Slow Food Heaven on the Banks of the Foyle

At a recent slow food festival in Derry~Londonderry, contributor PAUL WILSON discovered that for the best – you have to go Northwest...

At a recent slow food festival in Derry~Londonderry, contributor PAUL WILSON discovered that for the best – you have to go Northwest…

Northern Ireland’s unique landscape lends itself perfectly to the ethos of The Slow Food Movement. The Derry Slow Food Festival in October showcased not just the best of the Northwest but the bigger culinary picture across the Province.

Step outside of your daily shop and the slow food movement is right on your doorstep. Take the road through lesser-travelled Mid-Ulster, the ‘back-route’ to Derry from the East: it winds through sleepy-tree valleys, the rising Sperrins, tranquil Lough Fae. This beautiful region says a lot about the produce that comes from it. Born straight from the landscape, the county, on the whole, is home to some of the Provinces finest artisan food. The spectacular Causeway Coastal Route, too, has its own culinary hot-spots: Harry’s Shack’s locally-caught whitebait served in a cone, Jay Rayner says is ‘pitch perfect’. Further North, Lough Foyle’s renowned Flat Oysters, farmed from the Atlantic, find their way to forks all over the Island.

All culinary roads, then it seems lead to Derry~Londonderry and between the shores of two Loughs, Neagh and Foyle, The Guildhall was the perfect meeting point for the Derry Slow Food Festival. Part of Tourism NI’s ‘Taste the Island’ latest drive, it promises ‘the best of local, clean, fair food with a slow food harvest market, talks and demos, tours and tastings and street food family fun. It’s also Northern Ireland’s only slow food festival, a major celebration of all that’s good about local food.

Tourism NI’s Chief Executive, John McGrillen said: “visitors position food and drink as one of the top five factors when choosing a destination and they value local produce highly.” Behind The Guildhall, in the dappled autumnal shadow of the Derry Walls, food producers from across the county had found the perfect spot under glass to set out their stalls.

When we got there on Saturday morning, the place was packed with punters sampling the likes of Dart Mountain Cheese Company’s small-batch Sperrin Blue; Corndale Farm’s Northern Irish-made charcuterie – fennel salami; Ditty’s famous oatcakes, sat alongside colourful confectionary, artisan breads, meats and craft beers, slow-cooked pulled pork stalls, designer burgers, barista coffee and educational talks on anything on the importance of honey bees and fair farming to celebrity cookery, exhibitions and demonstrations.

My daughter wanted to see the petting zoo, so after a visit to the honking geese – (noisy!) we wandered over from the Guildhall to The Walled City Brewery for lunch. I’d never heard of the place which was a blessing as with fresh eyes, it turned out to be one of my food and drink highlights of the year.

The brewery’s a gentle stroll over the Peace Bridge to the old Ebrington Barracks. It’s the brain-child of master-brewer James Huey and his wife Louis. James say’s he has two passions in life: “craft beer and the city of Derry-Londonderry” so the two of them set off to build the first craft brewery in the city for over 100 years. The Walled City Brewery opened in 2015 and is now a multi-award-winning restaurant and craft brewery, with 15 awards including the Best Gastropub in Ireland 2017-18 and Best Restaurant in North West, 2108. It was also it named the most atmospheric restaurant in Ireland 2019 by Georgina Campbell.

After lunch – pork and fennel meatballs, smoked mackerel pate, fish croquettes, sticky ribs… – I took the Beer Masterclass, a smart, witty and informative history of beer with tasting sessions. It was lucky my Da wasn’t there for whom milk stout’s a ‘woman’s drink.’ I’ll not hear tell of it, I thought, looking at the beer menu at ‘Derry Milk’. Then there’s Cherry ~ Londoncherry, ‘the politically correct’ beer of choice (Freya McClements, Irish Times).

In March, the LegendDerry Food Festival was Voted ‘Best NI Food Event’ at the NI Year of Food and Drink Awards and the Slow Food Festival really proves that local producers, chefs and brewers, when they step up to the plate (sorry ;), can really make a difference. Locals have a feast of food and drink delights to choose from and there’s plenty of culinary pleasures to lure Belfast, east-coast food fans to the West. The Walled City Brewery chose to launch its newest stout, Foysters, in conjunction with Slippyfest, Derry’s craft beer festival (suds, no duds). A seasonal rich creamy stout made from Foyle’s Flat Oyster. The Cherry-Londoncherry on the cake, slow Food in Northern Ireland has a lot to be proud of.