On a sunny Sunday morning, there can’t be a friendlier room in county Dublin than Audrey McDonald’s Cookbook Café, in little Glasthule.
Ms McDonald’s partner, Tom Dunne, is spinning vinyl, an album of covers by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. The floor staff have that sixth sense that allows them to pre-guess what it is you want to eat and drink.
Above all, there is a powerful sense of generosity, of the pleasure of sharing, implicit in this lovely, colourful, one-year-old space.
And that sense of sharing extends to the menu in a very pertinent and cultural way. The Cookbook Café takes its name and its cues from the books that have influenced Ms McDonald’s culinary career. Her work isn’t just an act of creativity: it is also an act of curation, of acknowledging the predecessor cooks who have made their mark on her style.
In this regard, she is right in the midst of a new avant garde: the New York Times restaurant reviewer, Pete Wells, recently wrote that In Situ, the chef Corey Lee’s new restaurant at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is “the most original restaurant in the country”.
Fair enough, but get this: none of Mr Lee’s dishes are new. Instead, he curates the classic dishes from stellar restaurants, so your meal in In Situ might finish with Wood Sorrel & Sheep’s Milk Yogurt (Rene Redzepi; Noma; Copenhagen; 2005).
Redzepi doesn’t cook that dessert any more, but Mr Lee does. And, similarly, our brunch dish of crispy quesadilla with marinated chicken, roasted mixed peppers, pickled red onion, jack cheese, salsa and sour cream is a dish that the great American chef Bobby Flay hasn’t cooked in yonks.
No matter: Ms McDonald’s version does Mr Flay’s creation proud, and she offers up one of the best quesadillas you can eat.
Just to show that she doesn’t always need the books, Ms McDonald cooks a classic Nicoise salad as technically perfect as you will find, each detail counterpointing and congratulating every other ingredient.
So, who else gets clocked on the Cookbook menus? Ottolenghi, of course (we finished with his Cookbook Mess, a gorgeousness of crushed meringue with rosewater cream, macerated strawberries and chopped pistachios), and Jamie, and Annabel Karmel, and Marcus Wareing and the River Café, and at dinner you just might feel like Neven Maguire’s trio of chicken. In truth, whatever you choose will be the work of a cook with an inquiring mind, and a generous heart, a cook whose willingness to share her influences reveals her originality.
57A Glasthule Road, Sandycove, Co Dublin 01 5597 999 cookbookcafe.ie