The Travel Café is on the coast road on the way into Dun Laoghaire coming from the direction of The Purty Kitchen. This unassuming spot opened before Christmas and I noticed it a few weeks back when I had parked the car nearby.
When restaurants end up on taste of Ireland, it is only after they have been reviewed and tried. Sometimes that happens because they are famously good, other times by recommendation and sometimes by chance. The Travel Café falls into the latter category.
Restaurants go through fashion phases just like everything else. It can get to the stage that menus start to look and read alike, so it’s often possible to order whatever has been done with Goat’s cheese with some type of beetroot salad, and follow with the beer battered fish and home cut chips. The point is that menus can be very similar. Except when they are not, and this is the case with the Travel Cafe.
They open each day from breakfast through until dinner, and there is a special each lunchtime offering two courses for €9.95. That is a good value proposition in anyone’s book, but what made it better was what was offered.
Starters include an authentic French onion soup with a crispy Gruyere topped crouton and freshly made country bread, or perhaps a Chicken and mushroom Vol-au Vent with a side of chopped tomato, cucumber and basil infusion. Not a Panino in sight.
Main courses continued to intrigue; seared hake, chicken breast in a pastry basket with mild turmeric sauce, Moroccan vegetable tagine, and Granma’s gnocchi with butternut squash sauce or if you’re feeling like some comfort eating there is a Guinness stew or a homemade Shepherds’ pie.
I started with the French onion soup, which was suitably authentic and packed full of caramelised onion flavour, while the Gruyere topped lid was made with layers of Melba toast. This was a fine soup, and better than I have had in some other places which claim a finer French pedigree.
The star dish was the main course; a small but perfect cooked piece of hake centred a plate of artful design. The pea and fennel puree was delicious, the radish and beetroot salad divine. Feeling piggish I had ordered a portion of home cut chips, which were pretty good as well, but for me, the hake was one of my dishes of the year so far, and as part of a €9.95 lunch, it was simply outstanding.
Travel Café are cooking seriously good food, offering outstanding value and friendly service. They definitely fall into the hidden gem category and I intend to return soon for dinner. Definitely worth a visit.