The Spitjack Rotisserie Brasserie Restaurant, 34 Washington Street, Cork
Tel: 021-2390613; www.thespitjack.com
SOMETHING is happening on Washington Street, between the Courthouse and Grand Parade.
For years, that ‘strip’ has been a nocturnal reservation for local young folk, marking a rite of passage as they make their first social forays into town. It is especially popular with students and on some evenings, traffic near grinds to a halt as the intellectual vanguard of Ireland’s future stagger between hostelries, Safe Cross Code, a lesson long forgotten. Such youthful ‘exuberance’ eventually requires soakage but, other than one very splendid local institution, The Liberty Grill, choice has been limited to an alarming rash of fast food outlets. Recently, however, a couple of new arrivals mark an elevation in tone.
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The exceedingly swish Rachel’s has certainly created a buzz although it is technically adjacent to rather than part of the strip; Spitjack, on the other hand, is slap bang in its centre.
Inside, attractive brick walls and wooden floors may not be groundbreaking but frame, perfectly, Moorish-influenced wall tiles especially designed by Spanish co-proprietor Laura Sureda (she and partner/fellow proprietor Richard Gavin worked together in the hotel industry). Attention to detail is everywhere: brass fixtures, expensive hardwoods, leather banquettes, hanging ceramics; truly, a labour of love with genuine personality.
Seat choice is limited on a surprisingly lively Monday evening, combining locals and tourists. We seat by the door but are soon offered a berth upstairs on account of the draught but I politely decline, preferring to keep a weather eye on the open kitchen/bar. I also wonder if ‘upstairs’ may equate to ‘exile’; I could not be more wrong. Constructed around a mezzanine, peering down into the kitchen, one large bright and very welcoming room features glorious floor-to-ceiling windows and is tailor-made for large private parties; another smaller ante-chamber offers similar flexibility.
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The drinks menu is laden with imaginative cocktails and a considered range of Irish and international spirits. Amongst the craft beer offerings, two Cork companies, Eight Degrees Brewing and Johnny Fall Down cider, fly the local flag.
We plump for Corgo Da Regua Branco (Quinta do Judeu, Portugal), bright, fruity, with a spicy kick, one of many user-friendly choices on a smart, very keenly-priced wine list, sourced from another fine local outfit, Curious Wines.
Starters arrive. Ballycotton Smoked Salmon with avocado cream has visual pop even if cured fish is somewhat top-heavy for three delicate triangles of sesame tuile. Parmesan Cheese Short Bread with Artichoke Puree, though pleasant, might use additional punch. I confess to being a sucker for croquetas when in Spain and while the creamy béchamel interior of Rotisserie Chicken Croquettes could welcome a tad more texture, flavours are umami-rich and lemon and thyme aioli adds herby/citric lift. Our favourites are crisp, chewy House Salted Cod Fritters, even if cream is an overly-demure vehicle for the lime and mint hit in accompanying ‘chantilly’.
I am wondering if the in-house rotisserie grill (the ‘spitjack’) is a perhaps a gimmick too far in an establishment still defining its target audience, casting its nets far and wide to do so (it bills itself as a ‘rotisserie brasserie restaurant’ and sports 10 separate menus, including breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner) but booming flavours in 24-hour brined rotisserie-cooked chicken with rosemary, thyme and lemon run deep into fine succulent meat, so much so, you’d then wonder why rotisserie dishes aren’t more prominent still on the menu. Excellent crispy fries only enhance the pleasure. House Salted Cod crops up again, as the main course fish option, a well-cooked slab, served with pea puree, sautéed rainbow carrots, sugar snaps and a red pepper coulis.
Super service deserves mention: waiter Jesus manages our evening with relaxed, unobtrusive yet confident authority. The food, too, is all solid stuff, cooked with care and no little passion; some slight re-calibration of flavours, textures, and, perhaps, greater, more flexible emphasis on local seasonal vegetables and fruit could make for a very good offering indeed. You get the feeling that, given time and when they properly find their feet and know their market, this will come to pass. It is already tailor-made for social gatherings of all stripes and shades — from family functions to big birthdays to the ‘girlie-night-out’ — and possesses sufficient and diverse spaces to allow them to co-exist side-by-side. Who knows, some day, they may even accommodate a few students — the non-staggering sort, of course.
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