Naked talent

 

Nude Food proffers proper, no short-cuts, homemade food served with pride, writes TOM DOORLEY.

I SOMETIMES WONDER whether a lot of people of my generation were put off soup for life by the stuff that came out of packets. If you were a small child in the 1960s, there’s a fair chance your parents were still in thrall to the notion of high-tech food, believing that hydrogenated vegetable fat and anti-caking agents were, at least in part, the new staff of life.

The refectory at my school was impregnated, and may still be, for all I know, with the unmistakeable scent of industrial grade oxtail soup, a thick, brown liquid with considerable adhesive powers. We believed its relationship to the bovine hindquarters had little to do with tails.

In time, of course, I recovered, and now I’m a genuine soup enthusiast. So much so, indeed, that I find it hard to resist at lunchtime and this is a mixed blessing. Soup has the power to fill you up and keep you that way. It delivers heavily on what the nutritionists like to call satiety.

Anyway, the parsnip and Parmesan soup at Nude Food in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, delivers more than that. It may not strike us, immediately, as a marriage made in heaven, but Louise Clark’s subtle alchemy combines this generally rather unloved winter root and the salty, tangy cheese into a creamy, fragrant bowlful of delight.

Clark is a Londoner who has worked in banking and teaching but who finally found her true vocation when she came to Ireland, 12 years ago, for St Patrick’s weekend. The national festival would normally be enough to put the average person off the Emerald Isle for good, but there’s nothing average about Clark.

Just ask anyone who has encountered her Naked Lunch hot food stall at the Dungarvan and Lismore farmers’ markets. Or, more recently, at Nude Food, her very busy and wonderfully wholesome cafe which is constantly packed with regulars.

My first experience of Nude Food involved a very proper cappuccino (that is, a modestly-sized potent coffee with the kind of froth that doesn’t dilute the overall effect – other cafes please copy) and a slice of Victoria sponge sandwiched with thick, dense homemade loganberry jam and topped with a combination of unbleached icing sugar and butter. When you’re served something like that, you realise that you are eating real food.

And so it was when I returned for the lunch. It wasn’t just the soup, of course, but the slabs of exquisite brown soda bread – enough to set me up for a day or two.

But in the interests of The Irish Times, I persisted and ordered Cumberland sausages with onion marmalade, herby potato cakes and cannellini beans baked with spices and tomato. This, in truth, would have been enough to set me up for the better part of a week had I not already been fuelled on soup.

Oh yes, this was real food. There was no sense that the kitchen here opens packets and reconstitutes stuff from the catering suppliers. Nude Food serves proper homemade food in which pride is taken. And there are precious few cafes of which you can say that. Of course, it’s more than a cafe. There’s an excellent deli, too, and you can eat there on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

The problem is that very few people who run cafes have any interest in food. Hence the preponderance of stuff that comes, bought-in, wrapped in cellophane: the “muffins” (muffins? really?) and “cookies” and heaven knows what else. And the spread in the sandwiches which is always referred to as butter, as in “would you like butter on that?”. And then there’s the stuff that masquerades as coffee in three formats – huge, massive and humungous. And the pasteurised smoothies that are supposed to deliver lots of your five-a-day without the inconvenience of actually eating.

Far too many of us eat in such places simply because, as Sir Edmund Hilary said of Everest, they are there. But you would be much better off making a sandwich at home and brewing some decent coffee which will survive tolerably well in a vacuum flask. Eat an orange and get the benefit, not just of the vitamin C, but also of the dietary fibre. It’s dead easy, really.

But if you have a cafe like Nude Food, cherish it. Because that’s what Nude Food does to its customers. And it’s very, very nice to be cherished.

THE SMART MONEY: Put it like this – my soup, sausages and a glass of delicious Ribera del Duero came to €22. You could eat well for a tenner.

WINE CHOICE

You will have to pinch yourself when you look at the wine list. Not because of the range, which is remarkable for a small place such as this, nor at the quality (all wines are from the excellent Bubble Brothers in Cork). No. Just look at these prices. Most are available by the glass by rotation. Chunky Rozier Costières de Nîmes is €13 a bottle. Montirius Vacqueyras is €18. Domaine de la Côte d’Ange Chateauneuf-du-Pape is €31, and Pingon Ribera del Duero is €15.50. The lovely white Mas des Bressades is €13.50. Domaine de la Rossignole Sancerre is €20.50. Mas Condina Cava, a very decent fizz, is €19.90. Biscuity, elegant Champagne Gallimard NV is €35.90, and the Culpeo organic Chileans are €9.90. Per bottle! Keep pinching. It’s true.