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 cafe 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's 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 appeals also to the more contemporary palate. The cafe 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, 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 home made desserts are a strong point - black cherry bakewell, tangy lemon and lime tart, brownies... and the possibility of lashings of cream. Simply gorgeous.
Gary Stafford and his team also supply Slice@The Model, the cafe at Sligo's contemporary arts centre, and he has recently published a lovely cookbook, Lyons Cafe, The Recipes, in celebration of their ten year anniversary.