I have been collecting cookbooks for most of my life and can still remember the very first one that I bought – a second-hand copy of Full and Plenty by Maura Laverty – and the pleasure that I got from reading it and imagining what the recipes would taste like. I was aged 9 or 10 at the time but my enduring love affair with cookbooks started that day.
Audrey McDonald grew up in a family who loved food. Her mother Mo liked to experiment in the kitchen and dished up delicious and inventive food that was eagerly devoured by Audrey, her father Tom and her siblings. After a short spell working in a bank, Audrey decided to pursue her own food dreams and high-tailed it to London to train at the Cordon Bleu College. She subsequently worked as a private chef before eventually returning to Ireland where she set up her own private catering company. She soon established herself as ‘caterer to the stars’ cooking for Bono, Mick Jagger and Gordon Ramsay amongst many others but the dream of owning her own restaurant remained ever present.
|Cookbook Café interior|
Although I had heard great reports about the Vinyl Brunch on Sundays where you can enjoy a leisurely weekend meal whilst listening to a soundtrack of songs chosen by Audrey’s husband Tom who is one of Ireland’s best known DJs and musicians, I was keen to try out the dinner menu so I booked a table and was looking forward to my meal.
The challenge with a menu inspired by a cookbook collection is that it could so easily lack coherence and end up being an assortment of disparate dishes. This is not the case with The Cookbook Café’s dinner menu which flows well with its Mediterranean theme and a well-chosen selection of unpretentious dishes influenced by recipes from Nigel Slater, Yottam Ottolenghi, Bobby Flay and Jamie Oliver.
To kick off, I decided on a starter of Chargrilled Fresh Gambas, Chorizo, Chilli, Parsley, Olive Oil (€10). This generous portion of wonderfully fresh shrimp had been cooked simply in the shell so that the meat remained succulent. The sweetness of the shrimp worked well against the spiciness of the chorizo and the chilli hit of the oil whilst the almost grassy-flavoured parsley calmed everything down on the palate. It’s hard to see how this dish could be improved on. When seafood is as fresh as this and has been lovingly treated, it can’t be beaten. I loved it.
Across the table, my guest was tucking into the Ottolenghi Plate with Halloumi, Fattoush, Aubergine, Hummous, Flatbread (small €8.50 and large €17) – a cornucopia of tasty treats that stopped all conversation as we sampled the various elements on the plate. I loved the earthiness and mealy texture of the hummous especially when eaten with some of the refreshing fattoush – a Middle Eastern salad - and the flatbreads that had been provided. Moving on, we both agreed that the falafel were particularly outstanding. Falafel are little deep-fried balls of puréed chickpeas or broad beans flavoured with fresh coriander and spices and when well-made as these were, they are incredibly moreish. Finally, a beetroot purée accompanied by a za’atar spiced yoghurt was also excellent.
Fillet of Rare-Breed Pork with Girolles, Mushrooms & Asparagus, Black Olive Crumb (€21.50) was another cracker of a dish. Pork can easily dry out during cooking but this meat was wonderful tender and served with a fruity apple sauce and vegetables that complimented the dish perfectly. A black-olive crumb and some crispy ham bursting with Mediterranean flavours and added textural interest. This was a rich but very satisfying dish.
The Cookbook Café has a well-chosen and nicely priced wine list. From it we chose a pair of easy-drinking reds to wash down our meal. My Luccarelli Primitivo Puglia IGP (€7.50 per glass; €26 per bottle) from Italy stood up well to the rich seafood tastes of my Gambas starter and Tuna main. My guest’s whilst my companion's full-flavoured La Báscula, The Charge, Rioja from Spain (€8.50 per glass, €30 per bottle) with its nose of dark cherry fruits and hints of sweet oak was perfect with the Pork.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meal in The Cookbook Café; the food was fantastic and left us feeling happy and contented. Flavours are big but there are also subtleties to excite the palate. Audrey McDonald’s food is accomplished and delicious to eat and I look forward to a return visit.
The Cookbook Café
57A Glasthule Road