Ballymaloe shop and Café
Good Food Ireland has the following to say about us:
If you’re a serious cook, you’ll always find a gadget or two here that won’t be seen anywhere else. Wendy searches out the unusual for an army of food lovers that come through the doors here every year. Last time we visited, we found an irreplaceable garlic press that also stones olives or cherries – a simple French affair that does the job perfectly. And it was only a fiver! In its time, it de-stoned many a cherry and crushed countless garlic cloves - and it’s still going strong. You can expect to find treasures like this all the time at the Ballymaloe Shop, especially since Wendy has been steeped in the art of good cooking since she was a little girl.
The shop is located right next to the house, in what was originally the pig house when Wendy was a girl, and then stables. Thick stone walls were knocked through to create window and door openings, but apart from that, the rustic character of the building still remains. It stands firm in it’s solidity, it’s time honoured stone structure creating that cosy comforting feel only found in old buildings which have their own story to tell. These days, every nook and cranny is crammed a wealth of goodies, from kitchen equipment like whisks and ladles, to cake tins in all shapes and sizes, pretty tea towels and pinnies, quirky cookie cutters, rolling pins, trays, egg cups, mugs and the likes, to full collections of ware from top Irish potters, a stack of cookery books which naturally includes several from the Allen dynasty, fine linen tablecloths and napkins, rugs, throws, and a select range of Irish designer clothing and knitwear.
Ten years ago, the house’s wine store which was once located at the back of the shop, was moved to make way for a simple café set up. Since then, The Café at the Back of the Shop, as it’s now known, as become as iconic as the house itself. At busy times, you can’t fail to hear the chatter and the clatter of cutlery as you browse the shop floor. It’s a noise so tempting you can’t resist taking a peek round the door to see what’s going on. And you’ll find the place full to bursting with dedicated lovers of homemade food created from local produce. At busy times there may be a queue for tables. Because of limited table space – the café operates a no booking policy, but the staff will keep customers informed as to how long the waiting time is. There also is an opportunity to browse the grounds, returning when a table will be free. It’s an efficient, friendly and considerate system which meets the challenge of accommodating so many visitors during the height of the season and at weekends – and extremely rarely is anyone disappointed.
In keeping with the informal café atmosphere here, the menu is very simple indeed, written on the blackboard daily according to what’s available. Ballymaloe trained Café Head Chef Alison Henderson is a pure perfectionist, who focuses on the best ingredients which are simply treated, ‘so they speak for themselves’. She’s also a dab hand at the baking too. When we visited recently, she’d made the cutest cupcakes with frosty white icing, decorated with crystallised palest yellow fresh primrose blooms gathered from the hedgerows near the house - some of the first flowers of the season to celebrate the first official day of spring on St Brigid’s Day. Cupcakes are a bit of a favourite with Alison – in summer they could be decorated with wild alpine strawberries or crystallised petals from the pink Sweet Ballymaloe rose named especially for Myrtle. Blackberries and rosemary become the adornments as autumn draws in. At Christmas, they get a bit of a holiday since customers go mad for the home made mince pies! Seasonal specialities like Christmas cakes and puddings and Easter goodies are also on offer here. Always on the menu are a basket of light and feathery ‘Mrs Thompson’s’ fresh scones, baked each morning by Alison and named after the elderly lady neighbour who gave the recipe in her native Belfast. These come with butter and homemade jam which make a lovely mid morning treat with a cup of tea or coffee. The open serving area at the rear of the café has a counter laden with more irresistible goodies, which change according to season. They could include an aromatic and glossy Tunisian Orange Cake – a divine creation soaked in orange juice, or Myrtle Allen’s original recipe Irish Apple Tart, a rustic version served with cream, and the gorgeous Baked Cheesecake, another recipe Alison learned from home. There’s gluten free chocolate tart and teeny chocolate macaroons sandwiched together with chocolate cream. Many others feature, according to season. This is Irish country baking at its absolute best.