Restaurant review: We take a big bite out of Picnic
47 High Street, Killyleagh, Co. Down. Tel 028 4482 8525
If, like me, you fail at most athletic endeavours, then your appetite for exercise will be minimal. Instead, you reach a happy balance in your life by indulging your hunger and passion for other things like, say, burgers, egg mayonnaise sandwiches and Indian takeaways. That's the way life is. Finding your equilibrium.
One section of the athletic population which does not cut back on eating is your middle-aged club cyclist. These people may cover hundreds of miles over a weekend, but they are not crazy like other athletes who keep a scientific eye on their nutrition. No, cyclists like to reward themselves for their efforts.
Now that the cycling season is upon us, it's worth taking a look at the emergence of the cyclists' cafe. And because these cafes are dotted strategically around the country, you will find them in the most unexpected places.
Take Picnic in Killyleagh, on the shores of Strangford Lough. This is a small cafe with a big heart and, as a result, largely, of the growth in cycling as a popular sport, it has become the must-visit stopping point for cyclists and many more of us who'd rather drive there.
My friend and adviser on all two-wheeled matters is Northern Ireland cycling legend Dave 'Kaner' Kane. He had banged on about Picnic for months until I relented and accompanied him there, in my car, last week.
The former shipyard worker, Commonwealth champion and holder of a 27-year Belfast-to-Dublin record of four hours and 18 minutes, secured in 1971, Kaner is revered among cyclists. He is known across the continent and remains popular among cycling kings including Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly, former Tour de France and Giro d'Italia champions. He also has a forensic knowledge of the back roads of Co. Down.
I was never going to cycle to Killyleagh with this man, so we drove happily along the pleasant roads through the drumlins for no more than 20 minutes until we got to the fairy tale castle at the top of the village.
The first house closest to the castle gates is Picnic. It looks almost French, with its small, Breton-style windows and weather-proof awning to the side. It's ideal for the cyclist as there is plenty of space even for the larger groups to park their bikes. But, most importantly, the food and the service are way above what you might expect out here in the sticks.
The big draw is a prominent display of pies, tarts, buns, salads, things in tubs, in pots and in greaseproof paper. There are little blackboards dangling above and on each is squeezed every tiny last bit of information on what's available today.
I see things for you to take home, like Clonakilty black pudding, Gubbeen, Carragaline Irish beech smoked and Cashel blue cheeses, friands of all flavours and various deli items which it would take hours of browsing to decide on.
And the board that offers sandwiches to go for only £3.95 features a list including smoked tomato tapenade, rocket, grilled aubergine and feta among others.
However, the attraction today comes in three forms: a roast vegetable frittata, a ham and egg pie and a smoked salmon and pea quiche. We could have gone instead for the chilli corn cakes, the herby pork sausage rolls, or the deli sandwich of tomato, cheese and rocket on a rosemary and sea salt bread, but we settled on these purely for the visual spectacle they offered.
Picnic got it right with the visuals. As soon as you walk through the door you know it is pointless to try to resist the visual charm offensive.
Your appetite is, therefore, whetted, so you need to be cautious when ordering and not do what I did which was go for too much. But greed is a necessary occupational vice in my case.
The plates arrived a few minutes later, but what I hadn't reckoned on was that the food would be heated. I'd forgotten that most people prefer their food warm and it makes sense, therefore, that most places serve warm food.
In this case, however, while it was still good, the heating process (whether microwaved, or in a vector oven) had hardened the tops of the ham and egg pies and the frittata, slightly damaging the texture of the pastry as well. This wouldn't put me off going back, but I'd know the next time to ask for the dishes just as they are.
Picnic is an amazing deli: more bazaar or souk than cafe. The service is exemplary and the fact that so many cyclists go there will imbue those of us too lazy to exercise with some sense of athletic well-being just by sipping our macchiatos.
Ham and egg pie with salads £6.95
Quiche with salads £6.95
Roast veg frittata £6.95