Some months ago, a great comrade, GB, steered me in the direction of what he promised was a mighty fine dining establishment indeed.
With that questionable attention to detail that is the hallmark of all true space cadets, I retained only a few key words of our conversation, namely, ‘Stephen Pearce Pottery’, ‘café’ and ‘Shanagarry’ and fetched up one Sunday morning in the East Cork village at a large pottery and crafts barn.
I presumed this to be the correct place, having some vague memories of once squiring Dear Old Sainted Mother around the premises, she, a pottery junkie of long standing, Stephen Pearce’s work, in particular, her handturned equivalent of crystal meth.
We enjoyed sublime views of the East Cork countryside through a vast dining room window and while food was pleasant, it didn’t quite merit GB’s ecstatic epicurean ravings — the next time we met, I gave him a gastronomic grilling.
Turns out I had the wrong place, Stephen Pearce Pottery having vacated that venue many moons ago.
On a recent mid-week morning, I throw a pair of progeny in the car and head east for another attempt, this time to dine with GB himself, along with his personal guru, Professor B.
We find them in the café garden, under a natural parasol of overhanging branches, sipping coffees, looking as if they hadn’t a care in the world — and why would they, ensconced as they are in this dappled green slice of heaven.
The cafe is sited in the workshop complex, a high-ceilinged room affecting that same rustic ascetic that is the trademark of the erstwhile landlord’s pottery ranges and a farmhouse dresser displays a range of baked comestibles which the progeny immediately subject to vigorous and approving inspection.
La Daughter selects an Egg & Toast from a children’s menu blessedly free of anything resembling a chicken nugget, good Pana sourdough soon dripping with thick sun-yellow yolks of Darren’s Eggs, from nearby Ballymaloe.
No 2 Son has superb Spicy Sweet Potato Soup, sporting a delicious undertow of sweet coconut.
There are intriguing carnivorous options, not least Pomegranate & Honey-Glazed Lamb Chops or served-to-order Steak Sandwiches, but we three gentlemen instead plump for Bruschetta with Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese, tart cheese, succulent green beans and toasted walnuts more than enough ‘meat’ for anyone.
A Mezze plate is an absolute delight.
So often, renditions of these Middle Eastern dishes are plucked straight from a cookbook, delivered with no real knowledge or sense of familiarity, but these are beautifully balanced, each complementing the other.
Matbucha is a relish of tomatoes and peppers with a nice chilli kick, deeply smoky baba ganoush retains pleasing texture rather than the overblended ‘custard’ so often encountered.
The carrot is young and sweet while the cucumber pickle is Goldilocks-style, just right.
Labneh, a rich tart cream is a luxurious topping and we mop up the lot with repeated calls for more servings of a pillow-y soft homemade pitta.
We repair to the garden for another ‘local hero’, exquisite Golden Bean Roastery espressos and some supremely professional examples of old-style homebaking favourites: a Honey & Walnut Tart, sticky caramel atop buttery pastry; a dense, damp, delicious Pear & Almond Cake; soft, warm brownies.
We scoff the lot alongside scoops of ice cream, vanilla and cardamom, the latter ending up in my espresso as an impromptu Affogato.
Chef Christine Crowley (a graduate of the nearby Ballymaloe Cookery School, having won her place by winning the Cully & Sully Chef Factor competition) is the real deal, no wild culinary experimentalism, just a fine cook in a deeply empathetic relationship with her excellently-sourced produce.
She is not trying to re-invent the wheel, simply trying to make the very best wheel she can.
Afterwards, the progeny head to a children’s space to try their hand with a bit of wet clay while we rack our brains for a single fault in the meal just past — the best we can manage is our own inability to spend the entire afternoon here, preferably with a full bottle or two rather than our single glass apiece.
A ‘complaint’ so easily rectified with a return visit, one decided upon before we even pay the bill. And, yes, I do bring home a pottery fix for the Dear Old Sainted Mother.
Mon, Thurs, Fri, Sat: 10am-5pm, Sun/Bank Holidays: 10am-5pm (closed Tues, Wed)
€103.40 (excluding tip)
Tagline: ‘Chef Christine Crowley is not trying to re-invent the wheel, simply trying to make the very best wheel she possibly can.’
The Café at Stephen Pearce Pottery Shanagarry, Co Cork www.facebook.com/TheCafeatStephenPearcePottery
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