Café@Vis­ual - We like what we see

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

“With­out art, the crude­ness of re­al­ity would make the world un­bear­able,” reads the Ge­orge Bernard Shaw quote on the door of Len­non’s Café at Vis­ual Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art in Car­low town. One could eas­ily ap­ply this Shaw sen­ti­ment to food.

Vis­ual is on the grounds of Car­low Col­lege and it’s home to a 335-seat the­atre and the largest white-cube gallery space in the coun­try. It’s 12m high and feels more A Clock­work Or­ange than Car­low in its aes­thetic. Painted in large let­ters on one of the build­ing’s few win­dows is the phrase “ac­ti­vate that which cre­ates con­nec­tion and an over­whelm­ing sense of be­ing alive”.

On a busy Sun­day, with the Car­low Arts Fes­ti­val in full swing out­side on the green space in front of Car­low Col­lege, fam­i­lies pile into Len­non’s Cafe on the ground floor of Vis­ual for Sun­day lunch, and the op­tions look good. There’s a roast rack of pork with all the trim­mings and a baked hake with Gruyère for the pescatar­i­ans.

Mean­while, for brunch, a plate or Eggs Royale (¤12.50) fea­tures free-range eggs from Car­low and smoked sal­mon from Meyler’s in Wex­ford. The cof­fee is well made us­ing beans from Green Bean Cof­fee Roast­ers based in Louth and Down. A pi­quant hol­landaise makes this dish, and the crispy skinny fries on the side are a wel­come guilty plea­sure.

Prove­nance is clearly im­por­tant here. A list of nearly 20 lo­cal sup­pli­ers is writ­ten on the wall, right next to the kitchen pass where head chef Gail John­son and chef Carmel Moore hold the fort. There’s Bren­nan’s Butch­ers and Crotty’s Bak­ery in Car­low, Cool­latin Cheddar from Wick­low and El­iz­a­beth Bradley Cheese from Fe­nagh. “We use lo­cal where pos­si­ble,” says the owner and man­ager Ross Byrne. “Peo­ple can re­late to it. If the beef comes from Tommy Bren­nan’s Butch­ers down the road, our cus­tomers might even know Tommy him­self. It’s a link in the chain.”

The Byrnes took over Len­non’s Pub in in Car­low in 1999. Ross’ mother, Sinead, had worked in Bórd Bia for many years be­fore she started do­ing a pop­u­lar lunch trade from the pub. Word spread and soon the de­mand meant ren­o­va­tions to the pub and its kitchen were in or­der, so they took a break in 2007 to ren­o­vate. In the mean­time, the op­por­tu­nity to move into the Arts Cen­tre came up and the fam­ily moved Len­non’s Cafe to the first floor of Vis­ual, open­ing in 2009. They do lunch seven days and din­ner on Thurs­day, Fri­day and Satur­day.

Af­ter brunch, I ex­plore Vis­ual. Up­stairs in the Lobby Gallery, I take in the 1970 film of The Tri­adic Bal­let, cre­ated by Oskar Sch­lem­mer in 1922 to be a “party of form and colour”. Screen­ings con­tinue un­til Septem­ber 10th. Next door, a room full of Bauhaus in­spired cos­tumes and a work­shop space for pup­pet-mak­ing wel­comes au­di­ences to cre­ate their own party of form and colour. Down­stairs in the main gallery, a huge pro­jec­tion of Daria Martin’s A Hunger Artist dom­i­nates a wall. Next door, in­stal­la­tions in­clude a ki­netic wall in­stal­la­tion by Marin Boyle called Some­where Else made from pieces of gold-re­flec­tive sur­vival blan­kets, a com­ment on so­ci­ety’s ten­dency to think of refugees and mi­grants as some­one else’s prob­lem.

It’s not un­heard of but it’s not the norm to find good food in a mu­seum or gallery setting. Len­non’s is a very good café, hold­ing its own in a very beau­ti­ful build­ing. Beauty may be in the eye of the be­holder, but I like what I see here at Vis­ual.

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