High above the River Foyle, London Street stretches from Bishop’s Gate Hotel to the 17th century St Columb’s Cathedral, the oldest building within Derry’s city walls. It’s an intimate historic enclave close to those famous city walls. “The walls are still there, wide enough to drive a car along,” Ian Nairn observed in Nairn’s Towns, 1967. London Street is a little bit Galway, a little bit Dublin, and a lot Derry. Hidden City Café is another of its delights. At the corner of Bishop Street Within and London Street, a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon style poster on the street corner entices passers-by, “Maybe it’s the food! Maybe it’s the conversation! Maybe it’s the coffee! Maybe it’s the experience! Maybe it’s the music! Maybe it’s the… Shhhhhh! It’s a secret! Don’t tell anyone!” Or maybe it’s the Magic Mushrooms: toasted sourdough, seasonal mushrooms caramelised in balsamic, thyme, black truffle and truffle infused porcini oil. A gourmet high.
On the fuchsia pink dragon wallpaper in the bathroom hangs a framed 1692 prayer found in Old St Paul’s Church, Baltimore. Centuries later, it still resonates. Here are the highlights: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember, what peace there may be in silence… Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans… Be yourself… Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself… You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”
Café owners Justyn and Bronagh McNicholl confirm, “We’re following our passion in creating an ethical environment, dishing up delicious flavoursome food, drinks and welcomes, all to the soundtrack of some stonking good music.” There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options on the wide ranging menu. The McNicholls support local producers like Ann Marie’s Vegan Cakery, Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil, Donegal Prime Fish and Rough Brothers Beer. Live music and drag acts on Friday and Saturday evenings bolster the bohemian vibe of Hidden City Café.
A sign outside the cathedral explains, “This street was first recorded as London Street in 1811, most likely celebrating the role of the London Companies in building the Plantation City. The red brick building to the left of the cathedral gates is the former Cathedral Primary School of 1893 which was designed by John Guy Ferguson in a Flemish Gothic style with a corner circular stair tower. Opposite it on London Street is the Church of Ireland Diocese Office, built in 1838 as a Presbyterian Meeting House. The terrace of 19th century houses behind you is also notable.” Bishop Street Within leads down the hill to The Diamond, continuing as Shipquay Street which terminates at the Foyle Embankment. Halfway down Shipquay Street is the Craft Village, a cute 1990s insert development of neo Georgian shops and cafés below townhouses in the air. Like all Irish villages, it has at least one thatched cottage; this one contains a coffee shop and art gallery. London Street and its environs live up to the catchphrase ‘LegenDerry’.