Saturday, 13 August 2011

On location: Eating my way around Cork

If there's one thing I enjoy more than a delicious dinner, it's a holiday. So it should come as no surprise that my travels tend to revolve around eating. The pleasures of food and travel are closely linked in my mind, especially as the relaxed holiday mentality only invites indulgence (hence one of my favourite meals being what I like to call the 'pre-dinner dinner'). As I like to escape Oxford on a regular basis, I thought I'd share my foodie forays with you in a new series of 'on location' posts.


While I was in Cork for a long weekend, the weather dictated that I spent most of my time indoors. If only I'd have packed my cagoule and a pair of wellies, I wouldn't have had to eat at all of these lovely places. Ireland's certainly not the cheapest country to eat out in, but portions are generous and as the Corkonians seem to love their grub, there are plenty of excellent dining options to be found in Cork.

Arriving somewhere at 4pm is awkward: too late for lunch, but too early for dinner. This is where the pre-dinner dinner comes in. Fortunately for us, Cork seems to have embraced the tapas trend, so we settled in at Bodega, a lofty-ceilinged bar serving a selection of small plates as well as bigger dishes. We opted for a Spanish tortilla with served with tapenade and a toast crouton (€5.90) and grilled garlic mushrooms topped with halloumi cheese, peppers and tomato (€6). Both dishes were beautifully presented and tasty; the different flavours involved in the mushroom dish combining particularly well. Set in a former market building, Bodega is an elegant spot for a drink or a bite to eat, without the hefty price tag such a venue could impose.

Bodega is at St Peter's Market on Cornmarket Street.

Market Lane
Several hours later, it was time for the main event. Wandering central Cork checking out menus on Friday evening, Market Lane was buzzing with customers. Trying our luck, we stepped inside and had a drink at the bar while we waited for a table. The split-level space is busy yet inviting, with low-lighting and plenty of candles making it an ideal venue for a date. It wasn't all couples though; plenty of families were dining, and the balance of local vs tourist clientele tipped slightly in favour of the former, assuring us we'd made a good decision.
Much of the tempting menu of Irish and European dishes is prepared with local ingredients sourced from Cork's gastronomic treasure, the English Market. As prices range from €13.50 to €22 for main dishes, we skipped the starters and ordered a butternut and feta gratin with polenta, caramelized red onions, sundried tomatoes and almonds (€13.50) and monkfish tempura with a lemon and herb potato cake and a tomato, olive and saffron ragout (€18.95).

Butternut and feta gratin

Monkfish tempura
 Both our choices were well-presented and substantial - so substantial in fact, that I had a slight twinge of regret regarding the pre-dinner dinner. The monkfish was clearly high quality and was perfectly cooked, while the polenta added an interesting extra dimension to the excellent butternut squash/feta combination in the gratin. No room for dessert afterwards though, sadly.

Market Lane is at 5-6 Oliver Plunkett Street.

Cork Coffee Roasters
There weren't many good things about our accommodation for the weekend, but its main advantage was definitely its proximity to Cork Coffee Roasters, a miniature gourmet coffee shop which packed a big punch with its smooth hand-roasted blends (and its staff were rather easy on the eye, too). Their coffee (€2.50) was so delicious I braved the Sunday morning downpour to return for more: I can't say I'd ever do that for a Starbucks.

Cork Coffee Roasters is at 2 Bridge Street.

The Quay

After an evening of indulgence, we thought we'd go for the healthy option at The Quay vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Set on the bank of the River Lee above a health foods shop run by the same team,  The Quay is what I'd call an 'old school' vegetarian restaurant, with a self-service counter offering spelt-based pizzas and tarts, lasagne, chickpea burgers, soup and salads. No gourmet affectations here, just well-prepared meat-free home cooking. All eggs used are free range, and many other ingredients are fair trade and organic. At around €10 for a hot lunch option with salad, eating at The Quay isn't a bargain, but the huge portions more than justified the price tag. My chickpea burgers (yes, 2) served with a curry sauce were both tasty and filling, while the spelt pizza with goat's cheese made an interesting change from a normal wheat-based one. The airy dining room with its river view is also a lovely spot to while away an hour or so.

The Quay Co-op is at 24 Sullivan's Quay.

Liberty Grill
Cork's twitterati are big fans of Liberty Grill: when I asked for foodie recommendations, I was surprised by the number of people who suggested it for brunch. Once I checked out the menu though, I could see why: with a wide range of Irish and American breakfast options, as well as an appetizing lunch menu, Liberty Grill is somewhere to come with an appetite.
A smart spot on a scruffy street, Liberty Grill is all varnished wooden floors, white walls and table cloths. It's still relaxed, though, with friendly staff and an unhurried air conducive to lingering and ordering cup after cup of their delicious coffee. After perusing the menu for longer than expected, I opted for a grilled fontina cheese and tomato sandwich (€5), while A went for the full American breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon on sourdough toast, served with orange juice and tea or coffee.
Arriving with an unexpected but entirely welcome pot of garlicky pesto, my sandwich was delicious: gooey and gorgeous, the perfect end to a weekend of food-related indulgence.

Liberty Grill is at 32 Washington Street.

If you're heading to Spain this summer, you might want to check out my Tales of a Brit Abroad blog for more dining recommendations.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you made it to Cafe Paradiso! It is a superb vegetarian restaurant run by Denis Cotter. Some of the tastiest food I have ever eaten.


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