“Are you always, like, this busy?” we asked the waitress in Strandfield.
“Mother’s Day? The queue was right back to this door,” she replied, pointing to the double doors that form the entrance to the restaurant from the shop and flower shop.
We were sitting near to that door, which meant a 50-yard Mother’s Day queue for food at Strandfield.
We’re not surprised. Strandfield is ace. Hannah Byrne’s inspired concept is smart, functional, blessed with incredibly fine staff, and it’s in the right place: a 2-minute detour off the M1, and right in between Dundalk and Newry.
It’s a long, bright, converted barn, the type of space which has become fashionable of late for fashioning into restaurants, garden centres, lifestyle shops and whatnot. But, unlike some other similar ventures, Strandfield is a lean, mean professional machine.
They handle crowds as well as Avoca handles crowds, and no one has thought about handling crowds as much as Avoca’s Simon Pratt. These guys could cope with a tour bus of hungry people without breaking sweat, and we’ll bet there are plenty of days when the turnover of hungry folk here heads north of a thousand eaters.
Eaters, and shoppers, because even if you are simply hungry and looking for a rice bowl, do not neglect the shop. It’s a beauty, packed with all the gear you want: fresh eggs; sourdough breads; Sheridan’s cheeses; fresh vegetables; smart deli gear.
And the flower shop is riding what is currently the biggest wave in lifestyle accessorising: creative and imaginative flower designs, the sort of bouquets and arrangements that make your living space de luxe in an instant.
So, we ate a tomato, barley and celeriac soup, with fine house brown bread and a lovely little pat of butter bound up in a square of parchment paper, and a very fine pizza margherita, with an excellent crispy crust and a perfect tomato/cheese ratio. A flat white and a cappuchino were spot on, which showed that the barista has grace under pressure, because he was under some pressure the day we called.
And here’s the clincher, the keeper: Strandfield will now be on our don’t miss list as we drive the M1. Our schedules will be altered depending on whether or not we want to be there for lunch, morning coffee, tea in the afternoon, whatever. It’s a beaut.
Ballymascanlon, Dundalk, Co Louth