IN Europe, the fashionable hour for dinner began to be incrementally put back during the 18th century, until 2pm or even 3pm.
By the 19th century, an English traveller to Paris was remarking upon the “abominable habit of dining as late as Seven in the Evening”.
Evening meals became more common due to developments in work practices, lighting, financial status, and cultural changes.
Cork city has many places designed to line the post-work or pre-theatre stomach, from wonderfully traditional Irish flavours to artisan cafés with sinfully good desserts, as well as a range of cosmopolitan and international options.
As with before in this series, I have picked my personal favourites based on value, quality, quantity, service, ambiance and all-round freshness and flavour. I bracketed restaurants into different groups and come up with these:
BEST FINE DINING
(1) Jacobs On The Mall, 30, South Mall, Cork city
This was originally the home of ‘Alf Jacobs’s Cork Turkish Bathhouse’ which opened in the late 1800s, but is now an impressive 130-seat contemporary style restaurant.
What I love about Jacobs is that it combines excellent food in an amazing venue, with its incredible skylight that runs the entire spine of its high vaulted ceiling.
The Braised Pork Belly with Braised Red Cabbage is my top starter, although they have an amazing Tiger Prawns starter that has the wow factor.
Cork isn’t blessed with many great steak houses and I often feel there is a void in the market in that respect.But Jacobs do an excellent 10oz Sirloin Steak with a potato croquette, baby carrots, asparagus, grilled flat mushroom, carmelised onions, pepper sauce and garlic butter.
The Surf and Turf, an 8oz Fillet Steak with Seared Castletownbere Scallops and Red Onion Marmalade, is the stuff dreams are made of.
I haven’t even mentioned the sumptuous deserts: my choice is the excellent Eton Mess. I love Jacobs. My top choice by a long way.
2. Strasbourg Goose, 17/18 French Church Street
Family-owned and run business and invariably busy given the great value. The emphasis is on excellent quality, unique entrees, intriguing specials and delicious deserts.
The Slow Cooked Beef is a signature dish, cooked for 14 hours and served with a superb chive mash. The Lamb Shank is also excellent, and speaking of potatoes, try the garlic gratin here — different class.
Top starters are the Chicken Liver Pate or the Goats Cheese.
While it’s not as fancy as Jacobs, what it has is excellent quality in a buzzy atmosphere, and the hosts, Triona and John, ensure your night is par excellence. My good late friend, Noel, often dined here five nights a week — the proverbial regular of all regular.
Desserts here are also particularly good, my favourite being the Sticky Toffee Pavlova served with fresh cream and ice cream.
3. Les Gourmandises, 17, Cook Street (this venue has closed since Joe originally wrote his review)
Chef Pat Kiely and his wife Soizic ran this quaint treasure. They have vast experience in Michelin Star establishments, including Dublin’s classy Patrick Guilbaud (2-starred) where Pat was Sous Chef and his wife a Sommelier.
They did an excellent 3-courses for €32.50 from 6pm to 9.30pm Tuesday to Friday, and for an hour on Saturday’s 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
On my visit, I started with Les Gourmandises Tasting Plate where the Black Pudding Fritter was a highlight. My dining companion had the marquee starter Prawns in Filo Pastry with Mango Crème Fraiche, which was amazing. But the starter I’ll try next time is the Fresh Goat’s Cheese Panacotta with Pickled Carrots & Roasted Cumin.
I had the Pan Roasted Fillet of Salmon with Sweetcorn & Basil. My colleague went for undoubtedly the pick of the paddock, the Fillet of Irish Beef, Confit Turnips, Shallot & Smoked Mash. Both were first class.
Desserts here are a highlight, and a Vanilla Panacotta with strawberries & Madeira crisp rounded off a top class experience.
4. Ferrit and Lee (Formerly Raymonds), Distillery Walk, Midleton
I loved Raymond’s, I was a Sunday regular, and Ferrit and Lee has actually surpassed its exacting standards. The starters here are definitely the best selection anywhere.
The excellent Ballycotton Seafood Chowder sets the tone for your meal but my personal favourite is the Ham Hock and Black Pudding Terrine with Apple and Walnut Chutney served with a Beef Dripping Crostini.
