I have a real soft spot for Cork and love visiting the city and county whenever I can. Unfortunately, I don’t get the chance to do this as often as I would like so I try to pack in as much as I can when I am there. This inevitably includes dining in previously unvisited restaurants. Top of my list on a recent whistle stop tour of the Rebel County was Fenn’s Quay Restaurant which is headed up by talented Chef/Proprietor Kate Lawlor.
The restaurant is conveniently located in the heart of the city; not far from the Courthouse and Cork’s main shopping areas. As I arrived I was greeted warmly and shown to my table in the simply decorated but nonetheless comfortable dining room. Colourful paintings by Debbie Chapman provide attractive bursts of colour on the walls and add to the overall welcoming feel of the restaurant which was busy on the Saturday evening that I dined there.
The menu, jauntily named Cork on a Fork @ Fenn’s Quay, includes a good selection of dishes with broad appeal, many of which are coeliac friendly. Where possible, ingredients have been sourced locally from the nearby English Market and from food producers in Cork. This is not a menu that is overly influenced by current food fads or fashions but instead confidently promotes foods that have the nostalgia factor.
A no-nonsense selection of bread was first to arrive and included a moist Brown Soda and a particularly tasty White Bread. The latter was sliced thickly and reminded me of a far superior version of the mass-produced batch loaf I used to love when I was a child. Generously spread with salty butter, both the breads were delicious.
Although intrigued by the Chicken Liver Brûlée with Crozier Blue Cheese Ice-Cream, I decided to go for the starter of Spiced Beef Croquettes with Celeriac Remoulade €9.00. Spiced Beef is synonymous with Christmas in Cork and is something that I am rather partial to at any time of the year. Fenn’s Quay sources the salt beef from local craft butcher Tom Durcan and uses it in shredded form to make these moreish bread-crumbed and deep-fried croquettes. This was a filling starter, packed full of flavoursome and succulent meat and was comforting to eat. The accompanying celeriac remoulade was a successful pairing and had enough piquancy to cut through the overall richness of the dish.
In the mood for spoiling myself, I also ordered the Spiced Walnuts & Yoghurt Dip €3.00. I’m a huge fan of walnuts and think that they are much underused so it was wonderful to see them showcased here. Walnuts can easily go rancid if stored for too long but these were perfect. I loved how the slightly sweet but hot spices mitigated the underlying tannic flavour of the nuts whilst the cooling properties of the yoghurt dip lessened their fiery heat. This was a simple but clever idea that was well executed.
As soon as I saw that O’Mahony’s Collar of Bacon with Savoy Cabbage, Parsnip Purée & Spiced Walnuts €17.00 was offered as a main course on the menu, I knew that I would have to choose it. Many an Irish family was reared on bacon and cabbage and as it is a dish rarely seen on restaurant menus I felt compelled to order it. I was dying to see how it would be presented and was not disappointed when it arrived. At first glance this appeared to be a ‘rustic’ dish but it was far more nuanced than that would suggest.
Presented in a large bowl with shredded savoy cabbage, peas and chunks of swede along with some parsnip purée, I loved the tenderness of the melt-in-the-mouth meat. As it sat on its serving plate, the meat released some of the juices from the cooking water/stock it had been prepared in which created a faintly salty broth that took on some of the spicy flavour of the nuts that the dish had been garnished with. Each mouthful was a joy to eat. To accompany it, I also ordered a side of Smoked Gubbeen Mash €3.50. If nothing else persuades you to get yourself down to Fenn’s Quay, this potato dish should do so because it was sinfully good and with its smoked flavour it provided a further flavour dimension when eaten with the bacon and cabbage.
Although my appetite was well sated at this stage, I decided that it would be remiss of me not to sample at least one of the desserts and I was thrilled with my choice of Mimi’s Cork Dry Gin & Tonic Dessert €6.00. I am not quite sure who Mimi is, but this was a lovely interpretation of a classic G&T in dessert form. Made up of a gin jelly topped with a layer of lemon curd and a tonic sorbet, I enjoyed the quirkiness of the dessert. The previous courses had been filling but this was a light and refreshing way to end the meal.
I also decided to try some of the Fenn’s Quay Luxury Dark Chocolates €4.00 which were fabulous ganache truffles that were rich and appropriately indulgent. Each bite made me feel as if I was doing something a little forbidden and naughty as they were so incredibly delicious. Despite my best attempts I was only able to eat one immediately after my meal so my waitress packed the others up for me to bring with me when leaving.
Throughout my meal, service was friendly and attentive without being stifling which can make one feel very self-conscious especially when dining alone as I happened to be. Sometimes, you almost feel as if the staff pay you extra attention because they feel sorry for you. This was not the case here; service was perfectly pitched and complemented the general ambience of Fenn’s Quay.
There was something so honest and unpretentious about the food in Fenn’s Quay which I found irresistible. This is food that proudly displays its Irish heritage and celebrates the quality and variety of ingredients available in this country and specifically in Cork. For me, this was Irish soul-food; food that nourishes and pleases and makes you feel that all is right with the world.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.