Cork: Room with a view

Toddies at the Bulman, Summercove, Kinsale, Co Cork; 021-4772131, thebulman.ie

ANY restaurant or pub, and this week’s venue is both but spread over two floors, beside water is blessed and cursed.

The weather, the light and the wind, will decide which it is to be on any given day.

The venue is blessed in that an atmosphere of calm usually exists long before the first starter is ordered, much less savoured. Cursed in that visitors can be beguiled by the never-ending shifting, tossing of water.

It may take more than a plate of smoked farmed salmon, indistinct leaves and a scattering of over-vinegared capers to impress them when they can watch — and hear — the living shore. Located, like one of those great but so-out-of-fashion westerns, in landscapes so awe-inspiring that they remind us that anything we do in it only amplifies how transient, how tenuous we all are.

Even John Wayne was dwarfed in Arizona’s Monument Valley in John Ford’s 1956 as yet unsurpassed The Searchers. Kevin Costner, in Dances With Wolves, which was filmed primarily in South Dakota, shows how much sensibilities have changed in less than half a century. Costner, as director and leading man in his 1990 epic, more than acknowledges that we are bit players in a far grander scheme. In contrast, Ford, 44 years earlier, built his film around a settler community trying to shape, to almost break, the land to their own needs. Exploitation had been at least partially replaced by a nascent empathy.

Sitting at one of the lovely window seats in Toddies Restaurant at the Bulman in Summercove, even on a blustery January night, the view towards Kinsale is so impossible to ignore that conversation peters out at least once during every course. It may not be Monument Valley or even South Dakota but the view has an undeniable presence.

As does the food.

We, DW and I, visited before the recovery from the seemingly mandatory over indulgence at Christmas was incomplete so appetites pointed to fish rather than meat, some salads rather than lots of vegetables cooked with butter, cream or oils.

And so it was ... except for DW’s starter, which was a spring roll with duck, a fiery dipping sauce and a bundle of leaves with a nice dressing. It was grand but the duck part was just a bit of a mystery. My starter, calamari, was far, far better than most and it came with ... a bundle of leaves with a nice dressing.

For her main course DW chose scallops with a crispy fennel salad. The scallops were generous, well cooked and fresh with asparagus. The crispy salad was the same as the starter salad but bolstered with some fennel. I chose sole on the bone — it was not offered off the bone. It was lovely, pert and subtle as a decent piece of sole should be. It came with some asparagus and ... a bundle of leaves with a nice dressing.

Four dishes and four bundles of leaves with a nice dressing. This seems to be a developing trend but it is very difficult to be enthusiastic about it, especially in a restaurant that is far more than a pit stop. Leaves and a dressing may be economical and convenient but much more is required with main courses.

We asked for a white Bordeaux and without explanation were given a different, marginally more expensive bottle. Of course it was shown to us before it was opened but we should have been told it was not the one we ordered. Nevertheless, it was a lovely, layered white — Grande Reserve 2009 de l’Orangerie at €36.50. Checking this wine on wine-searcher.com I see that the “average price of 750ml bottle, ex-tax in EUR: €10”. Pointing this out is not a criticism of Toddies because every restaurant is in the same boat on this issue. What a fillip to the sector, and to tourism, if the gap between what producers get and what diners pay at the table was narrowed. But, as John Wayne’s catchphrase in The Searchers went: “That’ll be the day ...” Despite salad overkill and a wine blooper it’s easy to recommend Toddies — good food served in a lovely place.

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