Anyone visiting Sligo should make a point of calling into the magnificently traditional Lyons Department Store, in business since 1835 and still with its original shopfront. It’s a joy to find a quirky owner-run store these days and, on the first floor, they have a café-restaurant serving fresh and wholesome locally sourced food – Sligo’s best kept secret, perhaps.
'Possibly the oldest café in Sligo town', Lyons Café opened in 1923 and has changed little since: casement window, cream panelling, wooden floor, bentwood chairs... There will be a couple of ladies putting the world to rights at a window table, as they have probably been doing for the last 30 years.
You are immediately aware of the animated chatter and friendly feel – unlike so many smart modern places that could be anywhere, in Lyons you really feel you are in Sligo.
However, while retaining the best of older ways – especially the good scones and treats for those of sweet tooth – the food also appeals to the more contemporary palate. The café is operated independently of the store and, since 2002, it’s been run by the talented and well-travelled chef Gary Stafford, who takes the best of seasonal local produce and with a little help from some more exotic ingredients transforms it into the colourful and fresh-flavoured food that has loyal fans from far and wide beating a path to the door. So, alongside the best of Irish comfort food – Lyons Café Fish Pie, slow braised belly of pork – you’ll find great salads and zesty little hot numbers like Moroccan lamb burgers with toasted pine nuts and feta cheese; Indian sweet potato and broccoli; and red lentil curry and shredded beef kindo.
There’s a good selection of teas and coffees of course, sandwiches are made to order, and great home baking – of both a variety of breads and scones, and a wide range of sweet treats to enjoy with a cuppa.
Enticing homemade desserts are a strong point, such as black cherry Bakewell, tangy lemon and lime tart, brownies... and the possibility of lashings of cream or a scoop of ice cream alongside.
Or pop into Bakeshop (071 913 8006), their artisan French bakery on the ground floor of the department store, where Gary Stafford has teamed up with Fauchon-trained baker Christophe Messagot, serving freshly baked artisan breads, pastries, grab and go sandwiches, coffee and Lyons Café take-home dinners. Simply gorgeous.
Gary Stafford has also published a lovely cookbook, Lyons Café, The Recipes, which was written in celebration of their ten-year anniversary in 2012.