Cork city: Jacob's is just earthly and delicious

Jacobs on the Mall, 30 South Mall, Cork 021-4251530, jacobsonthemall.com

IF YOU’VE ever wondered what eating in Nebuchadnezzar II’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon might have been like then Jacob’s on the Mall is probably as close as you’ll get to a dry run in this part of the world.

Set in a lovely bright space, lots of air and light filtering through the soaring glass roof, the dining room is home to a spectacular collection of hanging baskets. Mid-air plants falling, trailing like Tallafornia hair extensions and other plants climbing upwards from huge containers strung above diners’ heads are impressive.

Nebuchadnezzar, as legend has it, built his wonder-of-the-world gardens to comfort his homesick wife, Amytis of Media, who was pining for the plants of her homeland. Jacob’s plants — and collection of vibrant, modern paintings — might fit in, in scale and dramatic presence, with the indulgent Babylonian’s project.

Set in what was a Turkish baths the room has the kind of space other less endowed restaurateurs should envy. Usually spaces like this reverberate, the guests’ voices layering one upon the other to build a wall of sound that can make conversation very challenging. But not here, maybe the plants absorb or deflect the kerfuffle, allowing table talk to be the simple pleasure it can be.

This was my first visit to Jacob’s in some years and I must admit a certain foreboding as that earlier visit had left a poor impression, iffy food, cluttered, forgetful service and a cold room, none of them doing justice to the place’s reputation or setting. We, DW and I, need not have fretted, everything more than passed muster this time and that earlier experience can probably be discounted. This time around the food was impressive, the service — attentive and invisible — could not have been better. The atmosphere, largely created by a happy, large party eating and enjoying each others’ company on the mezzanine, was warm and perfectly welcoming for a mid-week meal at the end of a day’s work.

DW opened with what is by now a standard in restaurant like this — baked goat’s cheese in filo pastry with pesto. It is sometimes disheartening to see how something as simple as this, for some professional kitchens at least, can collapse into a splodge of fats mixing and overpowering each other but here it was spot on, a crispy coating around a warm piece of cheese showing perfectly how heat can amplify the flavour of goat’s cheese in a way that does not seem to work as well with cheeses made with cow’s milk.

My starter — crispy duck confit spring roll — was probably unadventurous on my part and on the kitchen’s part, so it fell into the entirely acceptable rather than the memorable category. DW’s main course gave, once again, a nod to her inner vegetarian and she chose flat mushrooms stuffed with a blue cheese and cous cous and sweet potato fries. Generous and tasty in that understated vegetarian way, it underlined the different ways in which cheeses react to heat. The sweet potato chips were simple and delightful.

I was delighted that brill was one of the evening’s specials. A favourite fish it is, I think, too often underrated and ignored. It has depth of taste, texture and a punchy presence. Here it was roasted in a roll and served with butternut squash puree and a pea and pancetta risotto with bok choi. Though that description hardly screams tradition head chef Trish Lewis and her team can take a bow, it was first class.

Desserts — white chocolate and cranberry parfait and hazelnut and caramel Pavlova — ticked all of the sugar and cream boxes and rounded off what was a fine meal. The wine, Sancerre Jean-Max Roger 2011, was really, really nice even if it once again, at €42.00, underlined how very expensive mid-table wines are in all Irish restaurants.

Had Nebuchadnezzar and Amytis a chance to visit Jacob’s I’m pretty sure they’d enjoy it, I know we did.

THE TAB: Three courses for two and drinks came to €128.15 plus a service charge of €12.82 — €140.97 in total.

HOW TO: Two-course early bird menu €22.50, three-courses €27 served all evening Monday to Wednesday and from 5.00pm to 6.30pm Thursday to Saturday. On the night we visited they were still taking dinner orders at 9.45pm. Closed Sundays.

The verdict:

Food: 8/10

Ambiance: 8/10

Value: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Wine: 8/10

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