We tend to collect mothers around the world, women who take care of us, treat us like members of their family. They dote on us, worry about us, even if only for a few days or a week at a time. We have a Vietnamese mother, a Brazilian mother, a Czech mother. Now, we have a Northern Ireland mother, after our stay at the Beech Hill Hotel in Derry, Northern Ireland.
We almost didn’t make it to Derry. A week before we arrived, our plans were to head early to Limerick, after our stay in Belfast and Portrush. But, suddenly, our schedule worked out to spend an extra four nights in Northern Ireland, all of them at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel.
Looking at the Beech Hill Hotel website ahead of time, it was not really the type of place we usually stay. We generally favor city center hotels, so that we can walk everywhere freely. We generally favor more modern, contemporary hotels too, you know because we are so cool and hip (insert chuckle here).
But, here we found ourselves, just a bit outside of the Derry city center, pulling up the winding driveway, and approaching a large 18th Century plantation. Although a historic hotel, and one with traditional country furnishings in the common areas, our room was recently refurbished, with brand spanking new carpet, and bright red arm chairs.
Most importantly, our room at Beech Hill hosted the largest bed we have seen in quite some time. We have been staying in some pretty small beds, including one set of twin beds where Eric’s feet hung at least six inches over the end. We were desperate for a big comfy bed, and the Beech Hill Hotel delivered.
The Focus on Food at Beech Hill Hotel
Aside from some activities we had planned over our four days, including a visit out to the Giant’s Causeway, and a Derry city tour to learn about Northern Ireland history, we had a good amount of free time. And, we made the most of our stay in the country house.
We met the owner of the hotel, Patsy, during our first day. A small woman, with a large personality, she greeted us energetically and offered to explain anything and everything about the hotel and its focus on food, including its focus on locally sourced products.
The kitchen at the Ardmore Restaurant is cooking, in part, from a 200 year old cookbook from the Skipton family, the original owners of the house that became Beech Hill. Patsy worked with a food historian to understand the cookbook, and translate it into current recipes. They make all of their sauces in-house from these traditional Skipton family recipes. They pull a lot of their produce and herbs from the hotel’s garden, just down the path.
Robert, the Beech Hill Hotel gardner, takes great pride in the walled garden and what he as done with it, even though he’s only been on the property for about a year. Guests are encouraged to walk down to the garden and explore. When we met Robert he told us so many guests had wandered through that he was thinking of learning some new languages to support his unofficial garden tours.
Dining at The Ardmore Restaurant at Beech Hill Hotel
Our first night at the Beech Hill Hotel, we ate dinner in, choosing from the three course dinner menu at the Ardmore Restaurant. After a couple of Bushmills in the lounge, we were escorted to our table in the conservatory, overlooking the gardens. We couldn’t help but make Downtown Abbey references during our stay at Beech Hill. In fact, when we finished our cocktail I asked Eric, “should we go through?”
The chef works with Patsy to offer a menu that includes traditional recipes, using that Skipton family cookbook, while working farm-to-table. It’s been awhile since we have explored a menu this, well, traditional. And, everything was incredible, from the locally sourced salmon, to the salad made from a mix of lettuce from the garden. Eric enjoyed a tender rolled pork shoulder.
When it came time for dessert, I was disappointed that the set menu did not include a bread and butter pudding, but the a la carte menu did. No problem, they brought me out the bread and butter pudding, with apple compote and caramel ice cream. I think I made a wise request.
The Derry Food Scene
There is a burgeoning food scene in Derry, and the Beech Hill Hotel represents this trend competently. There are artisan producers, from dairies, to meat producers, to bakeries, who supply many of the restaurants in the area. There is even a new craft brewery, which is open for tasting.
Chefs are opening up new, higher-end restaurants, in alternative neighborhoods, rather than in the typical restaurant quarter. This is allowing them to get their start in areas with cheaper rents, thereby enabling an opportunity to be more creative with their cuisine, while still focusing on farm-to-table production. There are also a lot of international influences, from Indian to Italian. In fact, the first Indians moved to Derry in the 1940s. This was all a little surprising to me in a city of just over 100,000 people, similar to the size of Limerick.
Our New Northern Ireland Mother
I am not sure we explored the food scene in Derry as much as we had hoped. After our six weeks in Costa Brava, and our week before that in Portugal, we may have gone a little overboard on food and wine consumption. Perhaps there is a reason why gluttony is a sin.
As a result, we were both continuing to feel a little tired and a little down during our time in Derry. Patsy, though, took good care of us. This was not a small B&B, mind you, and instead a hotel with a good number of rooms, and a constant stream of events. Despite this, Patsy always paused to chat with us on the way in and out, always making sure we were enjoying ourselves. And, one night, when Eric was feeling particularly unwell, she had asked if we wanted a night cap after our meal out of the hotel.
Instead, Eric asked for a ginger ale to settle his stomach. She not only marched us to the bar, but made sure the bartender, John, also gave Eric a glass of soda water and bitters, her cure all, then she promptly sent us to bed to rest.
Patsy is now our Northern Ireland mother, a title I hope she doesn’t mind receiving. I am sure she would be happy to be called our Irish mother, but that title has been placed on Eric’s Aunt Theresa for the last 15 years. In fact, Patsy often reminded me of Eric’s mother in some of her mannerisms, including the way she placed her hand gently on my arm when chatting.
Patsy’s father bought the Beech Hill hotel many years ago, and Patsy took over the reigns. For a luxury country house hotel, Patsy, and all of the staff made us feel entirely welcome.
We were supported by Northern Ireland Tourism during our stay in Derry, but all views are, as always, my own. Rooms at the Beech Hill Country House start around 100 Euros a night, with breakfast. Three course dinner at the Ardmore costs 29.95 pounds, without wine.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.