‘If there was a food World Cup, NI would be in with a shout’

The Everglades reception area - unfortunately the model duck is out of shot!
The Everglades reception area - unfortunately the model duck is out of shot!

‘A river really makes a city, doesn’t it?’

As we drove down the side of the River Foyle, past the Craigavon Bridge - ‘Is that the Craigavon Bridge? I don’t think it is’ (I was wrong) - my girlfriend and I decided on our new criteria for every top city.

Liverpool, London, Belfast, Dublin, Newcastle - they all have a river. And so does Derry / Londonderry.

Having passed our rather unscientific test, we decided it does, indeed, pass as a proper city.

And every good city needs a good hotel. Would the Everglades qualify?

They say first impressions are the most lasting and on arrival, the hotel delivered. A hearty welcome at reception, a grand piano and the trademark Hastings Hotels rubber duck on show, we were happy.

‘You’re in the junior suite.’ We laughed, still not quite used to the whole reviewing business.

Off to our suite we trotted, past an old-style wooden-panelled bar and up the stairs.

Spacious, luxurious and complete with an ipod dock and massive TV, it looked the part. Not that I needed them, even the globe on the table was enough to keep me entertained - ‘look how far north Northern Ireland is! No wonder it’s so cold.’

As we awaited dinner in The Grill Bistro, we took in the open-plan layout of the lounge and dining area, perfect to hear the grand piano should the keys be tinkled.

From a bursting starter menu, I chose the scampi. As crispy and tasty as it was, someone else’s food always seems better. My girlfriend’s seafood chowder, in fairness, would have been hard to beat.

A delightful medley of fish in a creamy sauce, I could have ate that all night. One minor complaint was the small bones but I would certainly push for it to be made available for a main.

For that, my Thai green curry packed quite a punch, softened by the pak choi (or ‘leaves’ as I called them) and the poppadum.

Whatever you have for desert, make sure you sample the Glastry Farm ice cream. One of Northern Ireland’s culinary delights, it’s even better than a tub of Ben and Jerry’s!

It was all served up by a very friendly team of table staff - made all the better by a Derry accent that I rate as the best in the world. Although I accept that probably puts me in the minority.

Back in the room, it was time for lights out - or perhaps that should be curtains pulled as the small lamps scattered their rays over only half of our suite - leaving it quite dark once the black-out curtains were drawn.

Nonetheless, refreshed after a night’s sleep on a giant marshmallow of a bed (complete with those little hot chocolate marshmallows for pillows), we were ready for breakfast, a meal which proved the crème de la crème.

Full of the pick of Northern Ireland’s produce, this is effectively the best breakfast in the country.

And it certainly tastes like it. _____ granola to begin paved the way for the finest cooked breakfast I’ve had. The crowning moment the Carnbrooke Honeybee Sausages, made from rare breed prok raised by the Bingham family just outside Dromara and fantastically completed with Mourne Heather Honey.

We also sampled some of Tandragee’s White’s porridge, deliciously topped with honey and a splash of Bushmills whiskey.

If there was a food World Cup, surely this proves that Northern Ireland would be in with a shout.

Fuelled for the day, we took in the city and made sure to sample the Martin McCrossan Walking Tour, an absolute MUST for any visitor to the Walled City.

A proper city it is then, thanks to the Foyle, and that breakfast certainly ensure the Everglades is the quality hotel such a city requires.