We've got a great cafe society, and it's no waffle
And we're spoiled for choice when it comes to cosy cafes and brill bakeries, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
Cafes and bakeries have been doing very well in these times, especially those combined with bakeries because people find the alluring aroma of freshly baked breads and cakes irresistible. We have a very special relationship with the cafes, much more so than with restaurants, for a cafe plays a big part for many in their daily routine.
Think of all those TV sitcoms which have featured their local coffee house: 'Café Nervosa' in Frasier, and 'Central Perk' in Friends. People like to sit at a particular table, have their regular coffee or tea while they read the paper and watch their fellow cafe-goers.
To be a true favourite hang-out deserving of your daily custom, the ambiance has to be relaxed and friendly, but still able to come up with that really good brew that revives and sets you up for the day.
The Sunshine Cafe in Dun Laoghaire beams like a bright yellow sunflower from the pavement on Lower George's Street beside St Michael's Hospital and has attracted a regular following since it opened a couple of years ago. Owned by husband and wife team, Siobhan Martin and Faycal Chebli, this premises housed the somewhat iconic Trudi's restaurant many years ago, and has much the same totally relaxed and slightly arty feel. It serves up good homemade fresh food with daily blackboard specials, and prices are reasonable.
Its breakfast special of free-range egg and a brace each of bacon, sausages, and black and white pudding, comes with grilled tomato, toast and tea or coffee for €7.95. Organic porridge at €3.95 comes with sliced banana and Wexford honey. You can also have fresh crepes with strawberries and cream, or chocolate sauce for €4.95 or free-range scrambled eggs, for €4.95.
At lunchtime the Sunshine Cafe has good homemade soup and open sandwiches, paninis or ciabatta, with tuna, French Brie, red onion and rocket, or roast beef, tomato, red onion and rocket with horseradish sauce. Other lunch dishes include pan-fried tiger prawns in garlic, onion and lemon butter with a side salad and brown bread for €8.50, as well as cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta.
Last time I was there I had aubergine fritters: three decent-sized crottins of tasty aubergine and onion served with lemon and tartare sauce, and a really good mixed side salad, whilst pal Rena had a tranche of very nice Spanish omelette served with salad.
At Foodgame on South Lotts Road in Dublin 4, the proprietors make their bread and scones daily and serve seasonal and local produce where possible. At weekends they do brunch with reasonably priced dishes including a French omelette on soda bread at €6, BLT at €6, and waffles with maple syrup at €5.90.
Not too far away, Gran Caffe at Ocean Bar on Charlotte Quay Dock has just come into being, boasting of the best hot chocolate in Dublin, having two types, strong and mild, with any number of toppings.
The Vanilla Pod Eatery at Carrickmines Retail Park has become a hot favourite. The trio behind VP -- Kate O'Sullivan, Veronica Muresan and Derek Breen -- would be familiar to many from the Brown Thomas Cafe. They do lovely eggs Benedict, and I recently had a smashing superfood salad there.
In the seaside town of Skerries in north Co Dublin, Deirdre and Peter Dorrity's Olive Delicatessen and Cafe on Strand Street is a super place with French-style patisserie, artisan breads, muffins and copiously filled paninis oozing fresh mozzarella and Parma ham. You can sit outside and take in the good seaside air and let life pass you by.
Jam in Kenmare rapidly became a quartet, with Jam branches in Killarney, Tralee and Cork. Chef/proprietor James Mulchrone has a team of artisan bakers and chefs beavering away in their bakery in Kenmare, delivering out to their cafes each morning.
Sandwiches offer a choice of breads, fillings and dressings and cost €4/€4.50. At Jam you can also get a homely baked stuffed potato with ham, cheese, sweetcorn and spring onion at €4.50 or a decent shepherd's pie or beef or vegetable lasagne for under a tenner.
The cakes make all the boys go weak at the knees -- lemon meringue pie, chocolate fudge cake, bread and butter pudding, strawberry gateau, pear and almond tart -- all €4.50, or 10 per cent less take away.
The Truffle Pig nearby is a great friendly little spot -- a country kitchen with excellent home cooking. It has a great range of cheeses and delicatessen fare and happily offers tasters. Lovely cakes too.
Ex-Ballymaloe chef Sinead Doran has just opened Sinead's at Stephen Pearce, at the old pottery in Shanagarry. She is building a kitchen beside the tea room and will then be able to do substantial lunches, but for now is serving a selection of fresh cakes, cookies, scones and slices.
Fresh soup is made each morning and served with brown bread for lunch, as well as toasted ciabattas at €7.95. Sinead picks salads each morning in the glasshouse at Ballymaloe Cookery School, so it is all super fresh and simple.
She also does tapas in the evenings every couple of weeks, and you can find info on these on her Facebook page 'Sinead's at Stephen Pearce'.
In Sligo, Lyons Cafe is a veritable institution in lovely olde worlde surroundings, where regulars congregate. Lovely brown soda bread and scones from its own in-house bakery where all its pastries, tarts, pies, and scrumptious cakes are produced.
Lyons also does a fab raspberry Bakewell, as well as black cherry cake.
At lunchtime it has a wide selection including vegetarian and coeliac options. Lamb and pine nut burgers with feta cheese are popular, as are innovative salads and sides such as German potato salad or penne pasta with chilli coriander sausage.
In Wexford we had good coffee, scones and smiles in Michael and Geraldine Furlong's friendly Blasta Cafe on Common Quay Street. Blasta does paninis, bagels and wraps at €7.95 and salads at around the same price.
Cafe La Coco in Kilkenny has been making waves for its great decor and elegant blue and pink china cups. It has a superb range of sweet goodies on offer as well as sandwiches, wraps, paninis and crepes.
Another great Kilkenny cafe is the Castle Yard Cafe at Kilkenny Design Centre, where all the food is freshly prepared each day in its own kitchens. It's a really nice place to sit and relax and take in its loft-style atmosphere. Look out for the chocolate cloud cake and great coffee and walnut gateaux.
Another cafe worth a detour is Helen Finnegan's Knockdrinna cheese farm shop and cafe at Stoneyford, about five miles from Kilkenny. It is really cute and olde worlde, but Helen has just taken the top award at the supreme British Cheese Awards with her Kilree goat's cheese.
In Castledermot, Co Kildare, Alice Cope's Mad Hatter Cafe is a big hit. Apart from great coffee, all-day breakfasts and homemade soup, you can have your wrap or panini with a bit of humour thrown in. White rabbit wrap has chicken, mozzarella, pesto, sundried tomatoes and rocket, while a Cheshire cat panini has tuna, sweetcorn, spring onion, mayo and Swiss cheese. You will have to go there yourself to discover what a caterpillar wrap is.
Up in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Cafe Rua has a superb set-up with a deli, bakery and cafe turning out delicious food. You can kick off your day with French toast with bananas and maple cream, or maybe Connemara Smokehouse smoked salmon with scrambled eggs. A full breakfast with Kelly's of Newport sausages and pudding, rashers, fried eggs and mushrooms is €7.25. Cafe Rua also has a delicious vegetarian breakfast with flat field mushrooms, potato and spinach cake, fried eggs and grilled tomato at €6.95. Lunch specials change, but favourites include noodle house pappardelle with meatballs and roast tomato sauce, and lasagne with courgettes and wild garlic.
In Limerick, in just over three years Pat O'Sullivan of Masterchefs Hospitality Munster has created Cafe Noir -- Maison du Cafe et des patisserie, doing a cracking job in four locations: Robert Street; O'Connell Street; Castletroy; and UCL. Cafe Noir has its own team of pastry chefs, so think gateaux Paris Brest and chocolate Danish, as well as crispy bacon and Brie croissant.
Also in Limerick is the excellent Sage Cafe on Catherine Street owned by Siobhan and Mike Hogan, former bassist with the Cranberries, but the food rocks too. Apart from the given great cakes, scones and breads, at lunchtime you might fancy Sage's smoked haddock and leek cakes with a lightly poached egg and citrus aioli or spicy chickpea balti with vanilla scented rice and lime raita, both under €12.
Another great success story is the Gourmet Food Parlour, which now has four branches: Dun Laoghaire; Swords; Ballyboughal and Malahide -- and great tapas too.
I am a great fan also of Eileen Dunne and Stefan Crescenzi who brought more than a bit of Italy and quality cafe lifestyle to Dublin and where you can always get something good to eat at any time of the day.
I could keep going forever about good cafes but Ursula Roncken's Cucina in Kinsale has to be mentioned -- it is superb. Every time I am down I hotfoot it for the eggs Benedict or the roasted Portobello mushrooms on a toasted English muffin with herbed scrambled eggs and roasted tomato.
Also popular in Kinsale is the Lemon Leaf Cafe, which does a great toasted bagel of local handmade sausage and smoky bacon with homemade tomato and apple chutney, as well as a lunchtime special of sweet potato fishcakes with tomato salsa.
By the way, my own sinful favourites are mocha with almond, and croissants with apricot jam.