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Al Fresco at Ballymaloe. "Contemplation" in copper by Helen Walsh
These are the days. Lunch al fresco at the Garden Café Truck by the Ballymaloe Cookery School. And another impressive sculpture exhibition on the lawn in front of Ballymaloe House. And new this summer is their own Ballymaloe Cider. Try it while you’re there.
Actually, let me start with the cider. You’ll find it in the bar at Ballymaloe House where Traford Murphy is the genial manager. It comes in a 500ml bottle and the ABV is 5.2%. It is made from apples from the Ballymaloe House orchards, also from trees across the farm and alongside the appropriately name Orchard Cottage. Varieties included Dabinett, Crimson Bramley, Santana, Topas, Delles Bell and Dellinquo, plus other old varieties.
It has an amber colour, fountains of little bubbles rising. Packed with intense flavour, pleasant and refreshing all the way to a lip-smacking finish. One of the drier craft ciders around and definitely one to try.
So suitably refreshed, let us pop out to the lawn. You’ll can’t miss the “congregation” of sculptures here but you’ll see too that the old golf course is now a meadow. Should be quite a feature in a year or two.
The sculptures are curated by Richie Scott www.rssculpture.com and are generally not as large as they were in previous years. There are still some big ones though, most notably The Bear (this time with The Cub), both in stainless steel by Patrick O’Reilly. There are, as always some quirky ones. I liked the bronze Goat by Seamus Connolly and the marble Venus of Holles Street by Jason Ellis.
There are over forty pieces in all and Michael Quane is well represented and I enjoyed his Diver in Carrara marble. My favourite piece though (after two visits) is the Trifecta, featuring a trio of hounds in a race. Trifecta is a bet in which the person betting forecasts the first three finishers in a race in the correct order. Might be hearing less of that after the current controversy in the greyhound industry.
Never much of a gamble when you visit the Garden Café Truck by the Ballymaloe Cookery School. You are guaranteed a win here as the food is excellent, based on very local produce indeed. Of course, if you cannot make it over to the school, you’ll eat well too at the cafe behind the shop in Ballymaloe House.
We did make it to the school and enjoyed our hour or so there. It is all pretty informal, your tables and chairs sheltered by a “tent”. Just check out the menu boards, make your choice, order and pay, and your food will be brought to your table.
If the day is hot, and we hope they will be for some time to come, then the Cold Cucumber Soup will go down well. Lots of other cool drinks on offer including Elderflower cordial, Homemade lemonade, or organic raw milk. Anyone fancy a Strawberry Popsicle?
Mocha Choca Yumma
Some beautiful salads and sandwiches on the board too. The menu is short, as you’d expect, and can vary from day to day. The Hot and Spicy Slow Roasted Lamb Taco, with chipotle mayo, hot sauerkraut, cooling avocado, and fiery rocket, is a favourite here over the past few years and I enjoyed that while CL was delighted with her Farm Salad.
The Cookery School is noted for its top quality on the bakery side and you are strongly advised to take advantage. I’d say any cake on the day (there are usually two) will be delicious but my favourite is perhaps the Mocha Choca Indulgent Cake, not that the Tahini Cake is far behind. Enjoy those with a cup of their excellent coffee.
Gortnamona, Cashel Blue, Rosscarbery Bacon, Frank Hederman, Tim O’s. All these local names appeared on the board in the Ballymaloe Cafe Wednesday at lunchtime. It instils confidence in customers (including me) and underlines Ballymaloe’s ongoing support for Irish producers. It also makes for an excellent lunch as we would soon find out.
Our first call here though was to the shop, packed with foodstuffs, kitchen and dining kit, clothes, books, and craft. Here again, there is great local content, including spices by Green Saffron. Look out too for Jerpoint Glass and pottery by Nicholas Mosse.
We replaced a few items, including a battered biscuit tin and some jaded egg cups. Our eggs will now be served in miniature buckets, with handles if you please. The book selection is very local indeed, much of it by members of the Allen family but also including the new Fresh Spice by Arun of Green Saffron along with Giana Ferguson’s Gubbeen.
But the one we got this time was Rory O’Connell’s Master It. Quite a large book but with very few big words. I have been reading the opening pages and am struck by the simplicity of the language and instructions, all as clear as day. Maybe there’s hope for me yet in the kitchen. One of the advantage of having so many local authors on the shelf here is that most of the books are signed.
Bags filled and then it was time for lunch. The cafe is conveniently situated at the back of the shop. Studied that board and we each went for a sandwich. CL picked the Hederman’s Smoked Mackerel while my choice was the Rosscarbery Home Cured Bacon, each €10.50 and each accompanied by Ballymaloe’s own brown bread, salad and condiments.
We were very happy customers at this point, couldn't have asked for more. But we did! I dare you resist the line-up of cakes and pastries on the counter. We didn't and each of us picked the Plum, Blueberries and Almond Tart. Haven't come across this too often but this was superb. All in all a lovely meal, served with no fuss but with smiles and chat. A lovely interlude.
The little café at the back of the shop in Ballymaloe may not be the best known spot in the place but it sure is one of the busiest. And like every other part of Ballymaloe the meals produced here are top notch, as I found out during Friday's visit.
The main reason for travelling to the East Cork venue was to check out the shop for some items for the kitchen. The shop’s kitchen area has an extensive stock, everything from knives to cake tins, and there is also a textile and books area.
We got our bits and pieces and then lingered a while longer, adding to the purchases, in the food area which packs quite a lot, including Green Saffron spices and Badger and Dodo coffees, into a relatively small area. You may also shop online.
The time for lunch was at hand and we got a table in the café. It fills up pretty quickly so don't rely on getting a place. Still, if you can wait (check out that shop, maybe), lunch is served from twelve thirty to four.
The short menu is displayed on a blackboard and we both started with the Celeriac Soup (5.20) served with a small scattering of toasted hazelnuts and flat parsley. The nuts really added to the enjoyable soup, served in the distinctive blue and white Burleigh pottery (also on sale in the shop).
Main course for me was the Hot Sandwich of Black Forest Ham and Comté Cheese on toasted Arbutus Bread with salad and pickles (9.90). CL picked the Hederman Smoked Mackerel, with salad and homemade mayonnaise and served on brown bread (9.50).
Both were well presented and each was terrific. I totally enjoyed my combination of flavours and textures as did CL. Must say that the salads in particular were just fantastic, great mix and dressing. Would love to see the Café take on Glucksman’s Fresco Bistro in a Niçoise salad competition!
A couple of coffees later and two happy customers, service was friendly and efficient, walked out as others eagerly walked in. It is that kind of café.
* Now you can sample the café on Fridays (from 7.00pm). There'll be casual eats to share: small platters, nibbles, wine, cava, sherry. No reservation needed. Keep an eye on their Facebook page.
Three thirty for a scone. A bit much. Even if the venue was the Café at the back of the shop in Ballymaloe House. Called there today and two large cups of coffee and two scones came to €13.20, each item costing €3.30.
We had been aiming for lunch but came a bit too early and so settled for coffee and scones (with butter and jam, no cream). Lunch might have been better from the point of view of value as the prices look reasonable.
It is quite a small room, seating for maybe 25. Service is fine and friendly. The coffee was excellent and so too was the scone though it was a fair bit smaller than those, of similar quality, served in places such as Nash 19, Greene’s and The Hawthorn on the Lough. Just that high price!