Restau­rant re­view

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Content - Joe McNamee

Toons­bridge Dairy Pizze­ria, Toons­bridge, Mac­room, 087 3457790 www.toons­

When we fetch up in Toons­bridge, the sky ous, is over­cast and omin

the cafe already stuffed to the rafters with those like us, des­per­ately cling­ing to the end days of sum­mer be­fore head­ing back to school. There is a 25minute wait for a ta­ble, which we pass pleas­antly in the gar­den, No 2 Son and La Daugh­ter chas­ing around grape vines as Com­rade ML and I snaf­fle sneaky toma­toes in the poly­tun­nels.

More than 25 years ago, when last I earned my crust as a chef, I shopped daily in the English Mar­ket. What had been a rather tired old mar­ket had just be­gun the first steps on the road to its mod­ern rein­ven­tion: Is­abelle Sheri­dan had set up a char­cu­terie stall, On the Pig’s Back; Sean Calder-Potts had opened Iago’s, now one of Ire­land’s finest cheese shops; and an ir­re­press­ible young­ster, Toby Sim­monds, was still per­suad­ing lo­cal taxi driv­ers to de­liver a few tubs of dressed olives from his tiny lockup, be­hind O’Con­nor’s Fu­neral Home, on Coburg St, to the mar­ket’s Princes St en­trance.

Corko­ni­ans es­pe­cially em­braced Sim­monds’ Real Olive Com­pany’s of­fer­ing, which grad­u­ally grew into a whole smor­gas­bord of Le­van­tine pro­duce, be­com­ing a sta­ple of ev­ery lo­cal din­ner party and more than a few restau­rant menus for at least the fol­low­ing decade. Sim­monds evolved a na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion net­work and even­tu­ally he and his part­ner Jenny Rose Clarke bought an old dairy near Mac­room, a base for pre­par­ing their wares for sale at farmer’s mar­kets all around the coun­try. Th­ese days, the moth­er­ship also houses Sim­monds’ cheese­mak­ing op­er­a­tion and the café. We are fi­nally seated, at a large pic­nic ta­ble in a par­tial­ly­cov­ered area that might be termed the ‘porch’. Along­side, is an open hatch to the wood­fired oven that feeds the diners.

With such a wealth of pro­duce avail­able next door, it was a no brainer to build a menu around it but while pizza may back­bone the of­fer­ing, it doesn’t end there.

There are mul­ti­ple com­bi­na­tions avail­able for the Week­end Salad Plate; we opt for a fresh herb-laden Tabouleh (cracked wheat, parsley, mint, pomegran- ate, cu­cum­ber, lemon and spices), sweet potato and baby potato with mint and honey dress­ing and grated Beet­root, Ap­ple and Car­rot with toasted seeds. A sim­ple yet splen­did Hum­mus Plate fea­tures a creamy, gar­licky dip served with whole spiced chick­peas, olive oil and flat­bread. I am try­ing to pin down my po­si­tion on Oven Fried Hal­loumi with Black Pep­per, Lemon and Flat­bread when I re­alise I am not mulling over flavour but rather the feel­ing that washes over me with each de­li­cious, com­fort­ing mouth­ful, as if ‘Hygge’, that sup­pos­edly im­pos­si­ble-to­trans­late Dan­ish con­cept of cosi­ness and con­vivi­al­ity, could now be per­fectly ex­pressed through the medium of taste. Wood­fired Smoked Scamorza Cheese is oven melted with thyme, the cook­ing method ren­ders it an overly sim­i­lar, if smok­ier, cousin to the hal­loumi. Do we tire of the sim­i­lar­ity? Not a bit of it. Do we lick the bowl clean? Of course: as you well know, I’m all about the Hygge when it comes in the form of grilled cheese. We order piz­zas, one topped with chorizo Iberico Bel­lota, the other with An­chovies, Capers, Thyme and Olives. Built atop good crispy, chewy oven-blis­tered bases, the fun­da­men­tals — moz­zarella cheese, made next door, plum tomato sauce — are equally sound. But it is on the lat­ter pizza that top­pings re­ally shine, not least the ju­di­cious hand that gets pro­por­tions just right: suf­fi­cient an­chovies and no more; capers, ran­dom lit­tle land­mines of briny tart sweet­ness, bet­ter again for their rar­ity value. Faced with this lot, I have to order a glass of fruity Nero D’Avola from a list re­as­sur­ingly built on im­porter Mary Pawle’s fine cat­a­logue of or­ganic and nat­u­ral wines. Sweet choices are made out of pro­fes­sional obli­ga­tion but are de­voured with an in­fin­itely baser in­stinct, a cit­russy orange cake and a nicely un­der­played baked ri­cotta cheese­cake go­ing down very well with re­ally good cof­fee (Golden Bean, I sus­pect). Be­fore leav­ing, we pick up a few more olives, cheese, a crusty baguette and a bot­tle from the afore­men­tioned Mary Pawle list, peace of­fer­ings for My Heart’s De­light who is go­ing to be very dis­ap­pointed at missing out on such a won­der­ful repast. She’ll be want­ing to check it out her­self, nat­u­rally. We, self­less souls, will be more than happy to oblige.

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