Fired up for a fry-up with a dif­fer­ence

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS - Aoife McEl­wain

For a small and unas­sum­ing sea­side vil­lage, Shana­garry in East Cork has some pretty em­i­nent in­hab­i­tants. There are The Al­lens of Bal­ly­maloe, the dy­nasty Bal­ly­maloe House and its nearby Cook­ery School. It’s be­cause of The Al­lens that I’m on a visit to the area to soak in words of wis­dom and calls to ac­tion at the re­cent Bal­ly­maloe Lit­fest.

But it’s one of The Al­lens’ es­teemed neigh­bours that is the sub­ject of to­day’s col­umn – the Stephen Pearce Hand­made Pot­tery Work­shop and Shop, which re­opened at this premises in 2010. The Head Chef at the café was also drawn to Shana­garry by Bal­ly­maloe. Chris­tine Crow­ley, orig­i­nally from Water­ford, did the fa­mous Bal­ly­maloe Cook­ery Course in 2011. She loved the area so much that she moved to Shana­garry af­ter com­plet­ing the course and worked in the Craw­ford Gallery Café in Cork. In May 2015, she took over the helm of the café, bring­ing her pas­sion for lo­cal pro­duce and an in­ter­est in Mid­dle Eastern cook­ing with her.

The café sits to­wards the back of the work­shop and shop, and has an old-school feel of a farm­house kitchen, com­plete with a large wooden dresser to house the plates, cups, jars of jams and home­made cakes of the day. The decor could per­haps ben­e­fit from an up­date, but its slightly an­tique ap­pear­ance makes the vi­brance of Crow­ley’s cook­ing even more of a sur­prise.

The first inkling that I’m in for a mem­o­rable lunch is when I see sabih on the menu (¤9), a de­li­cious Is­raeli-Pales­tinian sand­wich that com­bines aubergine with tahini and egg. Crow­ley is do­ing a se­ri­ously solid ver­sion of this street-food clas­sic, one that I’ve never seen on an Ir­ish menu be­fore.

I’m even more taken with my mar­i­nated feta salad (¤10). There are fresh peas that pop with the taste of spring, mixed with del­i­cate mint and de­li­ciously lively rocket. There are toasted seeds and crunchy broccoli, and it’s all brought to­gether with a zingy cit­rus dress­ing.

Ev­ery morn­ing, Crow­ley takes her food waste from the café to feed the hens at Bal­ly­maloe Cook­ery School, just a few min­utes’ drive away. In re­turn, she takes the fresh eggs from the hens and uses them in the café’s kitchen. She also picks salad leaves ev­ery day from the Bal­ly­maloe Cook­ery School Glasshouse. “I some­times for­get how lucky I am to be able to do that,” Crow­ley says. “It’s amaz­ing. Da­rina and Tim (Allen) are so sup­port­ive. They want me to use their pro­duce. They want that qual­ity to be in the café.”

Else­where on the menu is ba­con from the renowned Jack McCarthy of McCarthy’s in Kan­turk and black pud­ding from Ros­sacar­bery. “I’ve ba­si­cally gath­ered all of my favourite in­gre­di­ents from Cork and put them on the menu,” ex­plains Crow­ley. She has a young team help­ing her out in the tiny kitchen as well as in the front of house, look­ing af­ter the tables in the café and out­side the work­shop.

The cof­fee is very good, too, sourced from the Golden Bean which has a roast­ery in Bal­ly­maloe House. Along­side the cof­fee and teas, Crow­ley makes home­made kom­bucha with a vine­gary kick and sweeter lemon­ades dur­ing the sum­mer.

The fi­nal touch is that all the food and hot drinks are served in Stephen Pearce Pot­tery, a mix of the clas­sic col­lec­tion that most will as­so­ci­ate with the brand and the newer Shana­garry range of glazed plates and cups, in­spired by Stephen Pearce’s fa­ther, all of which are avail­able to buy in the shop.For more, see the­cafeat­stephen­pearce.com

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