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If you go to the Diva in Ballinspittle, and you should, and if you order a side of those gorgeous Sweet Potato Chips, and you should, then you should also mind your manners and do please share with the person you came with!
If the team here, in their newly revamped kitchen, back in action (since 21.10.15) after months out due to fire, can get the small things right, and they do, there is every chance they’ll get the big things right. And they do. Big time.
The Big One!
We called there for lunch last week and thought we’d have no problem by going early. We just about managed to get a table for two. Lots of different styles of tables here - it was after all the kitchen that got the revamp! But it is all part of the charm, as is the friendly service and the imaginative use of all that brilliant local produce.
Indeed, one of the first things you’ll notice is the back wall (the left bit) as you go in. Here there is a huge declaration of provenance. Meat from Lordan's butchers in the same street, greens from Horizon Farms, vegetables from All Fresh, free range eggs from Beechwood Farm and fish supplied by James O’Keeffe.
All Wrapped Up!
I had enjoyed a Reuben sandwich at the recent Waterford Harvest Fest and so was open to trying the Diva version. The Waterford one, in a Blaa, was very tasty but, in fairness, it was from a street food stall and could hardly be compared to the Champions League effort in Ballinspittle. Well, maybe New York rather than European. Massive, contained (not quite) in two large slices of their own bread, the length of my knife and about half the height, corned beef from Lordan’s, Sauerkraut, Gherkin, cheese and more. A magnificent Reuben. Worth the journey on its own.
But it wasn't on its own. We had ordered a side of those Sweet Potato Chips. Put them with the Reuben and I had hit the jackpot, even if I did share! CL was enjoying herself as she tucked into her excellent Roasted Veggie Wrap, with goats cheese and a mango chutney. And a well dressed salad of course. And those chips, of course!
We were sitting at a small table and directly opposite us was the counter and the utterly tempting display of sweet things. We settled for a pot of tea and two cakes from the display, sharing (again!) the Raspberry Crumble and an equally lovely Honey and Spice (ginger) Cake.
Honey & Spice!
And after that, we said goodbye to the efficient and friendly folk in the cafe and strolled down to the bakery to see more good things, including produce from other local and Irish artisans. Some lovely breads on display - probably would have been more had we called in the morning. One that we bought was the Potato Loaf. It is a delicious souvenir (didn't last too long, of course) of a pleasant trip to Ballinspittle. Very Highly Recommended.
Fresh from West Cork is back in town and you’ll find it installed in Bradley’s, North Main Street. Walter, familiar to many of you from his stint last year in the English Market, fronts the operation and is as enthusiastic as ever.
And why wouldn't he be? He has some great produce in Bradley's; all the familiar names are there including Irish Atlantic Sea Salt, Rosscarbery Recipes, Gubbeen, Ummera, Glenilen, Sally Barnes (he especially recommends her smoked mackerel, “a big seller”), West Cork Pies, Culture Foods (the Sauerkraut people, who are now exporting) and more.
June Kingston’s Soda Wheaten loaf is a best seller and there are tasty apple tarts from the Walshes of Caheragh (near Drimoleague). And don't forget the Loughbeg Tea Brack and be sure to get some Glenilen clotted cream to go with that! Then you have yogurts and Lemon Labneh from McCarthy’s Dairy not to mention the many fish products from Union Hall including Smoked Mackerel Paté and Smoked Salmon Paté.
No shortage of honey and jam. The honey comes from Noel and Patricia Love of Knockeen (Skibbereen) while jams are supplied by Kathleen McCarthy of Drimoleague and Eithne McCarthy from Skibbereen. And watch out too for the Loughbeg chutneys, quite a few but the star is the Yellow Zucchini Relish which was adored by a bunch of “nine Michelin chefs from London when they sampled it at the English Market last year”.
And the good news is that you can get these six days a week, from 8.00am to 9.30pm! And more good news. If you like your vegetables fresh (and who doesn't?), Colm O’Regan of Horizon Farms will be making three deliveries a week to North Main Street.
And from next Friday, you'll be able to get raw pressed juice here: carrot, beetroot and a vegetable and fruit blend! “And the week after that, we'll have mini-meals,” he said. I looked puzzled! “Especially for toddlers,” he clarified. So there you are. Walter and Fresh from West Cork will feed you all, big and small.
“I believe the survival of the English Market over the last hundred years is down to the families who have ran the stalls from generation to generation. They have kept it going.” So said Garrett Murphy, as we chatted over a cuppa in the Farmgate Cafe. Garrett, a current stallholder, knows what he is talking about!
For fifty years, his father Michael ran the Roughty Fruit King stall in the centre of the market, until ill health came in 2011. Four generations of the Murphys worked there, in different locations, until they settled on the current stall in 1961. Nowadays, Garrett and his sister Margot Ann work in the new look foodie stall (now called The Roughty Foodie) and they have help from time to time from younger members of the family.
Two thousand and eleven was the year of the Queen’s visit and the Murphys, in transition from a specifically fruit stall to something more general, weren't ready for her but, with help and encouragement from the City Council and fellow traders, they were up and running for the peak summer months.
“It kinda fell into our laps,” says Garrett as he recalled those anxious months. “But we could see the change of emphasis to quality. We could compete with the supermarkets on quality though not on price. So we took that new direction and grew organically. We soon had a few local producers on board, including Macroom Mills, Glenilen and our home-baker.” Garrett will never forget that first Saturday. “Everything cleared. We had nothing left on the shelves.”
They moved along from there with new producers coming on board, including Brian from Beechwood Farm and his brother Colm from Horizon Farms, Mags (who makes a great Lemon Curd) from Heavenly Preserves and Betty Smith with her jams and marmalades. Also joining were Harty’s Jellies, Taste the View, while local strawberries came from Rathcooney.
“The two months July and August of 2011 were great. The tourists came flooding in and kept buying, the locals too despite the parking problems. Traders told us it would get better in October and November but that didn't happen and we were worried until December and the run-in to Christmas which proved massive for us and had us back on track”.
Two of the stall’s suppliers, Seymour Biscuits and Kilbeggan, may be bought at the upscale Dean and Deluca in New York but “we have no big-name suppliers” says Garrett. “Some are part-time and some were professionals who lost out in the recession and turned to what they knew. Nicola of the Big Red Kitchen is an example of the latter.”
I asked Garrett what the most popular products are. “It is seasonal so, for example, we sell a lot of porridge in the winter months. Jams, preserves and honey are always very popular and so too is cheese.” What has surprised you over the past few years? “This Christmas it was the amount of hampers and Irish cheese and crackers that we sold. At Christmas 2011, goosefat was a huge seller.”
What are his own favourites? Licking his lips he had no hesitation: Eddie Hicks’ fantastic bacon jam and Ballybrado Supreme Spelt muesli. He has great time too for Kitty Colchester’s Happy Heart organic rapeseed oil and the High Bank Farm Apple Syrup. And indeed is enthusiastic about every single product he displays!
The stall is packed with food. But it is not just food. Tourists love the Seaweed Bath. The Goats Milk soap from the Burren is very popular too and he has a great candle-maker from Portmagee on Valentia Island. So do go in and explore. You never know what treasure you’ll find in Roughty Foodie.