Dining out can be expensive but it is something that I enjoy tremendously and a passion that I have been lucky enough to continue to indulge. During the height of the recession many restaurants changed their pricing structures and also started using cheaper ingredients in new and inventive ways in an effort to reduce costs and provide competitively priced menus. Lunch can often be a good option for those seeking a fine-dining experience at a reasonable price and a way to sample the food on offer in some of Ireland’s top restaurants at a fraction of the cost, as I found out recently.
During my recent visit to Cork I decided to have lunch at Greenes Restaurant in the heart of the city. The restaurant is located down a small laneway just off MacCurtain Street at the end of which is a wonderful waterfall. The sound of trickling water had an almost hypnotic appeal and was a thoroughly unexpected feature to find in the middle of the bustling city.
Once inside I was greeted warmly and shown to my table in the elegantly designed dining room. Dining alone, I was delighted to be seated beside a window looking out onto the waterfall and an outside dining area –which I imagine is a popular al fresco dining spot when the weather allows.
The room has a formal feel with white linen tablecloths but a sensitive touch on the interior decoration front has resulted in a room that is sophisticated and comfortable without feeling austere. Colourful artworks hang on the walls and add a welcome burst of colour to the muted tones that predominate.
Head Chef Bryan McCarthy has created an interesting Set Lunch Menu which s served from 12.30 to 2.30 each day and offers phenomenal value for money at 2 courses for €21.50 or 3 courses for €24.50. I grazed on a flavoursome and wonderfully moist brown soda bread as I examined the menu in greater detail. All the dishes sounded tempting and after dithering over which starter to go for I asked my waitress whether it would be possible to order two and pay for the extra order in addition to the set price. This did not present a problem.
The first of my starters to arrive was the beautiful looking Goat’s Cheese, Beetroot, Walnut, Raisin which comprised breadcrumbed goat’s cheese bonbons with a lovely crunchy coating and beetroot in a number of guises, including a light-as-air espuma, a purée and lightly pickled cubes of beetroot. The accompanying golden raisins upped the ante and added a wonderful fruitiness to the dish that contrasted nicely against the lactic tang of the goat’s cheese. The dish was finished with an artfully placed thinly slice sourdough crouton.
My next starter – Pork Belly, Black Pudding, Apple, Celeriac, Cider – was another excellent dish and a real crowd-pleaser. A generous cube of meltingly tender pork belly was served on a delicate looking remoulade made from impossibly fine strings of celeriac mixed in piquant dressing that I found totally irresistible. Thin batons of apple added freshness to the plate whilst puffed pork crackling which resembled little pearls were scattered on top adding textural contrast. A slightly sharp apple purée was a perfect counterfoil to the rich meatiness of the pork and the accompanying balls of breadcrumbed black pudding.
For my main course I decided to go for the Hake Fillet, Sea Vegetables, Seaweed, Smoked Sausage, Dashi Cream which I felt would be a lighter option after my two starters. When the sizeable piece of expertly cooked fish arrived I was seriously worried that I would struggle to finish the dish. The marvellously fresh fish was a delight to eat being cooked just to the point of being done which was no mean feat considering the thickness of the piece I was served. It tasted wonderful with the umami rich dashi cream which contrasted nicely with the smokiness of the little cubes of Morteau sausage and the saline freshness of the sea vegetables that had also been used.
I decided to treat myself to a glass of Le Petit Balthazar Viognier (€7) which I chose from the restaurant’s well stocked wine list. The Viognier was perfect with my hake and had a lovely pale yellow colour and was a balanced, slightly fruity wine.
I didn’t think things could get any better but the Woodruff Set Cream Pudding is right up there for my dessert of the year. The set cream was in reality a panna cotta by another name and was one of the best versions of this ubiquitous dessert that I have ever tasted. The panna cotta was gently flavoured with woodruff, a wild herb which isn’t grown commercially and is usually foraged. It was served with a refreshing yoghurt sorbet and tangy blackcurrant gel. This was pudding heaven for me.
I was pleased to finally have the chance to dine in Greenes Restaurant. Bryan McCarthy’s cooking is rooted in the French classics but brought bang-up-to-date with the use of foraged ingredients. He employs modern cooking techniques but this is never just for show or at the expense of the food on offer. I couldn’t believe how little the meal cost for the quality of food that I ate. I plan on visiting again soon because food like this should be experienced whenever you get the chance.
48 MacCurtain Street
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.