UP until the early 19th century, lunch, better known then as luncheon, was generally reserved for the ladies, who would often dine with each other when their husbands were out — hence the term ‘ladies who lunch’.
The Prince of Wales often stopped to eat a dainty lunch with his lady friends, and was laughed at for this effeminacy.
Today, in our fast-moving society, lunch comes in many forms and very often good value and fast service are prerequisites for regular lunchtime patrons.
For the purpose of this exercise, I decided to define lunch into different categories and came up with my personal favourites based on quality, quantity, value and service...
Carverys existed as early as 1956 in London and my first personal memory of going to a carvery was to Wynns Hotel in Dublin, a childhood treat before a trip to Croke Park.
Cork city and county has some of the very best carverys in the country, in my opinion.
(1) Elm Tree, Glounthaune
Run by proprietors Derek and Lorraine Walsh, this is undoubtedly the best carvery not just in Cork but probably in Ireland and has won numerous awards.
With more than 60 full-time staff, it’s a big operation yet has a distinctly personal touch too. It ticks all the right boxes, invariably has a terrific choice, is usually piping hot (often a problem in carverys), and it has quality, quantity and is great value.
(2) The Imperial Hotel, Pembroke Street
Just like its buffet breakfast, The Imperial Hotel carvery delivers in abundance and is particularly good value, offering a fine choice with quality very much to the fore.
(3) The Brook Inn, Glanmire
Very often, it’s the simple things in life that are best enjoyed and I love turkey and ham all year round.
The Brook Inn does a top notch version: sausage meat, thyme and parsley stuffing, with superb roast gravy, and spiced cranberry chutney.
The other must-have here is the Brook Malteser Cheesecake (try it with the Cappuccino Ice Cream)
Best Soup/Sandwich/Panini/Wrap Venue
(1) The Long Valley, Winthrop Street
A complete no-brainer. The Long Valley Sandwich is quite simply different class. It always is, and always will be.
They provide the Original Door Step Sandwich with all meats cooked on the premises. Try the Corned Beef Salad Sandwich, probably their signature sanger.
There are no fancy garnishes and presentation is not the focal point. It’s quite simply all about the sandwich, made specifically to your requirements, and Peadar Moynihan is carrying on the great tradition of delivering Ireland’s best sandwich.
(2) Brackens Cafe, Paul Street
Brackens are one of the few bakeries nowadays that still makes all their cakes, breads, scones and more by hand which, while time-consuming, ensures a quality product, and their sandwiches are up there with the very best.
They have a bustling eat-in or takeaway trade and offer superb value, personalised friendly service and huge quality. Like The long Valley, Brackens is pure Cork and sets the template.
(3) ORSO, Pembroke Street
In comparison to The long Valley and Bracken’s, ORSO is relatively new but it’s made an indelible mark in a short space of time.
Overall, it’s a top class unique restaurant but I am particularly enamoured by the baguettes and focaccia bread offerings. In particular I love the Corned Beef with Egg and Gherkin Salad and they also do an excellent Seasonal Soup with superb soda bread!
(4) Electric, South Mall
A superb restaurant all round but I particularly love their soup, sandwiches and rolls. They offer huge value too with a mug of soup and a choice of sandwich for just €8.50, and my personal favourite — Mug Of Soup and a Roast in a Roll for €10
BEST SIT DOWN LUNCH
(1) Isaacs Restaurant, MacCurtain Street
Situated on what has definitely become one of Cork’s most atmospheric streets, Isaacs is an absolute gem for those people who want to relax over lunch for business purposes, or for a special family meal or even an intimate lunch for two!
Everything about the menu is unique to Isaacs and the Seafood Chowder, always a good barometer for a restaurant, is up there with the very best.
There is a wide and varied menu with local produce very much to the forefront. My personal favourite is the 8 oz grass fed Rib Eye Steak with Rustic Potatoes and Garlic Butter.
The desserts here are to die for and two that stand out are Apple and Chocolate Crumble with Cream, and the amazing Home made Meringue with Lemon Curd and Passion Fruit.
(2) Kelly’s Kitchen, Oliver Plunkett Street
A very old fashioned restaurant with lots of traditional fare on offer, this combines seriously good quality with quantity in abundance and good value four-course options!
The staff are exceedingly friendly, it’s like a local berthed in the city centre.
If it’s fancy decor you want, Kelly’s Kitchen may not be the place for you, but it does offer a really decent wholesome lunch with some iconic traditional fare in starters, desserts and main offerings!
They do one of the very best Mixed Grills I’ve ever had in here. Only the Wilton Restaurant has ever come close!
This is a polar opposite to the trendy, buzzy Isaacs but Kelly’s Kitchen is another part of Pure Cork and deserves a big thumbs up.
(3) Gallaghers Gastro Pub, MacCurtain Street
As well as an excellent lunch menu for those who like to chill at weekends, Gallagher’s offers an amazing brunch menu from 10am to 3pm.
They do a superb Rump Steak Sandwich with Franciscan Well Beer Battered Onion Rings, Rocket & Parmesan served with Fries. Look out for the Black Pudding Croquette on the lunch menu.
“The Isaacs desserts are to die for and two that stand out are Apple and Chocolate Crumble with Cream, and the amazing Home made Meringue with Lemon Curd and Passion Fruit.”