and the setting hard to beat. It's a wonderful package, and certainly a great place to go for Sunday lunch. Almost good enough to make you forget you lost on Saturday. Almost.
Sunday lunch – two courses for €28.95
Stuffed turkey and ham, gravy; baked custard, poached rhubarb, shortbread biscuits
Slow-roasted Irish beef sirloin, Yorkshire pudding, beef dripping crumb, gravy; white chocolate panna cotta, strawberries, meringue, shortbread biscuits
Irish lamb rump, sheep's yoghurt, pickled courgette, mint salsa verde; summer fruit crumble, vanilla ice cream
Child's stuffed turkey and ham, mashed potato, vegetables, gravy €8.95; child's ice cream in a wafer bowl €3.95
Diet Coke x 2 €6.60