The much-awaited opening of Avoca's new Food Market and Cafe in Monkstown came to pass in time for Christmas, and had the denizens of the borough eagerly jostling for parking places in fear of Dun Laoghaire Corporation's dreaded team of parking wardens.
This is the first Avoca store to focus solely on food -- in-store dining and takeout -- with that almost born-again fervour Avoca seems to impart.
We probably expected the deli area to be a bit larger than it is; in fact, it is Salt Cafe that covers the main floor area. Salt is open for breakfast and lunch every day, and for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday.
Here, for the Monkstown mob, Avoca have come up with a 'shabby chic meets urban cool' decor combination, with distressed white chairs, and slate-grey walls and upholstery. Vintage accents abound, with a trio of carefully chosen mismatched overmantles dominating at the end of the room, teamed with French-style food pictures. As one young guy gazed at four vintage piano keyboards mounted on a wall on the way out to the loos, my friend Mary pressed a key, and he said, "I've been dying to do that all evening; so cool, it's more like something you would see in the city."
The head chef at Salt is Mark McGillycuddy, ex-Mint in Ranelagh, and a couple of other places, before moving to The Fern House at Avoca in Kilmacanogue. Kicking off with prosecco (€7 each) we took in the menu and our surroundings. Starters (€5.95-€9.95) had pan-fried duck livers with sherry, orange and thyme, organic leaf and walnut salad; while crispy hen's egg was served with Parma ham, hazelnut mayo and watercress. Caramelised chicory 'boats' (€7.50), for me, contained Roquefort drizzled with sherry vinaigrette and topped with crispy serrano ham. Chicory, with its bitter taste, is something you either love or hate. It could, perhaps, have been softened a bit more as it was a tad difficult to cut, but I liked the combination. Mary had a smashing starter of Dublin Bay prawn risotto (€9.95) with garden peas and chervil, which had a good flavour, perfectly judged.
Mains (€14.95-€21.95) included roast monkfish with Jerusalem artichoke puree, truffled cocoa beans and chervil beurre blanc. Crispy pig's cheek salad is served with apple, celery and grapes, while Castletownbere crab comes with tagliatelle, courgette, cherry tomatoes, chilli, garlic and cream. Dry-aged sirloin steak comes with green beans, chips and Bearnaise sauce. What seemed popular was the whole, free-range rotisserie chicken for two people at €29.95, which kept flying out of the kitchen 'coop' with surprising regularity. You get a doggy bag to take home the remains; some might stretch dinner for a few days. Mary's rustic, tasty cannelloni (€15.95) was filled with venison, porcini mushroom, and spinach, while I had a decent piece of roast hake (€17.95), surrounded by cauliflower tempura, and drizzled with a lovely caper and raisin dressing. We also had a delicious side order of organic kale gratin (€3.75).
Desserts are €6.95 and we shared a spiced chilli poached pear and a cheese board, which was €11.95. The pear was topped with Five Mile Town goat's cheese. Wines are available by the 50cl carafe, and, with a bottle of Franz Haas Pinot Bianco 2009 (€32), our bill with optional service was €132.
Brendan and I also tried their morning menu, which is very attractive, from pear and almond scones, through the full fry to smoked bacon sandwiches with roast tomato. I had golden and sunny Butler's organic scrambled eggs on chunky brown toast, with roast tomatoes and lightly dressed rocket (€8.95) while Brendan had delicious herbed mushrooms with creme fraiche on toasted sourdough (€7.95), and mochas (€3.45).
Their aim is to be a neighbourhood restaurant, and they are right on target.
Salt Cafe and Avoca Food Market,
11a The Crescent,
Tel: (01) 202-0230
Sunday Indo Life Magazine