By Brian Moore
THE award-winning Farmgate Café in the English Market marks 25 years in business this year.
And with its co-founder and West Cork resident, Kay Harte at the helm its future looks brighter than ever.
Kay, who lives in Union Hall, set up the much loved restaurant with her sister Maróg O’Brien.
Kay remembers: ‘Maróg, had already opened the Farmgate in Midleton which had already been in business for 10 years at that point.
‘We were told at the time that we were mad to open a café in the English Market but to us it seemed to be the ideal place as we wanted to incorporate the fantastic produce that was, and still is, available just steps away from our kitchen. Our menu was strictly based on what could be purchased down stairs every morning and this is still the case today.’
Not surprisingly it wasn’t long before this concept made the Farmgate a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike who throng the spot for everything from a cup of tea and scone, to oysters delivered directly from the fishmongers a short few metres away or an authentic lamb stew.
It’s also renowned for serving the traditional Cork dish of tripe, onions and drisheen (the lining of a cow’s stomach and blood sausage) which enjoys an almost cult following.
‘The Farmgate is not a normal café and it never could be,’ Kay insists.
‘It’s a market café and it always has to be a market café and I feel that if you don’t put your priority on the produce that is available in the market then you don’t have a right to be there. There are eight functioning butchers, three fish stalls, cheese specialists, fresh vegetables and herbs here and absolutely anyone is welcome up the stairs for a cup of coffee or for a bowl of soup.’
Kay has always been a great supporter of the arts, and the paintings, sculptures and framed poetry, including one personally presented by President Michael D Higgins, that adorn the walls of the Farmgate are also a unique and special part of the café.
‘The Farmgate is very much for local people but we also have a huge customer following from West Cork. I’m semi-retired now and spend two days a week in the business where my daughter Rebecca has come on board full-time,’ Kay said.
‘My husband Niall and I moved from the city to West Cork 15 years ago, but I had been coming here for 50 years, when I first came down to meet Niall’s family in Rosscarbery.
‘I remember the fabulous grilled salmon at the Marine Hotel in Glandore when I first visited.
'And at the West Cork Hotel as a young child I remember the delicious brown bread that was always so fresh.
'I remember being told that the women of the house made the bread every morning and got up at 4.30am to bake it. I think that it was this essence of true hospitality that stayed with me when we set up the Farmgate. Above all we want people to be comfortable with our menu, with the café and with us.’
Kay was born and grew up in Youghal and while she spent most of her married life in the heart of the city, moving to West Cork was always on the cards.
‘It was a lifetime plan for Niall, who grew up down here, to get back to West Cork and I suppose I wanted to get back to being close to the sea. I always say that the sea is in our ears, so moving to Union Hall was never going to be a hardship,’ Kay said.
‘I love the clean air and sound of the sea and of course the people and the community spirit, which is so important and it’s the community volunteerism, which makes, in my view, West Cork a seriously functioning society.’