My first ever trip to Cork was back in my college days, when our food society planned a trip so we could experience the food scene in Ireland’s rebel county. To be honest, it was so long ago, I hardly remember most of it, but I do remember our riveting visit to The Butter Museum….
My second trip was just before Christmas last year. I officially fell in love with this corner of Ireland (visiting Michelin starred Chestnut didn’t hurt either), and a month later I was back in Cork city again with a friend. Eager to have a relaxing weekend away, filled with great food and wine, we decided to head to Bryan McCarthy’s little social hub, for a one-stop shop for the perfect trip.
We arrived at Hotel Issacs earlier than the designated 3pm check-in, but that wasn’t a problem as our room was ready and we were more than glad. The three-hour bus journey from Dublin had us ready for a power nap. Isaccs is hidden just off MacCurtain Street, down a pretty cobblestoned lane. Conveniently it joins onto Greenes Restaurant (where our dinner reservation for that evening would be) and is a mere stone’s throw away from the famous Cask Cocktail Bar. As I said, this location is the perfect one-stop shop for a memorable weekend in Cork.
The rooms are lovely and spacious and have everything you need; tea & coffee making facilities, crisp white linen and amazing waterfall showers – perfect to revive you after a night of cocktails. Issacs also stock one of my favourite beauty brands, Rituals. Having this extra touch of luxury made my stay even more enjoyable.
We stopped by Cask for a pre-dinner cocktail. Saturday night revellers were out in force, with the bar buzzing with people (but more on that later). We made the short journey across the lane to Greenes for our dinner reservation. Our window seat allowed us prime viewing over the stunning waterfall outside, making us feel as if we were abroad and dining al fresco. We decided the tasting menu was the best way to sample the culinary delights from chef/patron Bryan McCarthy. The tasting menu at Greenes cost €69.00 per person. You can also add wine pairings for €37.50 for the complete experience.
We left our fate in the capable hands of Bryan and settled in for a delicious evening. We kicked off our meal with a trio of freshly baked breads and sinfully light whipped butter. Our first real look into the skills of this Cork kitchen comes in the form of seasonal snacks including Brick Pastry carefully dotted with Brandy & Port Chicken Liver Paté and Apple Bon Bons with Gooseberry Gel, light and crisp Cooley Cheese with Radish & Wasabi Seeds.
These tasty treats fire up our tastebuds. I particularly love the chicken liver paté, which is so smooth that I could happily feast on this for the night, but there are more delights in store.
A delicate fish course is our next indulgence. Scallops, Textures of Cauliflower, Pickled Raisin, Curry Oil and Date Gel. Perfectly cooked scallops with a caramelised exterior are served alongside a sweet date gel that I fall in love with. The silky smooth cauliflower pureé is a classic addition to scallops, but this dish is elevated with bright yellow slices of pickled cauliflower and raisin.
We are then served a light, mousse-like palate cleanser dusted with matcha powder, making our tastebuds stand to attention and readying us for the next course.
Another fishy dish is sent our way, and it’s even better than the last and is firmly one of my favourites of the evening. Kelp Poached Cod Loin, Fregola, Prawn Bisque, Sea Spinach, Dillisk with Cod Skin Cracker.
Succulent and soft cod sits on a bed of rich and moreish fregola. This bite-sized pasta has soaked up a mass of flavour from the prawn bisque and could be a stand-alone dish in its own right.
A refreshing dish of Lime & Basil Sorbet served with homemade Green Strawberry Kefir is served next. The sorbet is invigorating and tastes sublime. The kefir is poured over giving a sweet kick and the flavours meld together flawlessly.
Following the cod is a tough feat, but the next dish is more than able for the task. Ballinwillin Organic Farm Venison, Celeriac, Elderberry, Apple, Sprouts, Chestnut and Chocolate. The dish looks almost too pretty to eat, a ruby pink thick slice of venison stands out against the white plate.
The meat is incredibly tender and two sauces of elderberry and chocolate add another dimension to the dish. Served alongside this, is a venison “taco”. Where a deeply flavoured and rich venison ragu is served in a sliver of celeriac, garnished with crushed cocoa nib and crunchy green apple. This spectacular course is my favourite of the night, without a doubt.
Our evening comes to a close with a sweet treat, Deconstructed Jaffa Cake. Jaffa cakes have never been my cup of tea, although if I managed to find a packet hiding away in the cupboard I wouldn’t turn up my nose. I’m pleasantly surprised that this dish has the basic flavours of its namesake but is a five-star improvement.
A beautifully presented dessert with clementine, shards of chocolate, sherbet and Grand Marnier sat before us. This dessert hits all the right notes. For chocolate lovers you get that hit of smooth cocoa you’re craving, and for those who love zest and tang (like myself) you get the sharp hits of lively clementine.
We lounged over our meal and allowed ourselves to be taken on a culinary journey, before a nightcap in Cask. Cask is unique in that it’s a seasonal bar. Similar to Greenes restaurant they use ingredients that are in season to create their unique tipples. I spot Andy Ferreira and Carl Dalton behind the bar and tell our waitress I’ll let the two cocktail aficionados to pick my drink, a sensible choice.
I sip away on a Jungle VIP (€13.00). This cocktail packs a punch and is not for the faint-hearted. Made with Money 47 Sloe Gin, Plymouth Gin, Finlandia Vodka, Green Coffee, Cascara, Lustau Blanco and Dandelion Root. Yes, that’s four different spirits (as I said, it’s not for the inexperienced drinker), but somehow this cocktail was super smooth and easy to drink. Upon my first sip, I expected to be hit, full force with alcohol. Instead, this complex cocktail tasted incredibly fresh with beautiful grassy notes. They source the green coffee from a local coffee shop Soma Coffee Company, and the flavour of the green coffee works perfectly within the drink.
Sprites & Goblins (€12.00)is our next boozy beverage. This tasty tipple is made with Plantation Pineapple, Killahora, Pom’o, Carrot, Creole Shrubb and Egg Whites. It’s bursting with tropical flavours and its velvety texture makes it super easy to drink. We spent the rest of our evening soaking up the atmosphere in the award-winning bar. Patrons were in great spirits, with a DJ setting the backdrop for a lively night out. I noticed people feasting on delicious looking boards of charcuterie and other treats. A visit to Cask to sample their food offering is most certainly in order. As our evening came to a close, there was no need to call a taxi or face a long journey home, and within a few minutes after leaving Cask we were safe and sound in our beds in Hotel Issacs.
The following morning we headed back down to Greenes to enjoy a hearty full Irish breakfast alongside lots of freshly brewed coffee of course. There is also a continental breakfast on offer and a good choice for vegetarians. Sadly our time to check out had arrived and we packed up to hit the road. This Cork city gem has something to suits all tastes, whether you’re stopping by for a cocktail, celebrating with a magnificent dinner or simply need a place to rest your head for the weekend. I for one am already looking forward to my next visit.
48 MacCurtain Street
T: 021 455 2279
REVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH