Restaurant review: Ballymaloe-trained Richard Gleeson, who has worked with Ottolenghi, returns home
Dooks Fine Foods
Kerry St, Fethard, Co Tipperary. Facebook: Dooks Fine Foods
It's Saturday morning and I'm sitting in the kitchen at Magners Farm in Moyglass near Fethard in Tipperary, chatting to Kylie and Bill Magner and their daughter, Tilly, about chickens, hens and all matters egg-related.
A while back, I put together a list of cafes and restaurants that serve an excellent brunch, and one of the names that kept cropping up when I asked about great egg suppliers was Magners. I decided to come and visit them to see what makes their eggs so special.
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Most of the hens on Magners Farm are Hy-Lines (known as great layers), speckled Sussex (which lay exceedingly pretty speckled eggs) or a cross between Araucana and cream legbars (lookers). The hens are pasture-reared and strip-grazed, which means they are free-range in the truest sense of that term, with access to fresh grass (and all the microbial delights contained in the soil) each day.
At night, they sleep in an Instagram-worthy old-fashioned hen house and lay their eggs in nesting boxes that Kylie made by hand. The farm is in conversion to organic and the hens are reared according to organic principles and fed with organic feed, but the eggs they lay cannot (yet) be classed as organic. It's clear that the Magners love their hens.
Anyone who knows me doesn't offer me biscuits or cakes or baked goods any more because I just don't have a sweet tooth, but there's a pile of scones on a plate on the Magners' kitchen table that I can't take my eyes off. (I say 'scone' to rhyme with 'moan' rather than 'don', by the way, don't shoot me.) I swear they are winking at me, these scones. There's a faint smell of sugar and butter in the air - they are clearly very fresh - and I'm definitely tempted. I think about it for a couple of minutes. Everyone else is tucking in. I decide to join them.
The scone is huge, fruit-filled and utterly delicious - light, crumbly, not too sweet, still faintly warm so that the butter melts into its crevices. (I hope that I don't develop a scone habit, because if I did, I would have to give up something else - Wine? Cheese? - to make way for it.) I compliment Kylie on the scones, but she's honest enough not to take credit for them. "You don't really think that if you live down the road from Dooks that you would bother making your own scones?" she says.
I hadn't realised that I was so close to Richard Gleeson's Fethard restaurant and so that's where I head after my visit to Magners. Gleeson trained at Ballymaloe and has serious kitchen stripes from time spent working with Ottolenghi and Skye Gyngell in London before returning home to Tipperary.
The first thing that I see on the deli counter are boxes of Magners Eggs, which must go some way towards explaining why those scones taste so damn good. Talk about hyper-local - the eggs were laid just a couple of kilometres away from the restaurant. (The menu has plenty of other good provenance information on it, but I forget to take a photo and Dooks doesn't have a proper website, so the detail escapes me.)
The restaurant is about two-thirds full, with tables far apart enough to keep the ambience low-key rather than buzzy. After that humongous scone, my appetite isn't big, so it's a single course of lamb, sunflower seed and lovage burger on focaccia with mint yoghurt, 'slaw and rocket for me. The burger is a long oval-shape rather than the usual round patty and is rather more solid than I would have liked, but the flavours are good even if the lovage is hard to discern. The 'slaw is peppery, herby and full of red and white cabbage crunch.
I bring home three excellent pork, fennel, marmalade and rosemary sausage rolls in ruff puff pastry, along with slices of flourless chocolate cake and carrot cake topped with pumpkin seeds, and an individual baked rhubarb cheesecake - all quite lovely. The bill, with a bottle of beetroot and apple juice from Feighery's Farm, comes to €39.70 before service.
ON A BUDGET
At breakfast-time, you can have bread, butter and jam or marmalade for €2.
ON A BLOW OUT
An evening cookery demo - last month there were two: Summer Season Veggies and Middle Eastern Cuisine - with supper and a glass of wine costs €65.
THE HIGH POINT
THE LOW POINT
There's no website, so finding out when Dooks is open and what food is on offer is tricky.