Joe McNamee checks out the Toonsbridge Dairy Pizzeria
When we fetch up in Toonsbridge, the sky is overcast and ominous, the cafe already stuffed to the rafters with those like us, desperately clinging to the end days of summer before heading back to school. There is a 25-minute wait for a table, which we pass pleasantly in the garden, No 2 Son and La Daughter chasing around grape vines as Comrade ML and I snaffle sneaky tomatoes in the polytunnels.
More than 25 years ago, when last I earned my crust as a chef, I shopped daily in the English Market. What had been a rather tired old market had just begun the first steps on the road to its modern reinvention: Isabelle Sheridan had set up a charcuterie stall, On the Pig’s Back; Sean Calder-Potts had opened Iago’s, now one of Ireland’s finest cheese shops; and an irrepressible youngster, Toby Simmonds, was still persuading local taxi drivers to deliver a few tubs of dressed olives from his tiny lockup, behind O’Connor’s Funeral Home, on Coburg St, to the market’s Princes St entrance.
Corkonians especially embraced Simmonds’ Real Olive Company’s offering, which gradually grew into a whole smorgasbord of Levantine produce, becoming a staple of every local dinner party and more than a few restaurant menus for at least the following decade. Simmonds evolved a national distribution network and eventually he and his partner Jenny Rose Clarke bought an old dairy near Macroom, a base for preparing their wares for sale at farmer’s markets all around the country. These days, the mothership also houses Simmonds’ cheesemaking operation and the café. We are finally seated, at a large picnic table in a partially-covered area that might be termed the ‘porch’. Alongside, is an open hatch to the woodfired oven that feeds the diners.
With such a wealth of produce available next door, it was a no brainer to build a menu around it but while pizza may backbone the offering, it doesn’t end there.
There are multiple combinations available for the Weekend Salad Plate; we opt for a fresh herb-laden Tabouleh (cracked wheat, parsley, mint, pomegranate, cucumber, lemon and spices), sweet potato and baby potato with mint and honey dressing and grated Beetroot, Apple and Carrot with toasted seeds. A simple yet splendid Hummus Plate features a creamy, garlicky dip served with whole spiced chickpeas, olive oil and flatbread.
I am trying to pin down my position on Oven Fried Halloumi with Black Pepper, Lemon and Flatbread when I realise I am not mulling over flavour but rather the feeling that washes over me with each delicious, comforting mouthful, as if ‘Hygge’, that supposedly impossible-to-translate Danish concept of cosiness and conviviality, could now be perfectly expressed through the medium of taste.
Woodfired Smoked Scamorza Cheese is oven melted with thyme, the cooking method renders it an overly similar, if smokier, cousin to the halloumi.
Do we tire of the similarity? Not a bit of it. Do we lick the bowl clean? Of course: as you well know, I’m all about the Hygge when it comes in the form of grilled cheese. We order pizzas, one topped with chorizo Iberico Bellota, the other with Anchovies, Capers, Thyme and Olives.
Built atop good crispy, chewy oven-blistered bases, the fundamentals —mozzarella cheese, made next door, plum tomato sauce — are equally sound. But it is on the latter pizza that toppings really shine, not least the judicious hand that gets proportions just right: sufficient anchovies and no more; capers, random little landmines of briny tart sweetness, better again for their rarity value.
Faced with this lot, I have to order a glass of fruity Nero D’Avola from a list reassuringly built on importer Mary Pawle’s fine catalogue of organic and natural wines. Sweet choices are made out of professional obligation but are devoured with an infinitely baser instinct, a citrussy orange cake and a nicely underplayed baked ricotta cheesecake going down very well with really good coffee (Golden Bean, I suspect).
Before leaving, we pick up a few more olives, cheese, a crusty baguette and a bottle from the aforementioned Mary Pawle list, peace offerings for My Heart’s Delight who is going to be very disappointed at missing out on such a wonderful repast. She’ll be wanting to check it out herself, naturally. We, selfless souls, will be more than happy to oblige.
Toonsbridge Dairy Pizzeria, Toonsbridge, Macroom, 087 3457790
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved