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Derry’s Cottage Craft Gallery and Coffee Shop is scone a roll

From classic raspberry to more unusual ham, onion and sundried tomato, Derry eatery does NI’s best... and has awards to prove it

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RISE AND SHINE: Michelle Devine and her delicious scones at The Cottage in Derry

RISE AND SHINE: Michelle Devine and her delicious scones at The Cottage in Derry

RISE AND SHINE: Michelle Devine and her delicious scones at The Cottage in Derry

Who doesn’t love a scone? Well a Londonderry cafe can now rightly claim to have the best in Northern Ireland.

The Cottage Craft Gallery and Coffee Shop in Derry’s Shipquay Street bagged two awards at a ceremony held in the Merchant Hotel, that of Best Café and the overall prize for best scones in Northern Ireland.

“I can’t believe it. It was the first time they had a competition and it made me realise how big scones are in this country,” says Michelle Devine, who’s responsible for the prize-winning creations.

“I didn’t realise the magnitude of it and probably still don’t. As the days go on and we’ve customers coming from all arts and parts, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t expect to win.

“I thought I was going to the Merchant and had better put on a nice dress. I hadn’t been out for a while, so I thought I’d dress up and look nice for the night.”

The competition was launched by the Dairy Council and funded by the European Union as part of a campaign to support local hospitality.

It received close to 15,000 public votes for 107 businesses across the sector.

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Michelle Devine has been working at The Cottage since it opened

Michelle Devine has been working at The Cottage since it opened

Michelle Devine has been working at The Cottage since it opened

Michelle, a modern languages teacher, has always had an interest in the food and beverage industry.

“I used to teach English in Mexico and I lived abroad for years, in China and Cuba and all over the place,” she explains.

“I came back here and was teaching Spanish around the primary schools. Then Henk, who owns the shop, asked me to help out initially when he was opening.

“I said I’ll help you for a month and that was two-and-a-half years ago.”

The former couple realised they made a great working team and since then, the café has gone from strength to strength.

“We’ve brilliant customers coming in and supporting us,” says Michelle.

“I love it, I feel passionate about it and that’s probably why I want to do well.”

Having lived in Mexico for so long, Michelle appreciates the time to enjoy good food and good company.

“People put a lot of effort into their cuisine, a lot of preparation, they put their heart and soul into it. It’s a big part of their day, family time, sitting around the table, having coffee, getting together. They’re not eating and running; they’ll sit for hours.”

“There is an art,” she says to creating the perfect scone.

“There’s a recipe but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll come out the same. It’s like handing a child a lump of Playdoh; some might make a heavy, thick ball but somebody could create something else. Making scones, you can give the same ingredients to two different people, and they’d create something different.”

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Michelle at The Merchant with her awards

Michelle at The Merchant with her awards

Michelle at The Merchant with her awards

Good ingredients are vital and she’s quick to praise what we have on our own doorstep.

“When I lived in Mexico, to get fresh milk and nice butter was impossible. There were places I lived that I could never get fresh enough milk, it was all UHT long life.

“Here, we’re lucky thanks to the Dairy Council that we got this award, and they came up with the incentive to help businesses out during this time and it’s had a great impact on the business.”

The café’s awards have brought new customers, but they’ve also helped other local businesses.

“They’ve brought new customers to The Cottage itself and the craft village, which is sort of hidden away,” reveals Michelle.

“It has brought people here but then when they’re here and see the craft village as well, they see all other businesses and the local crafters.”

So what kind of scone would a hungry customer be offered in the café?

“We do plain but if you’re only making plain scones, that’s no good. We do raspberry and white chocolate.”

She laughs. “I’m just taking some of those out of the oven now.”

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STUNNED: Michelle and Henk Swiegers react to news they’ve won Best Cafe

STUNNED: Michelle and Henk Swiegers react to news they’ve won Best Cafe

STUNNED: Michelle and Henk Swiegers react to news they’ve won Best Cafe

As well as the classic sultana option, Michelle’s created a savoury scone — sundried tomato, ham and red onion — which is served heated with cheese.

“Now that I’ve won the award, I’m thinking I have to come up with another creation,” she says. “I’m toying with the idea of a Christmas one and people have been giving me different ideas. But I don’t want to veer away too much from what we have now which is a good product.”

She laughs at the idea that she’s the best scone maker in Northern Ireland, but it’s clear locals have definitely fallen in love with her baking.

“There was a customer passing by last week. She was going back to France, and she wanted to take eight scones back to her boyfriend. We’ve had American customers in bringing them back to the States.

“When the business was opening, I said to Henk, ‘We have to have scones. You can’t have a coffee shop in this country, especially as we are, a wee thatched cottage in the middle of the town, without scones’.

“The competition has put us on the map. I just want to thank the customers and the Dairy Council, and the farmers for all their great milk and butter. It needs good ingredients to make a good product. My mother used to say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Michelle admits her late mother would have been delighted that her youngest child had won such an award.

“She was such a light-hearted woman and being number 13 of 13 children, she kept a smiling face,” she adds.

“My father died when I was a year old, and she was left on her own with 13 of us. I haven’t met anybody as remarkable, how she managed to get through it all smiling. She was a bubbly woman and when she made her scones, she would have been smiling too.”

÷ See the-cottage-craft-gallery-and-coffee-shop.business.site for more information


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