It seems like ages since I have visited Cork so I was delighted that a scheduled family trip to see my sister-in-law who lives there had finally come around. Knowing that we were going to be in the Rebel County for a few days, I booked a table for dinner on our first night, in Sage Restaurant in the small town of Midleton just outside the city. I had researched the restaurant and having read the many positive reviews, it’s fair to say that I was really looking forward to dining there with my hubby.
Having allowed ourselves loads of time to get there, we had anticipated a leisurely drive to Cork but unfortunately my relaxed mood meant that I missed the Cork exit on the motorway and only realised my mistake when almost in Limerick! After a stressful journey across country on secondary roads with huge delays due to road-works, we eventually arrived at our hotel in Cork, quickly checked in and then dashed off to Midleton for our meal. I was completely frazzled at this stage.
Sage Restaurant is located in a lovely courtyard just off the Main Street in Midleton and as I approached it, I could feel my mood lifting. We were greeted warmly, and led into the restaurant which is decorated in warm, muted tones and has an intimate, cosy feel. The soothing surroundings were the perfect antidote to the stresses experienced on our ill-fated journey.
Sage proudly promotes its ‘12-mile’ ethos which is based on sourcing as much of the food served as is possible, from within a 12 mile radius of the restaurant. This emphasis on using the finest ingredients from local producers is evident throughout the menu which is simply constructed and has a good range of dishes on offer for each course which are designed to tempt and delight the diner.
The wine-list is thoughtfully chosen with something to suit most budgets and there is also a small but lovely selection of Craft Beers and Ciders on offer. Being a cider-lover the hubby chose some Longueville House Cider to sup on. This is produced in nearby Mallow and is packed full of complex, rich apple flavours. He loved it.
Bread, consisting of wholegrain rolls and thick slices of a brown soda were presented to us on a wooden board along with a plentiful amount of a salty herbed butter and we happily feasted on it as we waited for our starters to arrive.
My starter of Salmon from the Smoker, Potato Bread, Fennel & Samphire was excellent. I loved the assertive smoky flavour of the meaty slivers of oily-rich salmon which were beautifully presented alongside some lightly pickled shallot rings, delicate fronds of fennel and just the right amount of salty samphire. Accompanied by a large bullet-shaped roll of potato bread, this was a seemingly simple dish but one that was so deftly balanced. Even the peppery nasturtium flowers which had been used to decorate the dish added something in terms of flavour and were not merely an irrelevant adornment.
The hubby’s Swede, Leek, Smoked Cheese Dumpling & Crispy Onion Soup was hearty fare and came served with more brown soda bread. Swede is one of my favourite vegetables but unfortunately you rarely see it on restaurant menus. Here it imparted an earthy-sweet but slightly peppery flavour to the soup which was attractively served, drizzled with a herb oil and crispy onions. This was a satisfying dish full of recognisably ‘Irish’ flavours brought together in a flavoursome soup.
For his main course, the hubby chose the Beef Fillet, Beef Dripping Chips, Onion, Spinach, Béarnaise. Looking around the restaurant, I could see that this was a popular choice with other diners and it was easy to see why. This was a dish that celebrated the quality, flavour and tenderness of the beef that was used. The steak was perfectly cooked medium-rare to order and was served with wilted spinach and a portion of chunky chips that had been arranged in a Jenga-like formation on the plate. Whilst the accompanying béarnaise sauce was fabulous, the onion purée with its rich, almost caramelised flavour was simply stunning and complemented the beef perfectly.
The moment I saw Turbot, Samphire, Shitake, Young Spinach on the menu, I knew that I had to order it. Turbot is a succulent fish which is best treated simply. Here, it was flawlessly cooked and seasoned perfectly so that every mouthful was a sheer delight. Served nestled in some wilted spinach with a celeriac purée, pan-fried shitake mushrooms and a restrained amount of samphire this was a dish that it would be impossible to improve upon. The separate serving of very buttery mashed parsley potatoes which also came with the dish was delicious.
For dessert I chose the Seasonal Berry Trifle with Strawberry Macaron whilst the hubby was happy to sit back and just enjoy a coffee. The trifle consisted of a layer of berry jelly which was so intensely flavoured that I thought a fruit liqueur must have been used to make it. On inquiring, I was told that this was not the case and that it had been made using homemade fruit cordials from foraged berries. On top of this was a layer of velvety, vanilla-rich custard and some softly whipped cream. This dish was a perfect example of how home-spun dishes, when well executed, legitimately deserve to be included on fine-dining menus! With the added treat of the lovely macaron on the side, the trifle was the perfect finish to a superb meal.
It is hard to fault the food served in Sage Restaurant and I really enjoyed the whole experience. Whilst the 12-mile philosophy might seem aspirational to some, Head Chef Kevin Aherne delivers on it in the most effective way possible by serving delicious food in a creative way. Many of the ingredients he uses are relatively humble and often overlooked by other chefs but here they are embraced and used inventively in a memorable way.
Our bill for the meal came to €100 with optional service.
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.