If that’s not enough, the Crispy Goat’s Cheese Bon Bons with delicious Beetroot Relish, Pickles and Pistachio Nuts is as good a starter as I’ve had, and the contrast between the Goats Cheese, quite arid on the palate, and the Beetroot Relish is the stuff of genius.
As a meat lover, the 10oz Sirloin invariably attracts me for mains, at €25, but I equally love the incredibly tender Slow Cooked Jameson Marinated Featherblade of Beef with Caramelised Carrots, Celeriac, Brocolli with a novel Leek and Potato Croquette complete with Jus.
My dessert of choice here has to be the Classic Tirimisu served with Amaretti Biscuits and Irish Liquor Ice Cream .
Midleton is spoiled for choice in terms of quality restaurants with Farmgate, Sage, The Pepperstack and Finin’s, but I’m sold on Ferrit and Lee.
1. Gallo And Galetti, Unit 7/8 High Street, Wilton
The Bruschetta Con Formaggio Di Capra at €9 seems expensive but is amazing. Warm goat’s cheese with rocket, roast pepper & balsamic.
My favourite pasta dish here is the essence of simplicity, Tagliatelle with Chicken, Pesto Cream & Rocket. The pizza is top notch as you’d expect, my two favourites are the Italian Sweet & Spicy Pepperoni, Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil, a snip at €13, and the Goat’s Cheese, Cherry Tomato, Pesto, Roast Red Pepper, Thyme & Mozzarella, Rocket for €13.50.
The barometer for any Italian restaurant is how good is the Tiramisu... and it’s sublime.
2. Ristorante Rossini, 33-34, Princess Street
Now 24 years in Cork, and two of the finest pizzas are found here. The Capri with Spicy Prawns, Mussels and Smoked Salmon is top notch while The Etna is my personal favourite, complete with Italian sausage, pepperoni, roast peppers and chilies.
Signature starters are The Seafood Pancakes or The Antipasto Misto with Seafood, Cured Meats and Cheese. The Lasagne Orginale is what it says on the tin but it’s top class.
Other places worthy of mention in this category are Uncle Pete’s, Paul Street, a buzzy atmospheric quaint little restaurant, and Pizzeria San Marco at 9, Main Street, Midleton.
1. Gourmet Burger, 8, Bridge Street
The standard bearer for burgers on Leeside.
My top starters here are Beef Salad with Blue Cheese with mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes, rustic potatoes, onion rings and blue cheese dressing. The amazing Panfried Spicy Peri Peri Prawns served with Arbutus bread are different class.
But we come here for the burgers, whether it’s beef, lamb or chicken. My favourites are the Full Irish at €11.95 — a 100% Irish organic beef burger with crispy bacon, Clonakilty black pudding and panfried free range egg, and the Lamb Burger with Goats Cheese and Red Berry Coulis.
Best Pub/Evening Meals
1. The Wilton Steak Bar & Carvery, Leslies Cross, Wilton
I love the Wilton in the evening rather than the carvery. Starters here are sublime with the pick undoubtedly The Sweet Chilli and Garlic Sizzling Prawn. For mains, Breast Of Chicken Maryland at €17.50 is a timeless classic, while they also do the best Mixed Grill on the planet.
1. Aroma, 4-5 Emmet Place Cork
Aroma has it all: great city centre location, fine service and an excellent choice.
The best starter of them all is Aromatic Crispy Duck with Pancakes with the mandatory Hoi Sin Sauce, add in the shredded spring onion and cucumber to serve a tasty treat.
The Meat Sung and House Special Appetizer are served to perfection here also.
All the traditional Chinese classics are served here but I particularly like the Crispy Fillet Steak In Peking Sauce.
It’s my view that Cork is short on steakhouses, so just for this award I’m going to indulge myself and take you further afield.
1. The Devon Inn Hotel, Templeglantine, Co Limerick.
The biggest, juiciest best steaks in Ireland are cooked to order here, not far from North Cork. The T Bone Steak is huge and the treat of all treats. #SimplyTheBest