Should we get a heatwave, I’ll become a permanent fixture in The Puffin Cafe, says Joe McNamee.
WHEN mention was first made of The Puffin Café last year, some online snooping revealed a most appealing prospect, a breeze-block ‘hut’ painted entirely matt black on a grassy verge beside Long Strand beach, exuding that random, pop-up feel, the class of perfectly casual/casually perfect establishment frequented by bright young things who surf all day and still have the energy and domestic freedom to party all night.
My own days of luminosity and youth are long departed and any return to a long-redundant wetsuit would have concerned beachgoers dousing me with seawater and bellowing for WhaleWatch but I can still eat like a young ’un and a highly innovative menu of Pizzas, Toasties (Goat’s Cheese, Honey, Walnuts) and Bagels (salt beef, strong mustard, gherkins) is a strong lure.
We arrive on a Sunday in late January, the sky crystalline blue, our extremities bluer still in the bracing cold and decide to eat first, ‘beach’ later.
Inside, impressive virtue has been made of base simplicity: walls are white, currently adorned with a delightful exhibition of contemporary lace work, by Lily Corcoran; the entire ceiling, a ‘puffa’ jacket of silver insulation.
Modernist white tables contrast with recycled wood counter, against the far gable wall is a solid-fuel stove.
It soon becomes apparent this stove is where we need to be for the cafe has just opened for the first time in 2017 and despite the addition of several electric radiators, the room is draughty and ‘fresh’.
We retain hats and coats, trusting hot food will soon stoke inner furnaces.
Then I discover we are perusing the off-season offering of pizzas only, no bagels or toasties, a disappointing prospect as we recover from a tragic encounter with a supposedly upmarket pizza emporium two days previously.
Still, the great thing about my gloriously dysfunctional relationship with pizza is an infinite capacity to forgive even the most heinous transgressions, wipe the slate clean and start all over again.
Each pizza is named for an iconic performer or act, including a posse of hip hop heroes from back when Jimmy Cagney was still the ‘original gangsta’, a spot of cultural carbon dating reassuring for one of my vintage.
The Bambaataa (Chilli Prawns, Roasted Red Peppers, Salsa Verde) arrives for My Heart’s Delight.
The base is burnished to a reddish-brown, blistered with air bubbles, and tastes as good as it looks, crisp, chewy, a fine bed for succulent prawns swimming in creamy mozzarella.
To give the progeny their due, they have reasonably Catholic tastes, unafraid to experiment, but when it comes to pizza, they remain fundamentalist to the core, favouring a select few toppings, rarely if ever allowing them to mingle, so a Jazzy Jay (Chorizo, Red Peppers, Carmelised Red Onion, Feta) is stripped back to peppers and meat.
This leaner, meaner rendition is also quite the edible triumph though I’d imagine even nicer with sweet onion and salty feta.
A dedicated professional, I ignore my preference (Furious Five: prosciutto, peaches, blue cheese, balsamic syrup, basil leaves) and roam the menu on the reader’s behalf, opting for The Kraftwerk, a Calzone (pizza base folded over into a ‘pasty’ parcel) of Curried Potatoes, Spinach & Chickpeas, a samosa with an Italian accent.
The filling, though, is timidly under-spiced, in need of a serious kick up the autobahn to lift this conglomerate of carbs above the merely comforting.
A Doug E Fresh salad of Rocket, Parmesan, Toasted Pine Nuts presents well, though I strongly suspect rather dull leaves are imported, inferior to fresh and local, a trick missed on an otherwise top notch menu.
A short sharp wine list is eminently praiseworthy: we have two organic Italians by the glass; my Costadoro Rosso is supple, fruity and fresh; MHD’s Costadoro Bianco is apple-bright and creamy.
Any meal that ends with a double whammy of Debbie Harry (apple pie) and Grace Jones (choc fudge brownie) is alright by me, especially when smothered in gelato.
The former is Debbie delicious; the latter, a tad drier than the original Grace ever was or will be, but it is chocolate — with excellent coffees to wash it down, nothing remains.
Now beach-ready, I may be no younger but I’m infinitely brighter and, should we get a heatwave, I’ll become a permanent fixture in The Puffin Cafe.
Otherwise I’ll be the very happy more occasional diner, swathed in quilts, wrapped around the stove.
Off season: Saturday, 12pm-9pm; Sunday, 12pm-7pm
€77.20 (including coffees, minerals, wines, desserts, excluding tip)
Atmosphere: 9/10 (on a warm day!)
“A city hipster taking to the beach with aplomb”.
The Puffin Cafe,
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