Artis by Phelim O’Hagan
28 Craft Village
028 7137 1635
ALL through the week, news of the Omicron variant had been building, and with it, more and more restaurants and bars reported cancelled bookings.
There doesn’t seem to be any good time to open a new restaurant these days, but for Artis by Phelim O’Hagan, only a week old when we went there, this seemed an especially inauspicious moment to choose.
Artis is the latest inhabitant of Derry’s Craft Village, a secret square of shops, cafés, and flats between Shipquay Street and Magazine Street, so easily missed that many lifelong inhabitants of the city don’t know it’s there.
The space was deserted when we arrived. With its dark windows, locked doors, narrow walkways, lit only by Christmas whites, it felt like walking onto an empty stage, the production long since over.
The arrival of Artis, however, suggests the show may only be about to begin, and that performances will be pretty special. Like the Craft Village itself, the restaurant was empty when my wife and I arrived, but it filled up quickly – impressively so, given we were there before 6pm – diners undeterred by the worrying news of the pandemic, drawn by the name above the door, of a chef gaining national attention.
It’s an elegant place, done out with style and simplicity – muted colours, unfussy table settings, nothing that shouts desperately for attention. And the menu is simple, too, with five starters, five mains, four side dishes, and five desserts, including a cheese board.
As brief as that may seem, it still leaves you spoilt for choice.
As good as they sounded, we skipped the starters and went straight for the mains. The beef was perfectly seasoned and cooked – nicely caramelised on the outside, beautifully pink in the middle, it cut with ease and melted in the mouth. The bolder flavour of the short rib was a great addition to the dish, while the gleaming sauce enriched everything.
The roast monkfish was better. While the fish, like the steak, was cooked perfectly, the flakes moist and meaty, and the leek and sorrel gave crunch and intensity, the star for me was the pearl barley. An underused but always welcome ingredient, with a touch of bite and then soft and carrying the flavours of the sauce, it was absolutely delicious.
The side dishes were excellent, given as much care as the mains. The mashed potatoes were soft and creamy, and lifted by the cabbage and chive, the smoked garlic added an extra dimension to the broccoli and green beans, while the crispy potatoes were fought over and then greedily devoured.
They were prepared with such skill and understanding – sliced, compressed, steamed, fried, dotted with an onion gel – and looked so sharp on the plate, it was almost a shame to eat them. Almost.
I have to say I was a little disappointed with the honey and orange cake I ordered for dessert. The cake itself was a touch heavy, which I didn’t mind so much, but I couldn’t taste any of the honey. Similarly, the cinnamon mascarpone and the pistachio ice cream lacked much in the way of flavour.
To be honest, the only flavour I could detect in the dish was from the orange, which was packed with a real zing. I ate it all, of course, but still…
The other dessert, however, was a completely different bowl of cherries. A thin disc of chocolate topping a rich and gooey chocolate filling in a crisp tart case, this was simply gorgeous, especially once you added a cherry to the spoonful, the sourness of which made the sweet chocolate grow up fast.
If you’re going to put your name in the name of the restaurant, you’ve got to believe in yourself. On the evidence of this meal, Phelim O’Hagan has every reason to.
Sophisticated and special, Artis has hit the ground running, and is unlikely to stop.
Roast monkfish, pearl barley, baby leek, sorrel – £25.00
Dry-aged beef striploin, braised short rib, salsify, charred cavolo nero, black garlic – £30.00
Crispy potato, caramelised onion gratin – £4.50
Honey and thyme glazed carrots – £4.00
Buttered savoy and chive potatoes (with mains)
Grilled tenderstem broccoli, green beans, smoked garlic (with mains)
Warm chocolate tart, sweet cherries, clotted cream ice cream – £7.00
Layered honey and spiced orange cake, cinnamon mascarpone, pistachio ice cream – £7.00
Glass, Colline Verdicchio – £6.50