Wednesday 22 May 2019

My favourite room: Place for time out in South Dublin

Berna and David Williams are kept busy with their food business. Thankfully, their elegant Victorian house, which was originally Berna's family home, is situated close by. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

David and Berna Williams in the kitchen of Berna's former family home, which she and David moved into when her parents built a modern house on the site. The house dates from 1872, and Berna’s grandfather bought it in 1929, when her mother was two. The country-style cream units were installed by Gerard O'Rourke of Russborough Kitchens
David and Berna Williams in the kitchen of Berna's former family home, which she and David moved into when her parents built a modern house on the site. The house dates from 1872, and Berna’s grandfather bought it in 1929, when her mother was two. The country-style cream units were installed by Gerard O'Rourke of Russborough Kitchens
Even though the couple cook all day for a living, they love to cook for friends, too, and the formal dining room is used regularly. The hunting table is from Abbeville, Charlie Haughey's former home
One of the ways David and Berna added light to the kitchen was by putting in double doors to the garden. David and their son, Evan, built the decking outside
Berna and David removed the wall between this room and the kitchen to add light, and for the family to enjoy the magnificent sea views
The porch and granite steps are a recent addition to the house

Mary O'Sullivan

Every Wednesday, Berna Williams's handsome husband, David, has a date with a wag, but she's not too worried – there's more than one type of wag, and his is not the glamorous-woman variety. "There was a question on RTE, one of the radio quizzes: 'What is a wag?' I was going to ring in and say my husband has a wag, but I didn't," Berna says with a laugh.

David's wag is a dinghy – a particular type that he and a group of fellow enthusiasts in Dun Laoghaire enjoy restoring and sailing. In any case, it's good that he has his passions – hunting, shooting and fishing are also on his list – as both would say they spend enough time together as it is.

Both are involved in their business, Thyme Out, and are with each other more than most married couples.

Thyme Out is the extremely classy gourmet delicatessen on Dalkey's main street. It is famed for its signature sandwiches, soups and house dressings, including the prize-winning Basil & Lime Dressing. They also cater for dinner parties and family events.

Both are passionate about food, but Berna is the one who was initially the expert. "I grew up with food. My mother famously had a cake shop in Dalkey called Yvonne Joan. She had four kids and, by the time I came along, she had given it up, but she and my aunt were great entertainers and I was always serving at family dinner parties."

After school at Holy Child in Killiney, Berna did a bilingual secretarial course for two years, but she was more interested in cooking, and went to England to do a three-month cordon bleu course. "Darina Allen was starting Ballymaloe at the time, but I had notions that it wouldn't be as good as the course in England. I've since done courses in Ballymaloe and I've great admiration for Darina – I think she's brilliant," Berna says admiringly.

After the course, she started a catering business, called Rent a Chef, with her brother, Conor, and they ran it successfully for seven years, but it was the late Eighties – long before Ireland discovered good food. "It was not a good time. There was a huge amount of work involved just to break even and we both got tired of it," Berna admits. Sadly, her brother, Conor, has since died.

Berna next started to help a friend to set up her catering business in the city centre, when someone suggested that Berna, herself, get her own thing going in Dalkey. She didn't like the idea of doing it on her own, and David decided he'd come on board.

It might have been a disaster – if Berna is to be believed, they haven't always seen eye-to-eye, from their first encounter. "We met in the lead up to my sister Miriam's wedding. David was the best man and I was the chief bridesmaid, and I absolutely hated him. I told him to eff off and leave me alone, and nothing has changed," she insists with a laugh. Nonetheless, they married – their 25th anniversary is in June – with Berna and Conor catering for the wedding, which was a buffet for 250 in her home.

"One of the things we had was pasta salad – we made the pasta ourselves. There was tagliatelle drying everywhere. We were lunatics," Berna says.

Before they went into business together, David, who, by the way, insists he's a wonderful husband, was an auctioneer, but had become disenchanted with it. "David's dad was the famous Chubby Williams of Hamilton and Hamilton. He sold all the fine houses in Dublin, and he was the one who brought auction houses like Christie's to Dublin. There were nine in the family and I think, with David's parents, it was a case of get them all doing something, and David ended up doing auctioneering. "He was good at it, but he never really liked it," Berna says.

So, 12 years ago, they pooled their knowledge and expertise – Berna's food, David's finance and marketing – and opened Thyme Out.

"Some days, we say, 'Jaysus, what did we do that for?' It can be hard working with each other. But, you know what, we've got there and he is now passionate about cooking and brilliant at it – he's creating casseroles and terrines, and pork pies, and he loves it."

They're constantly coming up with new ideas, and the latest innovation is a series of demonstrations. David's speciality is skinning and cooking game; he does demonstrations around that.

The couple are lucky in that, for the last nine years, they've lived only a stone's throw from the business – in Berna's original family home, which, before that, had been her mother's home since she was two. An elegant Victorian house, it's perched high over Coliemore Harbour, with magnificent sea views, as well as tons of space for themselves, their two sons, Evan, 19, and Oscar, 16, and David's three dogs – Otto, Artemis and Zeus. Berna's parents moved out in 2003 and built a modern house above the original family home, while Berna, David and the boys moved in and undertook the restoration of the family home. Berna's dad died in 2006, and her mum is happy in the knowledge that Berna and David are nearby.

"If we hadn't moved in, she'd still be here and the house would be falling down around her," Berna says. "The deal is that we're here for her, 24/7. It took a while for myself and David to decide to do it. It's a big ask. We had refurbished a house in Dun Laoghaire and we loved that house."

Before moving in, they had the house completely renovated. They had it reroofed, replumbed, rewired, changed the kitchen and reconfigured some of the rooms. For example, they knocked through the wall between the kitchen and the room that had been her parents' dining room. The huge window in that room means the family can now enjoy the sea views while in the kitchen.

They turned that room into the sitting room, and made the old sitting room the formal dining room, which they use for entertaining friends. The hunting table actually came from Abbeville, Charlie Haughey's old home.

Family meals are taken in the kitchen. They currently eat at an old mahogany table, but David is going to make a table. "He's very good with his hands. If there are any issues, here or in the shop, he fixes them all. He also did the decking, with Evan's help," says Berna.

They also built on a new porch. "I always hated the way you walked straight from the hall into the wind, so I decided to get a new porch with granite steps. I said, 'I don't want to know how much it costs', because I knew I wouldn't do it if I knew how much it was.

"The minute my father saw it, he said it looked like the entrance to a bank," says Berna with a laugh, adding, "I said, 'I wish it was a bank'."

Fortunately, they don't need the resources of a bank for the next party in their home, which will probably be the 25th-wedding-anniversary party.

This couple have the expertise, talent and energy to create the best. No doubt, close friends can expect a feast next June.

  • On Tuesday, April 8, Ruth Wassel, from Thermomix, will be doing a demonstration, along with David and Berna, showing how useful a gadget this is. To book a place, tel: (01) 285-1999; or email info@thymeout.ie or see www.thymeout.ie

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