In the pretty village of Clarinbridge, restaurants and cafes come and go with regularity. With its retro-modern cottage style, decorative shelves of chutneys, and wooden furniture, PoppySeed Cafe is one constant and reliable part of village life, tucked back from the main street behind the shopping complex.
Towards the front of the shop, the team make bespoke hampers and there are tables stacked with fancy crackers and posh lollipops, but this is more bustling cafe than it is gourmet food store. There is no such thing as a typical customer - you will see families with teenagers, young mothers with toddlers, and friends of all ages chatting over a coffee and a slice of cake. You can expect daily home baking, fresh soups, and lunchtime specials, a takeaway menu, and more - and at PoppySeed you are guaranteed delicious food and a warm welcome.
The new addition is upstairs from the casual and friendly cafe and since its opening in March, AJLA seems to be filling a gap left in the Clarinbridge dining market after the closure of the The Old School House Restaurant. Located in the extensive first-floor above the PoppySeed cafe, this is a restaurant that enjoys views of the stone bridge and the Clarin River. Decorated in an elegant deep green, the space centres around a red brick Tardis of a wine cellar (or for those of a certain age, think Forty Coats' flying sweet shop ), and a separate function room for private parties and events. Brunch is served daily with an array of freshly baked scones with house preserves, creative breakfasts, and healthy options. The lunch and dinner options offer classical favourites including pate, grilled prawns, steamed mussels, and steak with an array of mezze boards too.
It is a date night sort of place, although children, the kind that do not insist on chips and nuggets, are welcome too. Just as the food at PoppySeed is fresh and tasty, AJLA follows suit offering a wide range of options for brunch, dinner, and dessert with a more sophisticated twist. Judy Forde is a talented chef and here we can see her flex her culinary muscles with a short but creative menu that showcases the best of Irish produce. Starters could be sweet potato and courgette fritter with Fivemiletown goat's cheese and pickled vegetables, or an old school chicken liver pate with relish. Mains tend towards classics with an upgrade, charred harissa chicken with Toonsbridge mozzarella, or seared Barbary duck. Portions are on the money and service is friendly and informative.
This restaurant is doing it right. Its success is built on hard work and good cooking with real ingredients and the atmosphere is unpretentious. The team believe in going the extra mile. PoppySeed is a real success story, and AJLA will follow in its footsteps.