Something wonderful is happening in the bar on the first floor of the Wanderers clubhouse in the green heart of D4. An idea from Therese Coveney and Cathy Smith became a reality earlier this year, and while I was dying to visit their Together Café – a training café affiliated with the social enterprise Together Academy and also located in the same building – I’ve held out until now .
Herese and Cathy are both mothers to young people with Down Syndrome, and while their children probably don’t spend all that much time worrying about making a living and having a good life as adults, their parents do certainly. Over 90 percent of adults with DS are unemployed, many spending their days in time-filling activities that do little to enhance meaning and well-being. And then there’s the little thing of earning a wage.
So Therese and Cathy founded Together Academy, a unique college that offers certified food and hospitality training, hands-on work experience, and community employment opportunities. In the Together Café, classroom theory is put into practice.
The reason I haven’t visited it until now is because I wanted it so badly I didn’t think I could take it if it wasn’t. I too am a parent of a young person with DS and I know only too well the lack of opportunities for my daughter and her friends. I’ve decided that if it’s horrible, I won’t write about it at all.
I shouldn’t have worried. The Together Café not only fulfills the feel-good factor that one would hope for from an inclusive community café, but also in a stylish way. (The yellow-and-navy blue branding is very elegant.) And it serves a tasty, well-priced lunch, not to mention excellent roast coffee. (Barista Molly has students whipping lattes and flat whites with ease; my macchiato is spotless.)
It’s one of the first cool days of autumn and the café is buzzing nicely (Book in advance at email@example.com). We start with a sweet potato and coconut soup together, well seasoned and really tasty. Warm brown soda bread (homemade) comes with a small bowl of actual butter. A slice of leek and pancetta quiche is generous without being too much, as the depth is just right, allowing for plenty of wobbly filling without an unappealing overload of eggs. The pastry is homemade, light and buttery, and to the side is a good pile of crispy, colorful coleslaw, clearly fresh, handmade and not overdone, with a handful of decent leaves.
The rich free-range chicken sandwich is another winner, the meat tossed in a light lemon-herb aioli. A layer of crunchy onions adds interest and is a nice touch. The bread is from Brot 41 who support the cafe by not charging. (Well done, Bread 41!) The sandwich comes with coleslaw and leaves and can be served as a salad with bread on the side instead.
It’s not easy to make a vegan sandwich interesting, but Together Café is, with its spiced cauliflower, tiny florets tossed in a roasted red pepper chimichurri and stacked in a slice of sourdough baguette with pickled cabbage, roasted cashews and arugula, on the best way good measure. The coleslaw appears on the side. I’m interested to hear that the same dish didn’t sell when it was branded a vegetarian sandwich, but the vegan rebranding has made it one of the most popular items on the menu.
We’re taking away a rich and rather delicious peanut butter chocolate chip cookie cake — think Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on steroids — and a decadent lemon curd bar that’s bright with hints of citrus on a cookie base.
With a couple of sausage rolls, a pork (not free-range) and a vegetarian stuffed with spinach, feta and pine nuts to take away and the fine macchiato, the bill comes to 50 euros before service.
Ballymaloe-trained chef Ali Gaw oversees the kitchen and works with students on menu planning, while Together Academy students are joined on the floor by TY people from local schools. The Together Café is still in its infancy but already hosts ESG events and there are plans to launch a mobile café and corporate catering. Christmas baskets and a pop-up shop are in the works. And perhaps most interesting of all is the notion that this could be a template for Together cafes across Ireland, occupying the clubhouses and pubs that sit empty most of the week and the communities that have lost heart and soul return soul.
Food for thought and tears of joy.
The ‘famous’ bratwurst roll with Together Academy Relish is €3, with salad and coleslaw €4.50.
Soup, quiche and a lemon bar for two cost €39.
Wanderers Rugby Club, Merrion Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
togetheracademy.ie ((Monday-Thursday, 10am-2.30pm)
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/together-cafe-review-this-could-be-a-template-for-cafes-all-over-ireland-occupying-clubhouses-and-pubs-that-lie-empty-putting-heart-back-into-communities-42042663.html Together Cafe Review: “This could be a template for cafes across Ireland to occupy clubhouses and pubs that sit empty and give heart back to communities.”