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Restaurant review: The Jolly Sandwich Shop - unleash your food fantasies in cafe with common touch

3 Darling Street, Enniskillen Tel: 028 6632 2277

By Joris Minne

If Beatrix Potter had ever gone into the catering business, she would have opened a cafe just like the Jolly Sandwich Shop. Nestled in the heart of Enniskillen town centre, the shop isn't really a shop at all. It is a classic, ting-a-ling, old school cafe restaurant, the kind you used to see in posh department stores in market towns across Ireland in your granny's day.

The bright, country-livin', cheer-up-it-might-never-happen, creamy wood-pannelled interior instantly creates a warm glow and if you were grumpy or in a bad mood when you came in, a matter of seconds inside the door will have you smiling again.

Benign and delightful, the Jolly Sandwich Shop is nonetheless as ruthlessly efficient as a Venus flytrap. Once you're in, there's no going back. You are guided past the counter glass and its vast array of irresistible goodies: gently simmering stews, pies, bakes, flans, lasagnes, quiches and melts and then the salads, pastas, sandwich fillings and heaven knows what else (there must be more than 50 options). It is beguiling and inescapable, so you order your food, sit down and wait. To heighten the addiction, there is a disarming country charm about everyone who works here, an engaging sense of humour and wit which is the epitome of Fermanagh hospitality.

The Jolly Sandwich Shop is a place in which to leave your grown-up head outside and instead, let rip and realise your foodie fantasies. Which is how I ended up with a chicken and mushroom bake topped with cheesy potato and served with egg mayonnaise, orzo in pesto and coleslaw. I know.

I would have had some poached salmon on top of that along with a bit of pulled pork but at that point a little light went on reminding me of my age and position in life.

This is what a nine-year-old might choose. Nobody raised an eyebrow. I ordered a pot of tea to go with it.

A combination of factors combined that day to make this one of the most memorable lunches of the year. It was very cold and wet, I had the beginnings of a chest infection and the trip up from an earlier meeting in Portaferry had been miserable. But now in Enniskillen, things were looking up. I was able to park outside, walk in, order my fantasy lunch and settle down into the very comforting surroundings of the restaurant and I was hungry.

The place opens early, before seven to serve up breakfasts and it keeps going through lunch and into afternoon tea before closing in the early evening.

But what it is best at is making you feel you're in the right place.

Fermanagh has always been the polite county of the north and those country manners are on display throughout the hour I spent in there.

A constant flow of people coming in and out, ordering at the counter, taking a seat and having their food and drinks brought to them gives the place a gentle buzz and rhythm.

People are picking up bags of pre-ordered food, sandwiches for meetings and other catering goodies.

Owner Hazel Johnston is there leading from the front, gently fussing over everybody without overdoing it, tidying up, clearing after, doing what really good catering people do: being there, being hospitable and putting out top-class food.

That chicken and mushroom bake is an exercise in comfort. Its rich, unctuous, salty liquor packed with chunks of chicken and firm mushrooms, melt away with the mashed potatoes to create the warmth and reassurance of a favourite sofa.

My crazy additions are equally good. Egg mayo is balanced and the eggs roughly smashed rather than smoothly minced; the orzo with pesto is fresh and sparkly with that deep sweetness of the basil and the crunchy coleslaw provides texture and crunch. I could have eaten it all day long.

The tea (SD Bells) is served in a pot and you have a proper china cup and saucer to put it in.

Then are the tray bakes. And the cakes. Cheesecake, chocolate fudge cake, apple and rhubarb tart, spiced bakewell, lemon meringue and Armagh apple sponge are only the start: you have to see the daily specials. Like the orange flavoured flapjack the size of a breezeblock I had to help me finish my tea.

One day I'll get there for breakfast because reading the menu blackboard is like a reading from Ulster's A-list of food producers with buttermilk pancakes, Whites creamy porridge, Crawfords granola and of course the fry featuring Sprott's bacon and ham, Molloy's salmon, Erne eggs, Priors and Durnien fruit and veg and J Trimble meats. Thankfully, not the entire country has left the 19th century yet, but what Hazel has managed to do is combine the quality of what you remember from favourite food moments as a child with the service and values of today.

The bill

Chicken bake...................................£4.50

3 salads.............................................£5.55

Pot of tea ........................................£1.35

Flapjack............................................£2.95

Total:...............................................£14.35

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