It’s seldom that you visit a restaurant where there are chickens pecking around, and ducks squawking in the background. Okay, maybe if you are in France, where the nicely fattened duck is destined to finish off its well-fed life on your plate as a terrine de foie gras, confit and magret de canard.
Not so at the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. The Hazel House, a cafe with a carpentry workshop, is just a few kilometres from suburbia, yet it feels like a little secret in the middle of the countryside. While there is an indoor seating area at the cafe, the large courtyard with its flowers and greenery is the main attraction here.
Casual and relaxed, it is broken up into areas, with some tables covered in gingham oil cloth under a robust gazebo, others under brightly coloured umbrellas, and there’s a well sheltered area tucked in by an old stone wall which is covered in Perspex. Unless it is lashing out of the heavens, you’ll be snug and dry. A large wood-fired oven takes pride of place. There is also a takeaway hatch for coffee and tea, and wooden shelves lined with delicious looking things to buy, such as pickled organic beetroot, chutneys, jam, porridge bread and their own Irish poitín infused with hazelnut. You can help yourself and pay into an honesty box.
This is a daytime cafe, although pizza evenings at the weekends had been running pre-lockdown. Breakfast includes a full Irish (€12), avocado smash on sourdough bread (€10), and pancakes (€8); after that, the lunch menu kicks in from 12.30pm to 4pm. It’s a tight menu, designed to appeal to a broad section of people, so there are wraps, toasted sandwiches, veggie bowls and soup, as well as an impressive selection of cakes made in their little bakery in a caravan on site.
There are four of us, so we cover quite a bit of the menu. Despite the fact that the emphasis is on simplicity, there are nice touches in how things are served. My vegetable soup with porridge bread (€7), like all the other dishes, is served on a little rustic wooden slab, a nice nod to the carpentry background of the owner, Niall Fitzharris. Tarnished amber in colour, the soup has been pureed with a touch of cream rather than served chunky. It is judiciously seasoned and has good fresh flavours of parsnip, carrot and probably a bit of potato. It’s a good soup and with two generous slices of porridge bread, it makes a nice light lunch.
Other dishes are considerably more substantial. The beef nachos (€14) are served in a large, stone-coloured bowl, loaded with crispy nachos and a chunky, smoked beef brisket chilli. Guacamole, sour cream, salsa and cheese are dolloped on top. There is enough in this dish for two people, or one ravenously hungry hill walker. Similarly, the veggie bowl (€13) is hugely generous, with three-bean chilli, wholegrain rice and avocado.
Our fourth dish, the spicy chicken melt (€11.50), is a hefty sandwich of toasted batch bread, served with dressed green leaves and what we reckon are Hunky Dory crisps. Nicely toasted golden rather than panini pale, it is filled with Cajun chicken, andouille sausage, tomato, mozzarella and spicy mango.
The cakes here have the delicious home cooked taste of a good Irish Countrywomen’s Association recipe, and they’re served with a little container of fresh cream and strawberries. On a previous occasion, I had the carrot cake, which was particularly good, and this time we went for the daily specials, a lime cake topped with zesty lime and yoghurt glacé icing, and a very light almond and orange cake, not the Claudia Roden recipe, very much an Irish take, with toasted flaked almonds on top.
Tea comes in a nice big pot with mugs, and it all feels very wholesome. In fact just about everything here is wholesome. The furniture is made by Fitzharris, including the wooden barrels for recyclable waste, compostable waste and general waste. His plan is to become completely self-sustainable. He now grows his own vegetables and salad leaves on a farm in Drumshambo, Co Leitrim, and will be selling them here.
The food is unfussy, generous and well-priced. It is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch before a long, or short walk in the hills, or indeed for refuelling after your dose of exercise and fresh air.
Lunch for four with teas/coffees and two desserts was €65
- Verdict A charming outdoor space for a casual bite
- Facilities Compact and functional
- Food provenance Some organic greens, plans to increase this
- Music Mixed, with quite a bit of 1980s pop
- Vegetarian options Yes, but limited
- Wheelchair access Accessible, but no accessible toilet