While everyone else moves away and nay-says the place, I remain totally, truly, pathetically devoted to Dublin. It doesn’t take much for me to fall head-over-heels again – all it took today was a nice spring morning and the sight of the bus driver on the 4 to Monkstown Avenue smoking a covert cigarette out the window as he drove us through sunny Blackrock.
I like to think that I know Dublin well, but I don’t, not really. Today was only my second time in Monkstown, which is quite close to where I live, and right next to Dun Laoghaire, where I work. I was sort of blown away by the village – it’s cool in a way that Dublin, while lovely, rarely manages to be. One of Avoca’s latest ventures, Salt (so named for the old salt works in the area) made a particularly strong impression, with grey walls, beautiful fixtures and a stunning coffee bar. It’s the first fully food-based Avoca venture, and houses the usual Avoca bakery and deli items, a James Whelan butchery concession, the eponymous Salt café and best of all, Poulet Bonne Femme, an in-store rotisserie kiosk.
As the restaurant was so busy, we decided to buy freshly-made hot sandwiches from the rotisserie to bring down to the sea. We bought roast chicken and roast ham, swapping a half each so we could try both, and they were pretty perfect: nice sourdough bread, butter, mayonnaise, mustard, salad leaves, gorgeously roasted meat, and all the better for having been eaten outside. After the rush hour of lunch had passed, we went back up to the café for coffee and caramel shortbread.
I feel oddly proud of the various Avoca stores, and of what they have managed to achieve over the last decade or so. I think they make a good impression for us, and I’m not the only one: the notoriously stony retail critic Mary Portas visited Avoca Suffolk Street this time last year and gave the shop a rare score of 9/10.
“Service like this, even when a shop is really busy, means someone passionate about people as well as product is at the helm… When a brand is this good, people will come – and when they’re surrounded by so many things of beauty, they will happily wait for the privilege. From the fries to the fruit breads, the soups to the soaps, everything here has been masterminded by a highly creative team with real passion and care. And because they’ve taken such a holistic view of things, brands such as Avoca are, in this critic’s opinion, heaps ahead of the competition.”