When the Celtic Tiger foundered, ‘fine dining’ Greene’s was especially vulnerable but under Bryan McCarthy, they found a head chef capable of creative response, as he delivered deceptively simple, keenly-priced menus, featuring superb local, seasonal, cultivated and foraged produce, writes Joe McNamee.
As things picked up, he drove standards accordingly upwards.
Entering Greene’s via the enclosed courtyard alleyway with the waterfall at the end never fails to charm but our requested window table alongside the waterfall, confirmed upon booking, is no longer available though no apology or explanation is offered.
Current Wife consoles herself with a good Blackwater Gin-based Elderflower Bramble. We set about menus with gradually dropping jaws.
Amongst recent murmurings of an elevation in Greene’s culinary standards came word that a Michelin star was being targeted.
Not possible, I would have thought based on my last visit, a special ‘off-duty’ family occasion dinner two years ago that disappointed with dismal service and a lacklustre tasting menu, the bones of which had been too long part of the kitchen’s ‘repertoire’.
But at least prices were then much lower; they have since been substantially elevated, now on a par with the upper echelon of Irish hospitality; starters €14 and higher, mains nicely north of €30, save one vegetarian option; sides, extra again.
Breads (brown and white soda, white yeast) are pleasant but unremarkable in an era when superb in-house sourdoughs have become the mark in most top restaurants.
Three amuse bouche — braised beef croquette, chicken liver pate on radish, and cheese-filled Mexican crackers — are mildly pleasing at best. (The carnivorous leanings exclude pescatarian CW, who is instead served an uninspiring tomato-based soup.)
Things improve dramatically with starters, both delicate, precise affairs. CW’s Celeriac, Ballyhoura Mushroom are ‘cigars’ of finely sliced celeriac resembling Vietnamese rice wrappers, crisps, Jerusalem artichoke and divine hen of the woods mushrooms, a cracking melange of textures and fresh flavours.
Our ‘sommelier’ for the night confesses to not having tasted a 2016 Bordeaux Semillon piquing our interest, but we take a flyer on it anyway. (The actual sommelier is the splendid Dutchman-turned-native-Leesider Frank Schiltkampf, but even his acting ‘sommelier’ in a fine dining restaurant should know well all wines on the list.)
Bright, lemony but with no real length, it shrivels alongside Mag’s Kirwan’s Goatsbridge Trout Two Ways, superb cured trout and trout pate, with daikon radish and salty pearls of trout roe.
A well-meaning waiter countermands our original order and has the kitchen remove advertised smoked sausage from my Duo of Hake Fillet (panfried and smoked).
Noticing the absence, I am told it will be cooked and delivered in minutes. The fish goes cold at the table while I wait for the dish to be completed.
Were I not reviewing, I would have asked for the entire dish to be redone. In most other top restaurants operating at a similar price point, that would be done without me even having to ask.
It’s a shame as it is the class of comforting fare McCarthy does so well, especially when all is unified with the beautiful cream sauce and sea vegetables.
If McCarthy can ever over-egg the pudding, it is with sometimes overworked, excessively sweet desserts: CW’s gorgeous sweet woodruff set cream pudding would be sufficient without the various takes on rhubarb and ginger.
Nonetheless, though Espresso & Walnut Cheesecake is also an elaborate production, I leave nothing behind.
Though I’d prefer McCarthy to relax and stop over-thinking dishes, his cooking remains top drawer but Greene’s is still missing some of its own self-set marks, particularly with much improved but still wobbly service and the overall front-of-house experience — an entire evening of too-loud ’80s pop songs is bizarre and jarring.
These faults become especially pronounced and much less forgivable at this price point where the entire experience must be top drawer, not just the food.
Get that right and ‘good’ could well become ‘great’.
€185.45 (excluding tip)
How to: Monday to Wednesday, 5.30pm to 9pm; Thursday to Sunday, 12.30pm to 2.15pm and 5.30pm to 9.30pm
Greene’s, 48 MacCurtain Street, Cork. Tel: 0214552279; greenesrestaurant.com/home