Review – a Tale of Two Cheese Toasties

Maegden (Bushmills) and Loose Canon (Dublin)

April was a real treat of a month for me and my social life. I honestly don’t get out much, but in the past few weeks I’ve managed an overnight in Portstewart with a few gals and an overnight in Dublin with my husband and some pals. Don’t stop me now, I’m heading to Manchester and Stoke for a grand day out with my bestie on Monday morning! (Look out for the Manchester blog!)

I like simplicity. I love cheese. I love bread. They are two of life’s greatest pleasures. If you’re offering a deluxe cheese toastie made with quality Irish cheese – I am here to support you and give you all my money. When I was in Bushmills I had lunch in Maegden. When I was is Dublin I had lunch in Loose Canon. Im going to have to hold myself back as I write this review because I could wax lyrical about both these places, they are both simple, beautiful places, that celebrate quality produce.

Let’s start with Maegden. 

Menu – Maegden has a simple menu of toasties, and a beautiful selection of baked goods at the counter. Their suppliers are carefully chosen for quality and locality. The drinks menu has delicious coffee options and speciality soft drinks including Karma cola and Long Meadow apple juice. Simple, but so effective. 

Food – I ordered the special that was on at the time, which was an Indian inspired cheese toastie with spiced spinach and a carrot chutney on the side. My fellow diners ordered the classic Maegden cheese toastie. The bread is beautifully crisp sourdough with the perfect amount of body and flavour to stand up to the filling. The filling is a rich, and I mean really rich, blend of oozy cheese. The flavour is sharp and salty, and each bite is as delicious as the last; the large toastie does not become tiresome as it might if it were made with lesser cheeses. What takes this toastie to the next level are the homemade pickles served alongside. I really enjoyed the sharp and juicy pears that cut through the richness of the toastie. As I’ve already confessed, I’m a cheese and bread person… so I was in lunch heaven. If you demolish it all like I did, you’ll need to walk it off. But don’t worry, you’re in the right place for a good walk and some sea air.

Ambience – Maegden also has a fantastic deli and shop, which is like an Aladdin’s cave for food lovers. So many artisan sauces, chutneys, chocolate and more. I got some Harry’s nut butter and some Lemon Drop Chilli Jam… neither lasted long in my house. `The dining tables and benches are casual and relaxed, and the whole shop puts a smile on my face. To conclude, if I lived in Bushmills I would be broke, fat, and happy. 

Now to Loose Canon.

Menu – Loose Canon is really all about the wine. They offer a large selection of natural wines by the glass and by the bottle. To go along with this they have a small, but thoughtfully designed, menu of toasties, cheese plates, and charcuterie plates. 

Food – I ordered a glass of red wine and a cheese toastie. In terms of the wine, it was lovely, and I’m afraid to say that’s about as far as my wine knowledge goes. I enjoyed it. We all commented on the cool wine glasses that are hand illustrated, and a pleasure to drink from. The toastie was made with a light, granary batch loaf. Its filling was a rich blend of cheese, with the addition of scallions and béchamel sauce. The filling was delicious, but so generous it spilled from the sides of the bread with each bite, and unfortunately I was left with a good bit of melted goodness remaining on the plate. Without bread to soak it up it became just too much to finish. Although this toastie was a simple celebration of really great quality cheese, I would have enjoyed a few pickles, or a chutney on the side, as an occasional palate cleanser on an intensely cheesy plate. 

Ambience – The best thing about Loose Canon is its location on Drury Street. Sitting out at the front in the spring sunshine, watching the world go by, was a real joy. I had to put my glass at my feet on the pavement as I ate my toastie, and although this level of relaxed dining suits me just fine, I realise it’s not for everyone. Some people may prefer to wait for one of the few tables or benches in the small shop to become available. We were there for an early lunch on a Friday, and as the wine bar began to gain momentum in the afternoon, there was a really lovely, casual, urban community spirit, as people rubbed shoulders and spilled on to the bustling street. 

For me, Loose Canon is great a great place to stop for a glass of wine and to soak up the atmosphere of a vibrant part of Dublin. The cheese shop stocks Ireland’s finest produce – but I wouldn’t rush back for a toastie. 

Sunday Dessert – Raspberry Bakewell Cake

“Who’s driving?” A question that was never asked in my house, when guests were round for Sunday dinner. I soon got used to this question the more I visited my husband’s family home on a Sunday afternoon. My husband’s initial shock at another plate of traybakes being produced after a huge meal in my house has also eased off. His appetite for buns has grown dutifully over the years. We come from somewhat different backgrounds but here’s what unites both families – Sunday afternoons are for long, relaxed lunches. A meal that runs into the early evening and is enough to keep you going until its time to sit down in front of a tv drama at 9pm. A meal that leaves some nodding off into a food coma on the sofa. I love these afternoons, and whether you feel that they round off a busy week or set the tone at the start of a new one, they are an important change of pace for our families. 

