The city’s most highly-regarded restaurant over two decades, Browns is now in an exciting new phase in the ownership of Ian Orr, a leading chef well known from his time as head chef at Rathmullan House in Co Donegal (among several respected kitchens).
Ian is renowned for his dedication to fresh seasonal produce and support of local suppliers, and visitors keen to experience the best the area has to offer will not be disappointed.
In the Waterside area on the eastern bank of Lough Foyle, the neat, understated modern exterior can be glimpsed from the traffic lights beside the station across the road (a handy place to park, then take the pedestrian crossing) and, except for having a bit of a revamp and emerging with a Art Deco theme, the only big change to the premises since Ian took over has been the addition of ‘The North West’s first champagne lounge’ at the back of the restaurant.
A carefully considered range of menus is offered, including an à la carte lunch, a set 2/3 course pre-theatre menu, à la carte dinner, and a dedicated vegetarian menu; Sunday lunch and a champagne breakfast are offered and also a 6-course Tasting Menu, with optional wine pairings. All showcase local ingredients and are keenly priced without compromising on quality in any way – lunch, for example, offers six equally tempting dishes on each course with starters from under £5 and mains including a daily special at just £8.50; classics like Brown’s fish stew with tomato and fennel broth, Cetrone olive oil and grilled bread earn their popularity, and textbook perfect risotto – butternut squash, for example, with parmesan, spinach & sautéed mushrooms - is as delicious as it sounds.
The most expensive main course by far is the excellent sirloin of Crosskey beef, which is worth every cent of the £14 charged at lunch; on the evening menu this is upgraded to fillet steak (£22.50) and offered attractively with a seasonal garnish – on an autumn visit, this may be a luxurious combination of golden beetroot puree, seared foie gras and buttered leaves. A dish worth travelling for - especially when it comes with a portion of Browns unbeatably crisp and more-ish chips – and many will be intrigued by an equally appealing dish of Lough Erne lamb baked in hay.
Seafood is well represented, of course, depending on the local catches, and Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil from just up the road near Limavady adds its special character to some dishes. A particularly good seafood chowder is served with Guinness bread (one of a selection of dangerously more-ish home-bakes) there’s fish from Greencastle, and Portavogie scallops and prawns (fritto misto, perhaps, with a chilli mayo and rocket salad).
Diners who may be reluctant to try the Tasting Menu, fearing ‘a lot of bits and pieces’ rather than a decent meal, need have no worries. Of the many tasting menus offered around Ireland, this is one of the best; while carefully constructed to allow diners to experience a series of small portions with all the expected culinary bells and whistles, a change of tone is introduced with the main course, which is just that (albeit moderately sized) and, if you are lucky, it might just be that more-ish Crosskeys steak.
But, whatever the menu chosen, Ian Orr cooks with a deft hand and a light touch, allowing the natural flavour, texture and colour of ultra-fresh ingredients to take the lead – one of the most appealing features of his menus, in fact, is the quality and range of mainstream vegetarian options including, perhaps, a pretty and very tasty salad of local beetroot with Fivemiletown goat’s cheese, aged balsamic and toasted pine nuts.
And this chef’s enthusiasm for the wonderful local produce coming into his kitchen can sometimes lead to unexpected acts of generosity – it has been known, for example, for the arrival of beautiful fresh crab to inspire an amuse bouche of a little warm crab salad for the delighted guests.
This is undoubtedly some of the finest cooking in the land, and visitors to Derry should ensure that at least one meal here is firmly fixed in their itinerary.
Solicitous service is the norm, although Browns is an extremely popular restaurant and it can come under pressure on busy weekend nights.
Cooking demonstrations offered (first Saturday of the month 4pm; £10, followed by dinner, £28.)
Associated businsses: Browns Bistro Culmore (at the 'Magnet' bar); Browns in Town, Strand Road (fine dining; 028 71362889).