This historic stone building is listed and dates back to 1876, but in 2008 it was acquired by a local family who converted it to a three storey bar and restaurant. Since then, it has proved a great addition to the dining scene in Derry city.
No expense was spared and the interior is bold and magnificent, with opulent furnishings. Sparkling chandeliers, black and white tiled floors and mirrors give the interior a plush art-deco feel that creates a fun and stylish atmosphere.
The ground floor bar is open all day but is at its best at night, when dark wood furniture, heavy embroidered fabrics, a sparkly bar and retro mirrors all set the scene for an evening of luxury and comfort.
In the main dining space on the first floor, tables are simply set with white linen napkins, contemporary cutlery and glassware, yet the setting - which is split-level and includes a choice of private booths - is luxurious, and diners can survey the buzz of the kitchen pass or enjoy views out over the River Foyle.
But the Custom House isn’t about style over substance. Derry is renowned for its hospitable people and the friendly staff - impeccably turned out, professional and polite - make a major contribution to the dining experience, providing service to match the food and the setting.
Menus offered include dinner, lunch and a dedicated one for children - but they don’t give too much away, with minimal dish descriptions and just a general statement about the provenance of ingredients - 70% of the vegetables are homegrown, fish is from Greencastle and meats are all Northern Irish.
You’ll find plenty of familiar dishes, with a range of light dishes (soup, sandwiches, salads and pasta) at lunchtime and a full à la carte in the evening. The dinner menu sees an emphasis on steaks (choice of four), chicken (five) and meats (six) and there is also fresh fish (six), as one would expect with the fishing ports of Donegal nearby, and several vegetarian dishes. They tend to be popular dishes – starters like chicken Caesar, or Custom House paté with toast and chutney; main courses including roast or chargrilled chicken, crispy pork belly, and braised lamb shank – and it’s unlikely here will be any big surprises, so what makes this place special?
The answer lies in the kitchen: although no chef is named on menus the Custom House kitchen brigade is a well oiled machine, turning out bold, uncomplicated plates of succulent food with big flavours. Using a handful of carefully chosen ingredients and good sauces to elevate familiar dishes, the food here is skilfully executed with style.
Portion sizes are well judged and you should leave some room for dessert, especially with delicious old favourites on offer, such as sticky toffee pudding (rich light sponge, sweet buttery toffee sauce, really good vanilla ice-cream...) or apple tart, all rounded off with aromatic Illy coffee.
The wine list offers a good selection by both the glass and bottle, with tasting notes and, although moderately priced overall, there's a selection of ‘Special Occasion wines’, in the £30+ price bracket.
The glamour here is fun, and you get faultless and stylish dining at a fair price - more than most Derry restaurants, certainly, but there's a sense of occasion and the overall experience gives value for money.
The Custom House has earned an enviable position among Northern Ireland dining destinations, providing a good lunchtime outing as well as a stylish night out or special occasion venue for the lucky locals - and it's a an impressive wedding venue, and a good choice for business too, as there are several private rooms available, including one set up with a (unique) boardroom table.