Located just inside the city walls, in the former Boyd's shirt factory (shirt factories are a big part of Derry's history), this unusual establishment quickly earned a reputation for quality food, friendly service, atmosphere and value and - along with the ‘new’ Browns - it’s the most talk-about place in Derry.
It’s the first time this big old building has been a restaurant, and it’s on the upper floors – a slight disadvantage for the first-time visitor, perhaps, since the front doesn't shout, but there’s a big banner proclaiming the name down the side of the building to compensate.
Throughout the premises, lovely high original windows bring strong, bright light into high-ceilinged rooms that have been quirkily decorated with flair. And, despite the age of the building, there's a lift at the entrance as well as stairs, so it is fully accessible.
On the first floor is the daytime restaurant, the Pantry - open 12 till 5, the cream walls shelved with 'pantry' goods like jams etc for sale; up a level, there’s a lovely sitting room with those big bright windows and colourful sofas, used for meetings, pre-drinks or just for customers to relax.
Then, on floor three is the Grill, used at night for the evening menu, and mainly open at weekends - otherwise the Grill menu is offered in the Pantry.
Halo is perfectly positioned for shoppers and the lunch menu is lovely - very good home made breads come with three dips pesto, chilli jam and balsamic and mustard, and you might also try a well-made risotto (sunblushed tomato, for example), or a yummy salad of Asian confit of duck with honey and soy dressing.
The offering is a well-judged mixture of the traditional - halo fish and chips with mushy peas; sautéed calves liver – and more contemporary takes on familiar ingredients: a choice of three Halo burgers is offered, for example, with roasted pepper, spiced mozzarella, garlic and basil aioli; and piri piri chicken is an enduring modern favourite.
Desserts are also impressive - the Guide was bowled over by a delicious chilled choc espresso mousse with milk foam and brandy snap twirls - and there’s also a selection of Irish cheeses with poached pear and chilli jam.
Main courses are all well under £10, with all sides and puddings at a flat rate of £2/£4.95 respectively, it’s very little for the quality offered…
Service from interested and helpful staff is also a strong point – and you can buy delicious goodies from the Pantry to take home. Evening meals (from 5pm) offer more substantial dishes (steaks, seafood, good vegetarian choices) at slightly higher prices but are still extremely reasonable.
Best value in Derry – and a very enjoyable experience.