As restaurants are to my belly, so bookshops are to my brain, I love both equally and there are even times when one will do the job of the other.
I especially love secondhand bookshops for therein lie the real treasures, and my most favourite of all was Connolly’s, on Paul St. Connolly’s wasn’t simply a clearing-house for abandoned cheap paperbacks, stacked high and sold by the pound; it housed the wonderfully esoteric and wide-ranging selection of a discerning bibliophile and, for over 30 years, I gorged on the contents of Adrian Connolly’s shelves.
One afternoon, ten years ago, I started talking to the man himself with whom I’d hitherto barely exchanged the functional grunts of commerce conducted.
I discovered he was not the surly curmudgeon I’d presumed but one who truly valued serious conversation as much as he did the written word and was not of a mind to waste either.
Ever after, several times a year, I would drop out of the world to pass an hour or so in rapt discourse with Adrian. And to pick up a book or three.
So when I heard he was to finally close shop after 32 years, I took an unnatural interest in the possible identity of his potential successor, in a premises I treasured like a favourite old jumper.
It was a tremendous relief to learn the new tenant would be Ali Honour.
From Oxfordshire, England, Honour is a very good chef/baker who has made Ireland her home and previously turned a random garden centre restaurant into a great dining establishment serving honest food cooked extremely well along with an exceptional range of baked comestibles.
Her new venue has undergone substantial change but remains warm and intimate, alive to the essence of this gorgeous red-bricked 19th century building.
The renovation is clean and spare, formerly dark nooks and crannies now flooded with light, an open-plan modern kitchen adding to the sense of space.
Though torrential rain on the day we visit sees us scrambling through the door for shelter, the transformation will be complete once more clement weather allows the planned addition of outside seating on the bustling plaza without.
Hungry bunnies three, we immediately order lunch. (Well, after reserving the very last doughnut, the grapevine already abuzz with news of their magnificence.)
La Daughter has Hanley’s black pudding, fried egg, toasted sourdough and, though pudding and egg are both fine, the sourdough is their equal for Honour’s breads are exceptional.
I enjoy a hearty Coughlan’s corned beef with potato, tomato and spinach hash with fried egg.
Good beef is slow-cooked, shredded and crisped up again on the pan, delicious umami morsels sweetened by the light caramel of oven-roasted tomatoes.
Second Son has Durcan’s slow-roast ham and cheese toastie, an authentic ‘Croque Monsieur’ made with a mustard béchamel and Hegarty’s cheese and, again, that stunning sourdough.
He tackles it with gusto, only sharing the accompanying coleslaw, an apparently innocuous little serving of fennel, white cabbage, and sesame seeds utterly exalted by a divine spritzing of mustard, lime, lemon and orange, an olfactory flashback that has me recalling 4711 Eau de Cologne on my mother’s dresser a lifetime ago.
Lunch dispensed with, we get down to serious business, ‘cutty’ cake and sticky buns.
And though my two companions are just 8 and 5, we order the following: A cinnamon Chelsea bun so humongous you’d need Sherpas to reach the summit; exquisite Bakewell tart with an undercurrent of dates; a sumptuous lemon and coconut cake with sharp-sweet lemon curd; the previously reserved doughnut, a pear-shaped ball of yeasty dough that spills forth a divine honeycomb and vanilla custard, especially good with excellent Cloudpicker coffee; and a scone so gossamer-light, it easily holds its head high among this confected company; and, finally, a box to bring home all we are inevitably unable to finish in a single sitting, along with a loaf of that splendid sourdough.
I may have lost one treasure with the closure of Connolly’s, but in Ali’s Kitchen I have found another and wish it an equally long life.
Once the planned evening openings begins, serving wine, cheese, charcuterie and hot dishes, I fear you’ll never get me out of the place. I may well bring a book.
€50.80 (including coffees, hot chocolates, bread to take away excluding tip)
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 8.30am to 5pm
In a sentence: “Though one great chapter has come to an end, another equally compelling chapter has only just begun”
Ali’s Kitchen, Rory Gallagher Place, Paul St, Cork Tel: 021 2390630, www.aliskitchencork.com
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved