Back in my swaggering gunslinger days of youth, I never saw myself as a garden centre man.
Most probably, because they didn’t exist or, at least, nothing resembling today’s modernist glass and steel showrooms, housing not just plants but entire domestic lifestyle ranges.
Though I’ve always loved the outdoors, my plant identification skills back then petered out after daisies, all else lumped into a general category vaguely dubbed ‘nature’.
The apogee of my ignorance undoubtedly occurred when I once meticulously ‘weeded’ my mother-in-law’s strawberry bed.
She duly noted the sweat of my toil had anointed her soil but pointed out, in remarkably restrained, even amused fashion, that the ‘weeds’ were actually strawberry plants.
My god, said I, they were absolutely rampant! They were indeed, said she, wistfully.
Shortly after, I acquired the first garden I could call my own and, in two decades since, have evolved.
Learning began with my growing of edible produce and though it will be another few decades before I dare call myself a gardener, my zeal is heartfelt. I also spend a lot of time in garden centres.
By their very nature, garden centres are hungry for space so tend to be found on the fringes of urban centres or, more often again, out in the countryside.
This generally ensures a captive audience that will eventually require sustenance and, nowadays, it is rare indeed to encounter one without a café or restaurant.
For a spell, chef Skye Gyngell’s restaurant, in Petersham Nurseries, in England, even held a Michelin Star.
Bakestone Café is in Ballyseedy Garden Centre, in a retail park off the motorway, near Carrigtwohill. It is most definitely one of those aforementioned temples to domestic living, more floor space devoted to its lifestyle and interiors offering than to actual plants, the latter firmly skewed towards the more casual gardener.
(I overhear more than a few customers seeking out plants that require ‘little or no maintenance, ideally, no maintenance at all.’)
On a sunny bank holiday Monday, Bakestone Café is being put to the pin of its collar to manage enormous crowds and doing so with aplomb.
Diners order before being seated, orders only taken when seats become available. The system works remarkably well on what is apparently their busiest day so far this year.
We are a party of five, including two progeny, Dear Old Sainted Mother and My Heart’s Delight and our order is a mélange of breakfast, dinner and tea.
Progeny share scrambled eggs, bacon, sourdough toast and a sausage roll, followed by pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, all perfectly fine.
My Heart’s Delight opts for vegetarian huevos rancheros, refried beans, fried eggs, salsa and avocado, atop two tortillas. It is pleasant, flavours are fresh and clean though some way shy of sensational but, then again, this type of dish works best when the raw ingredients (tomato, avocado) are local and seasonal.
BBQ-pulled pork bap has decent depth of flavour for industrially-produced meat, enhanced by crispy crackling, rocket leaves, punchy aioli, all sandwiched within a brioche bun, making for contrasting textures and complimentary tastes.
Accompanying chunky chips are as thick as the exposed girders back-boning the building around us but having also enjoyed a lovely and delicately-spiced curried carrot and parsnip soup, half of my main course ends up in a takeaway box.
Dear Old Sainted Mother’s frittata may present as something of a doorstep (Bakestone portions are generous!) in appearance but it is delightfully light, al dente courgette offering toothsome resistance, and, served with good coleslaw and excellent fresh local green salad leaves, is the star turn.
Neither our table nor any in the vicinity appear able to resist a fine range of home-baked confectionaries. We enjoy classic lemon madeira and a splendid shortbread sandwich, with fresh whipped cream and truly sublime raspberry jam between soft buttery biscuits.
A cut above much of the competition, Bakestone serves wholesome, satisfying fare that would normally encourage the loosening of buttons to slowly sip the last of good Badger & Dodo coffees but strident sun streaming through enormous glass windows cranks heat up to uncomfortable levels.
Thankfully, imminent major restructuring will soon put paid to this particular issue.
When it does, Bakestone Café, should continue to appeal, most especially to those who do their best gardening while seated at the dining table.
Bakestone Café at Ballyseedy Garden Centre, Fota Retail Park, Carrigtwohill, Co Cork; www.ballyseedy.ie/bakestone/
€70.55 (excluding tip)
Monday-Saturday 9:30am to 6pm Sunday 10am to 6pm Bank Holiday 10am to 6pm
Tagline: Decent and wholesome fare for hungry ‘gardeners’.
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