Unexpectedly, I arrived at Ballymaloe in a blaze of sunshine. So yet again I find myself in a country with a reputation for being cold and wet with a suitcase full of fleeces and waterproofs and nowhere to wear them. If this happens again, I’ll start demanding my dues as a Sun God.
Having ditched my thermals and notionally unpacked, I joined forces with Alphabet Soup and we set off cross-country for Sunday lunch. Our destination was The Cafe at the End of the Shop, located at the end of the shop next to Ballymaloe House, 2 miles from the school. And there is no better way to work up an appetite than by marching along a winding country road, diving for the safety of the hedgerow every 5 minutes.
But the Mad Car Drivers Of Cork were no match for our lightening quick reactions. We arrived at the shop to find a queue for the cafe, which very nearly defeated me. I’d gone from being not hungry at all (thank you Irish breakfast) to ravenous and there, blocking my way to lunch, were sweaty recreational cyclists in not enough Lycra. If I’d grabbed an olive stoner and punctured my way through them screaming: “But I must have quiche!” no one would’ve blamed me.
However, I’ve left the anger and the violence behind in Peckham. 20 minutes later we had a table and a blackboard menu to squint at. There was a short list of soup, salad, tarts and open sandwiches to pick your way through and next to the blackboard were an array of seductive cakes, bakes and tarts. The lemon meringue tart was particularly come hither.
I ordered the Roast squash, sweet potato and cumin soup and a home-made lemonade. The lemonade was like the best glass of squash you’ve ever swilled on a hot sunny day. Tiny shreds of soft lemon zest bobbed along the surface and the flavour was intensely citrussy. Apparently, I will be learning to make this and I will laugh in the face of R Whites when I do.
The soup was magnificent. A wash of sweet squash followed by warm, earthy cumin flavours, it had an addictively velevty mouthfeel. I spooned and spooned and spooned until I could spoon no more and had to content myself with the basket of excellent bread and creamy-rich butter.
Alphabet Soup ordered the New York Reubens sandwich, made with juicy beef, melted Comté cheese, mustard and topped with a pickled gherkin threaded around a cocktail stick like a pickle sail. She described it as “mustardy” and made her way through the lot with panache.
The meal cost €20.70 for 2 lemonades, the soup and the sandwich, not including service. We resisted the siren call of the cakes due to an approaching pizza evening, but I think I’ll make the dangerous trek back. The cafe is run by a graduate of the school and it’s a reassuring introduction to the cooking at Ballymaloe. If I can make soup like that at the end of the course, then I will have achieved.