But let’s get to the point – what’s for dessert? Its got to be a crowd pleaser, and it’s got to be substantial. Can you serve it warm with custard? Can you serve it with vanilla ice cream in the warmer months? Then you’re on to a winner. The dessert I’m sharing with you here ticks all these boxes. It’s also easy to throw together and doesn’t involve making pastry. I don’t always have the patience for pastry on my day off. It’s also flexible depending on what you have on hand. My favourite is with fresh raspberries in season. But I’ve made it with finely diced Bramley apples, and with frozen mixed berries when that’s all I’ve got handy. (I won’t endorse any extra trips to the shops at the weekend, but don’t let an empty fruit bowl put you off making dessert.)

The flavour combination of raspberry and almond is a retro classic, which is fitting for a Sunday dessert… your Granny would approve.  

Yield – 9 portions 


140g ground almonds

140g butter, softened

140g golden caster sugar

140g self raising flour

2 eggs

1 tsp almond extract

2 tbsps milk

300g raspberries (or other fruit of choice)

2 tbsp flaked almonds


  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  • Grease and line a 8in deep cake tin, or a square tin.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until pale.
  • Add the almonds, eggs, flour, almond extract and milk. Beat to a smooth batter.
  • Spread half of the mixture on the bottom of the cake tin.
  • Stud with the raspberries (or fruit of choice)
  • Dollop on the rest of the batter and use a dampened spatula, spoon, or finger-tips to spread the batter over the fruit. 
  • Scatter on the flaked almonds.
  • Bake at 180 degrees for approx. 50 mins, until the cake is risen and golden, and springy to the touch.
  • Delicious warm or at room temperature. Serve with custard, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

Zucchini Bread

I hate to say this, but nobody is going to get excited about a loaf of banana bread right now. We are living in a post-banana bread, post-lockdown culture. You’re ready for something new, I know you are. So may I introduce you to your new wholesome loaf cake – zucchini bread. Its American; its got that cosy, spiced, delicious, moist character that we all love. Its not too sweet and cake-y to be eaten with morning coffee. I think you should let it take the place of banana bread, or even carrot cake, in your life this spring and summer… 

I recently spent a life-affirming 24 hours at the North Coast with a few good friends. We went for a walk on Whiterocks beach on a blustery, fresh, (baltic) afternoon. I love that cold wind coming straight off the Atlantic and stinging my cheeks. I love the towering white cliffs at one side and the roaring sea and the other as I walk on that beach, making me feel small. But the highlight of this particular walk was the flask of tea we shared, and the thickly sliced, thickly buttered Zucchini bread we ate from the shelter of the rocks. As a brief aside let me just say, eating outdoors is great. A lot of things taste better in the fresh air, and of course, the fresh air builds up ones appetite. Don’t come to me to complain about sandy sandwiches or napkins blowing away, I’m all for it. Watch this space for more picnic foods and outdoor eating in the coming months, as I am full of ideas and inspiration. Chefs spend way too much time cooped up in hot, loud, kitchens. When I get the opportunity, you’ll find me out in the fresh air, snacking. 

The recipe I started with comes from an American cookbook my mum picked up while living there. It was put together by local families as a school fundraiser in an affluent and stylish Philadelphia suburb called Chestnut Hill. So this book captured my attention immediately when I found it on her shelf. I’m a sucker for an American culture that probably doesn’t really exist…I love escaping to Stars Hollow with the Gilmore Girls and watching The Barefoot Contessa pottering around her garden in the Hamptons on Food Network. And also, these kind of cookbooks are always great, as people will only put forward for submission the recipes that are tried and true over many years, and that their family love. I, of course, have put my own tweaks on the recipe to suit Northern Irish ingredients. Ive also reduced the sugar content and upped the “zucchini” content of the original recipe. But I’ve made it enough times recently that it is now on my own tried and true, favourites list. And so I give you my version, make it as soon as you can, enjoy with your cuppa, feel that Americana, be the Gilmore Girl, be the Barefoot Contessa. Feel comforted and bolstered knowing that something more exciting, but just as delicious as banana bread, is here. 


2 loaves (give one to the neighbours, or wrap in clingfilm and freeze. It freezes very well.)

I use American-style measuring cups for this recipe, and one large mixing bowl, to keep it as effortless as possible. If you don’t have measuring cups, just use a teacup or small coffee cup. It’s a pretty forgiving batter.


3 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups caster sugar

3 cups plain flour

1 tsp. Salt

1 1/2 tsp. Baking powder

1 tsp. Baking soda

4 tsp. Ground cinnamon

3 tsp. Ground ginger

3 tsp. grated nutmeg

3 courgettes, grated. (Finer grate on a standard box grater)

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

2 tsp lemon zest


  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  • Grease and line 2 loaf pans. I buy the loaf pan liners from Lakeland and they make this effortless.
  • Mix the eggs, oil and sugar. 
  • Add the flour, salt, raising agents and spices and fold through.
  • If the courgettes are very wet, squeeze through a sieve to remove excess water. Usually the ones I get from the 3 pack in Tesco don’t require this step. 
  • Fold through the courgettes, lemon zest and nuts (if using).
  • Divide the mixture between the loaf pans and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.