Under a stone archway and through an attractive iron gateway off busy North Street in Skibbereen, Majella and Shane O'Neill's intriguing café allows passers by to catch a promising glimpse of a prettily planted laneway, with tables set up at the end.
You can go in that way, and admire the riverside garden area before heading into the café through big French doors. Alternatively, taking the main street entrance brings you through a very pleasant speciality food shop and seating area at the front of the building, which then leads into a surprisingly large restaurant with, at the far end, the courtyard garden and a riverside decking area providing more seating.
A lovely, soothing retreat from the bustling market town, this is a real find for visitors to Skibbereen – and one with more than a hint of the Mediterranean about both the food and setting, especially on sunny summer days.
But even in ‘soft’ West Cork weather, the bright and colourful interior (enhanced by local artwork) creates a sunny atmosphere to enjoy anything from a glass of wine or coffee and a snack to a full meal based on local and/or organic foods.
Menus “using the best of the fresh local ingredients available on our doorstep” change seasonally and, while not a vegetarian restaurant, vegetarians will be especially pleased with the imaginative choice available - a starter of marinated butterbean, feta and sundried tomato salad, perhaps, and main of grilled polenta with aubergine caviar. Good home baking is another particular strength and includes spelt and gluten-free breads.
There's an abundance of local meats, charcuterie and poultry, and you will find plenty of fish and seafood here too – and there's a big Spanish influence in the kitchen now, with a chef from Galicia doing great things with seafood, notably on the very enjoyable tapas menu.
Also, a real boon for self catering visitors to the area, salads, tartlets, soups and gourmet sandwiches (made with their freshly baked ciabatta, spelt or gluten-free bread) are also available each day to take away – in addition to the speciality and artisan foods on sale in the shop area.
Above the café is The Riverside Loft Studio, an attractive venue available for meetings/conferences, theatrical and social events.