I’M the kind of person who likes to focus on the positive things. It’s a great distraction tactic that I discovered really came into its own during a global pandemic!
I come from a family of enthusiastic gardeners, so naturally my own bijoux garden became even more of a sanctuary these past two summers and I revelled in having a genuine excuse to spend more time in it.
No matter how many years pass, I still get a thrill from picking, plucking, or lifting veg, fruits and herbs from my raised beds, bringing them into the kitchen and cooking with them straight away.
Anyone who does a little GIY will know exactly what I mean!
The two worlds of Garden and Food have never been more entwined; and if it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest gardens are a new kind of rock and roll, then garden centres are the new trendy hang-outs — more so if a garden centre has a café on site.
As a kid, whenever it was announced, we’d be piling into the Austin Allegro and heading off to Cadbury Garden Centre, in a place called Congresbury, near Bristol, where I grew up, it was an auspicious day: the nirvana of all garden centres, and everyone knew the café there was special!
I still love going to garden centres and seek out those with good food on purpose, so, for me, this was a genuine reason to mix the business of writing with the pleasure of gardens and food…
The Coffee Bee at Future Forests, Kealkill
No day trip to Gougane Barra is complete without a stop on the way home at Future Forests, with its collection of hand made wooden hobbit-style buildings. Now there’s even more reason to stop off with the opening this summer of a new on-site café: The Coffee Bee.
Run by mother and daughter team, Bria and Sora, all the cakes are baked fresh daily, with many creative gluten free and vegan options too. Sandwiches are made to order, and coffee is sourced from Carrow Coffee, a tiny artisan coffee roastery based in County Sligo.
The Coffee Bee is housed inside a converted container given a sleek new lease of life, bright and airy with folding back full height windows. Outside seating is on a split-level deck that wraps around the café and nestles under a tree canopy, providing shade from hot sunshine and protection from rain too.
Open Wednesday to Sunday and bank holiday Mondays too. Instagram @thecoffeebee.futureforests
The Pavilion Garden Centre Café, Ballygarvan
A stone’s throw from Cork Airport, with a swinging arm and a good wind behind you, is The Pavilion — a palace of temptation for anyone with wild aspirations for their gardens, but also home to an always buzzing lunchtime spot.
Baked Eggs and Peppers, Roasted Butternut Arancini with Feta and Basil Aioli, Fish Crumble with hake, poached salmon, smoked salmon, prawns, and a dill velouté, Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Summer Berry Compote, and the option to add an Aperol Spritz is, frankly, beyond the ordinary café fayre and traipsing firmly into restaurant standard dining.
What’s lovely is it’s informality, which makes for a charming and relaxed dining experience.
Courtyard space for dining outdoors has been created — call shotgun on the table underneath the pomegranate tree! On a warm, sunny day, you could easily imagine yourself to be in the Mediterranean…
Open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 4pm and from 10.30am on Sundays. Instagram @pavilionballygarvan
The Garden Café, Assumption Road, Blackpool
Hidden away in the gardens of Cork Foyer is The Garden Café. Elegantly housed inside a Victorian- style glasshouse, this is a not-for-profit café which employs a Farm-to-Fork ethos utilising produce from its own community gardens — including eggs from their flock of hens, as well as produce from the nearby Hydro Farm allotments in Blarney and a range of local Cork artisan producers, such as award-winning Carrigaline Cheese.
The Garden Café invites it guests to “relax and unwind in Cork’s greenest café”, and in addition to offering top quality food with a local, chemical-free, low waste mission, its other priority is as an educational facility for adults, providing training and mentoring for a range of hospitality skills, including HACCP and customer service.
It is a secluded haven in the city with views over Blackpool, and its open Monday to Friday, 10am until 4pm, last orders for food at 3pm. Instagram @gardencafecork
The Village Deli and Cafe at Ravenscourt Garden Centre, Kerry Pike
There has been a garden centre at Kerry Pike for almost 40 years, but the café established eight years ago has undergone a reimagining since May under its new head chef, Bryan Phelan. A man with some serious chops, (formerly of Rachel’s, Holy Smoke and O’Donovan’s Townhouse, as well as his own pop-up chef crew, The Sharp Knife), Bryan returns to the heat of the kitchen after taking some time out to travel around South America.
A garden centre café may be an unlikely setting for Phelan, but he is a talented chef with drive and vision.
Kerry Pike is currently in the grip of a housing boom — 400 new houses have been built here this past year with another 260 up and coming. This expected population boom will be crying out for a neighbourhood deli, he tells me: “A place that’s the heart of the village, where you can pick up your provisions, a great coffee and something tasty to eat.”
There’s no menu as such, all depending on what turns up from his suppliers every day and working up a specials board that might include West Cork Wagyu Beef and Smoked Cheese Empanadas, Salt Beef Sandwiches, Breakfast Tacos with chicharron, The Village Grilled Cheese with smoked cheese, parmesan, bacon jam and garlic herb oil; or sweet treats like Cacao Brownies, or the viciously decadent Salted Caramel Chocolate Tea Cake Cups.
Keep an ear to the ground for events, workshops, and kitchen takeovers later in the year.
Outdoor dining and takeaway available Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm. Instagram @villagedeli_ltd
Ballyseedy Garden Café, Midleton and Carrigaline
Its flagship garden centre café may well be in Tralee, but the family-owned collection of Ballyseedy Cafés also has Cork outlets, Midleton and Carrigaline, co-located with Dairygold Co- Op Stores.
A family-friendly offering across lunch and deli menus, as well as a sumptuous array of delicious cakes and great coffee, means refreshment is easy to come by in a bright and airy indoor space, as well as offering outdoor seating too.
Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm, Sundays and bank holidays, 10am-5pm. Instagram @ballyseedycafes
Carewswood Garden Centre Café, Castlemartyr
The term ‘hidden gem’ is bandied about much these days, but I think it can legitimately apply to Carewswood Garden Centre Café.
Located close to Castlemartyr Resort, the garden centre is within an old walled garden, and to the rear is where you will find the café, elegantly housed in a large, airy wooden building. Its stand-out feature is the black steel framed glass covered terrace, and beyond that an uncovered terrace that looks out over the beautifully arrange garden centre with its stands of blooms and foliage. It has Victorian-style elegance with a touch of Italianate Garden indulgence in its setting, but the food is most definitely Irish in origin — and proud to be so.
Breakfast and brunch are available until midday, after which the lunch menu takes over until late afternoon. On Sundays and bank holidays, freshly made to order wood fired pizzas are the order of the day.
Expect fresh sourdough breads from Panna Bakery, plenty of fresh veggies and herbs grown at the garden centre, free range eggs, and classic favourites, including maple drenched pancake stacks, spiced beef, smoked salmon, and black pudding. There is a generous selection of freshly made cakes and pastries to tempt the angels, great coffee, and refreshing alternatives such as water kefir and kombucha available.
It’s a popular spot — definitely a hidden gem and well worth the visit!
Café is open Monday to Saturday, 9am until 4pm; Sundays and bank holidays, 10am until 4pm.