Review: A cafe devoted to cookbooks, with only one minor paper cut

This cafe has cracked the secret of all the best tribute acts: being as good, if not better, than the star whose playbook you’re venerating

Sat, Apr 22, 2017, 06:00


The Cookbook Cafe

  • Fusion


Cookbooks are dead, they said. But suddenly they’re not. It’s a sector in rude health if the €2 million sales of the Happy Pear books are anything to go by. But why? Every recipe you’ll ever need, and another 795 million you won’t, are a swipe away. Do we still crave a trusted voice to walk us through the process? Or is it that aspirational food lives: all those jars filled with pulses we’d never be arsed to boil from scratch and kitchens equipped only with found enamel wear and bone-handled knives? 

I suspect lots of cookbooks are read, or just looked at, more than they are cooked from. They are soothing glimpses of food worlds more beautiful than the ones we inhabit. I once joked with a publisher that it was only a matter of time before someone combined colouring books with cookbooks. She didn’t laugh. She got a steely glint in her eye as if composing her pitch at the next editorial meeting. 

I still have my first cookbook inscribed “to dear Catherine on her fifth birthday”. It’s Angela Burdick’s “Look! I Can Cook”, a cartoon-strip cookbook which didn’t dumb things down for children. “Look! I Can Cook” went viral 1970s’ style, selling all over the world. There are posts about the book from wistful fortysomethings online who were in India and Zimbabwe making the same chocolate kisses and Scotch krispies that I was.

That love of cookbooks is the hook in Audrey McDonald’s Glasthule restaurant, The Cookbook Cafe. An orange canopy marks the place in a foodie strip of Glasthule and on this Sunday afternoon it’s warm enough for the outside tables to be buzzing. 

Themed evenings

The place hosts regular themed evenings where the meal comes from the pages of a well-known cookbook. The decor is a smart cheery mix of beige and orange. And books are the spine of the place. There are two shelves stacked with them on one wall, some for browsing, others for sale. The menu is a whoosh through the pages of the British best sellers, a mix of brunch pleasers and heftier dishes. The American-style pancakes are from children’s food tzar Annabel Karmel. Jamie Oliver is name-checked on the superfood salad. And there’s an Ottolenghi Plate of all the middle eastern favourites. 

It seems a better test of the kitchen to go for the more grown-up dishes and it doesn’t get more cheffy than Bouillabaise. The name of this fish stew comes from a combination of two verbs: to boil and to reduce. My “Larousse” tells me it originated as a fisherman’s meal, cooked on the beach in large cauldrons over fire, making use of the bits of the catch that the market was too snooty to want.

The Cookbook Cafe uses “screeching fresh” seafood in theirs. It comes in a flat bowl with a yolk-yellow mustard mayonnaise and good sourdough toasts to mop up the orange saffron broth. It’s very good, a mix of clams and mussels with some china white monkfish chunks, a feathery langoustine in its full shell and a meatier large fish like swordfish steak. There are potatoes, carrots and celery in here too.

Across the table my mum has mushrooms on toast, really good ones, threaded through with cream and Parmesan, plenty of garlic and a lick of truffle oil on more of that good toast. We eat it with green juices, with zingy apple, ginger and lemon. They’re served in wine glasses, with a straw, which is a little odd, but fine.

Perfect but for dessert

It would be a perfect lunch but for my dessert which seems to have come from a recipe card from a 1970’s cordon bleu cooking box. It’s not so much a dish as a timepiece whose time is done, an “apple crumble” complete with a pretend apple, a tasteless parfait cloaked in nuclear green gelatine, with a wilting chocolate stalk in the top. There’s a quenelle of ice cream which has been rolled in (could it really be? yes, it is) crushed cornflakes. There’s a scattering of toasted tasteless oats over the whole shebang. The best thing on the plate are some halved blueberries sitting in a mealy apple puree to which Annabel Karmel’s baby diners would probably object.

An actual apple crumble all crunchy sticky at the edges from the pages of a Darina Allen or a Nigel Slater would have been half the work and twice the pleasure. The other dessert is yards better, a knickerbocker glass of Cookbook Mess – shards of meringue tumbled in a knickerbocker glass full of cream with oozing tangy red currants.

One bonkers dessert aside, I like The Cookbook Cafe. It has the slightly zany feel of a secondhand book shop, personality in spades and a competent kitchen. It has cracked the secret of all the best tribute acts: being as good, if not better, than the star whose playbook you’re venerating.

Lunch for two with two green juices and an Americano came to €59.25.

The Cookbook Cafe, 57A Glasthule Road, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin (01) 5597999

Music: Loud pop

Food provenance: None apart from the recipe writers

Facilities: Down steep stairs

Wheelchair access: No

Vegetarian options: Good

Verdict: 7.5/10  An edible love letter to your favourite cookbooks

Second helping

Quinoa salad eaten under a thatched roof is not an everyday occurrence but it works in Powers Thatch Pub in Oughterard. We stopped off on the way to Connemara and loved the mixture of old pub with new menu. Everything was made with terrific fresh ingredients, and served with an old school pub welcome. If this is the future for the old Irish pub, it’s a delicious one.

Powers Thatch Bar, Oughterard, Co Galway