Ireland may not be a leader in the world’s haute cuisine but I didn’t have far to go to find great food in Limerick. There’s a new café on a busy street corner in the centre of town near the Shannon River.
It’s called the Hook and Ladder Living Café. Manager Ashley explains the name is because the Café is constantly evolving. From seasonal foods on the menu to the wall of quality kitchen accessories (Yes, they’re all for sale), from the selection of baked goods coming from their in-house bakery to the line-up of cooking classes in the lower level cookery school, it is constantly changing with the seasons and evolving with the time.
Many items are locally sourced, fresh ingredients are seasonal and foodstuffs are typically Irish. Driving from Dublin to Limerick the countryside was constant checkerboard pastures with dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep. I was getting a hunkering for lamb, but “we only eat it in season,” says Ashley of Irish lamb, “It’s a spring dish.”
Ashley chats about the strong local food movement in Ireland. “We need to support our own”, she says of their recent downturn in the economy. From the Limerick region there’s an abundance of all dairy from their sweet creamy butter to the whipped cream they smear on their warm scones. Apples are big in this region of Ireland and you can see it in their apple tarts, pies and compote that accompanies their famous Brioche French Toast with apple cinnamon compote.
In their bakery warm Irish soda bread comes out of the oven. This one is Pumpkin and Honey and baker Keith explains, “I use soda as a rising agent not a flavouring agent and I bake it in the oven for a moister bread. The flavour comes from the pumpkin and honey.” Sure enough, there is no chalky taste “from soda bread cooked on the hob,” explains Keith. He talks of it as being a new modern version of Irish soda bread.
I ordered the Fruit Scone and it came with soft, sweet Irish butter, thick raspberry preserves and the morning paper, The Irish Times. The scone was warm, the raspberry preserves so chunky it slides off my scone. The scone was loaded with raisins yet they call it a fruit scone and not a raisin scone. It has a buttery flavour with a hefty texture – it’s a delicious scone.
There is an eight-foot tree in the middle of the café, a turret seating area covered with curved window benches and sunshine that pours in from the curved glass. I sit and watch everyone outside driving on the wrong side of the road. I flinch from what I anticipate to be one crash after the other, but it somehow all works. Everyone inside the café is chatting and relaxing to the lull of soft jazz playing in the background.
The next day I went back for the house made granola, yogurt and fruit. It came in a preserving jar beautifully layered like a trifle. I pick up the tall thin ice cream spoon that comes alongside it and begin to stir. On the side I find a little crock of more of Hook and Ladder’s raspberry preserves. It all gets mixed in and washed down with a warm cup of tea.
In the lower level of the café is a popular cooking school with classes on everything from traditional Irish dishes to jams and preserves. Hook and Ladder is a family run business that just opened in May by the Maloney’s who also run a café in Waterford. Waterford is approximately 68 kilometres away and is home of the famous Waterford Crystal.