Plenty of room to grow at Overends Cafe
Town and country meet in this new cafe with farm-to-fork dining
City dwellers waking to the sounds of sirens and traffic don’t look at the concrete jungle and think “farmers made this”. But it’s the argument that British architect Carolyn Steele makes in her book Hungry City. Without farmers, cities would not exist. After humans learned to cultivate wheat, the hunting and gathering stopped and we made settlements that became cities.
Like a child embarrassed by its parents, cities happily forgot their agricultural roots. Aside from pockets of allotments and an occasional backyard hen coop, cities today are sealed away from the source of their food.
Airfield in Dublin’s Dundrum is a pocket of farmland that resisted being swallowed by the city through the dogged resistance of its owners. Sisters Letitia and Naomi Overend were born more than 20 years apart in Victorian Ireland. Both lived into their 90s and kept Airfield as a farm against all the forces of property speculation, passing it to a trust, which runs it today. They were the kind of farmers who called their Jersey cattle after characters from Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
Airfield reopened last October after a two-year €11 million redevelopment and the gardens are due to reopen next week. A cafe, called Overends after the late family, is in a new building designed by Solearth, who designed the Daintree Building on Camden St, which houses the Cake Cafe.
Instead of a tree-lined driveway visitors now come in through a wide entrance to a set of new buildings. As farm tea rooms go, this is as far from the chintz and china approach as you can get. Inside the only nod to vintage is the lighting: large white enamelled tin shades hang down on bright orange flexes over the bleached wood tables. Everywhere else it’s glass and pine, overlooking a pond and a slope down to a polytunnel below where some of the ingredients are being sourced.
We had planned to beat the rush by arriving at noon but the place is heaving. On the way in we pass a large table spread with food, fresh breads and a huge bowl of eggs including some gorgeous blue ones (very Farrow & Ball) laid by the Chilean Araucana hens in the Airfield flock.
We get one of the last tables. The zinc chairs are so cool on this chilly day Ashe needs to put her scarf on hers to keep warm.
The menu reads well. One of the best things we get is a plate of gorgeous bread, feather fresh with a delicate disk of clean pale Cuinneog butter. There’s a “pan-smoked mackerel” which is served shining skin side up on a muted celeriac remoulade. I’d like a little more mustard kick or even a horseradish bite in this slaw. There are some perfect ripe chunks of avocado drizzled with oil and some micro coriander. It’s a pleasant plate of food rather than a deeply flavoursome one.
There’s a bowl of salad with the right amount of texture. Topped with grated nuts it’s got chunks of beet, slivers of carrot and leaves that taste only as they can when they’re freshly picked. But the nuggets of sweetcorn in it give a sandwich bar impression.
We share a large plate of pork rib and white bean cassoulet, which has delicious chunks of meat in it with perfect rounds of spicy chorizo, but the sauce doesn’t taste meaty enough to persuade me that bones, meat, tomatoes and beans have been juicily cooking together for a long stretch.
When I look at the menu online the next day this dish seems to have been replaced with a venison sausage dish.
A “gingerbread person”, a fudgy gluten-free brownie and a good thin round shortbread are bought as takeaways and sampled later and are all fine.
It’s a good start but I’d like to come back in summer when beads of hot moisture are rolling down the inside of the polytunnel and it’s pumping out food. Farm to fork is an old idea but maybe it needs a kitchen garden in full production to start a new chapter.
Lunch for two with tap water came to €35.40.
Overends Cafe, Airfield Farm, Dundrum, Dublin 14, tel:01-969 6666
THE VERDICT: 6.5/10 A good start. It’ll be interesting to see where this one goes
Food provenance: Good. Kenmare smoked salmon, Ardsallagh goat’s cheese, Cuinneog butter are named
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Good