Located just 10 minutes drive north-west of Derry, this landmark bar and restaurant stands out for its modern style, with a sleek stone grey exterior and plenty of parking spaces encouraging passers by to stop here. And that would be a good decision, as it's run by brothers Donal & Kevin Doherty and chef Derek Creagh, who all have a real passion for the food of the area.
The arrival of Derek Creagh in 2014 marked a major milestone for both the chef - who made his name in some of Britain and Ireland's most famous restaurants and has now moved back to his roots - and the restaurant, which has gained an exceptionally talented and committed chef, who is delighted to take up the challenge of overseeing both this restaurant and the newer Harry's Shack at Portstewart. Working with fresh produce grown by Noel Doherty at the restaurant's fabulous walled garden nearby at Burt is a new challenge for a chef used to placing daily orders, and he is like a kid with a new toy in his delighted excitement at working with whatever is at its best each day. Derek is one of a new wave of classically trained chefs who have moved away from fine dining to a more informal style of cooking that is notable for its immediacy, simplicity and great flavour - and they are cooking some of the best food in Ireland today.
The now-famous mantra on the cover page of the menus at Harry's is '“Local Food From Local People”: “We collect the best of local produce direct from the people who farm, grow and catch it! Fish & Shellfish come from the Greencastle boats. Local meats arrive whole and mature in our own dry-aging room. Unique local produce to shout about!” And shout about it they do, attracting the kind of attention that has earned them a national reputation and many awards, including the Bord Bia 'Just Ask' Restaurant of the Year 2011 - and their energy and dedication to promoting the very best local produce has inspired many others to do the same.
The provenance of almost every item on the menu is explained – with special prominence given to ‘The Greencastle Fishbox’ and, of course, to the ‘Famous Well Hung Donegal Steaks’ that make this a serious destination for beef eaters from all over Ireland when visiting the north-west. “All meats arrive whole and dry age in-house for up to 28 days; we use only select Donegal pasture-grazed beef.” Needless to say the steak menu is quite something, offering a wide range of cuts, weights, sauces and dressings – and great value for money too, notably for the 8oz rump steak, which is a sure-fire winner at only €12. And yes, it is meltingly tender and full of flavour - well worth a special journey.
But the total dedication to showcasing local produce at Harrys is by no means restricted to seafood and beef . There is the daily produce from the Walled Garden, of course, and a ‘Best of Local Produce’ section of the menu that changes with the seasons and may include, according to availability, other treats such as: wild Donegal venison; Inch Island pheasant; an Inishowen Lamb Plate, which offers a range of cuts not normally seen on menus as well as the popular rump and rack; and Inishowen organic rare breed pork, from saddleback pigs reared at Moville.
Then, if you turn to the back of the menu before choosing from the tempting home-made desserts (or a Sheridans cheeseboard), you can read the detailed lowdown on the products used, where they come from and the people who make them – it’s magic stuff and the pride in the foods of the area is palpable. Taking the time to browse the menus at Harrys gives you a real sense of the area, and the wonderful produce it has to offer – and their well-informed staff are just as enthusiastic about their food philosophy as they are themselves. And the collective enthusiasm extends to the Walled Garden a few miles away at Burt - a wonderful project that, like Harrys itself, has a national following.
Whether for a casual meal or dressier occasions, Harry’s offers an exceptional dining experience at a very modest price; but do ring ahead to make a reservation, as the secret about this fantastic place is well and truly out.
*Doherty's Café, a few doors along, has been in the same family ownership since 1974; it is run by Donal & Kevin's mother, Sheila, and renowned for quality - notably the fish & chips, and Sheila's home baking. 40 years later, in August 2014, Donal and Kevin opened their second restaurant, Harry's Shack in Portstewart (see entry).