Jacque’s Restaurant, 23 Oliver Plunkett St, Cork. O21 427 7387;
A phrase I hear on a very regular basis is “I’d love your job”. I am never so rude as to demur for any contrary suggestion comes across like Cleopatra screeching at the help that there’s too much cream in her milk bath.
Half-jesting, I may hint hazards, such as the relentless accretion of ‘insulation’ about my person being a consequence of professional zeal, but I never really get down and dirty about what it can sometimes mean when ‘passion’ becomes ‘profession’, parsing the difference between, ‘wanting to’ go out to a lovely restaurant for sheer pleasure, and ‘having to’, for reasons of deadline and poverty — especially when ‘lovely’ and ‘pleasure’ are sometimes entirely absent.
Most people require the occasional safety valve of a good moan about their job but in our trade, we conduct whining in private for it does appear to all and sundry to be a most cushty gig indeed.
Actually, it is generally a pleasure to eat professionally in 21st century Ireland but, as in any job, there are days when you simply don’t want to get out of bed at all.
I have already put in a full shift, including a protracted journey back from Dublin, on a wild, wet Wednesday in foulest winter, so I’m feeling mighty sorry for myself as I kiss the stove goodbye and head out again for the night.
On foot of that little rant, it tells all you need to know about the ambience in Jacque’s Restaurant that, the moment I walk through the door, it feels as if I have found the blessed sanctuary of an alternative stove.
The ‘restaurant’, to the other end of the premises, offering an á la carte menu, is a bright and welcoming space, but on a night such as this, it is hard to top the cosy intimacy of the casual dining ‘bar’: exposed warm brickwork, natural wood, twinkling, low lights.
Almost immediately, a tidy nook becomes available; Big Tand I snuggle up with menus and seasonal aperitifs: hers, a pleasant Bellini; mine, a top-drawerNegroni.
Specially-sourced blue corn tostadas sport smashing and generous fillings: West Cork crab, with chipotle mayo, Mexican slaw (red and white cabbage, celeriac, apple) is sweet, savoury, full of textural crunch; I’m also partial to spicy beef adobe with an intriguing cashew nut salsa (toasted nuts, lime, cumin, fresh chilli) though the meat’s umami bass notes are a tad too sonorous for BT.
A vegetarian tasting board is excellent value at €12. It allows us to roam further across the menu: succulent portobello mushrooms, stuffed with spiced granola, yoghurt and smoked paprika oil; crisp pastry tart with lovely eggy spinach and leek; hummus and romesco (Catalonian dip of red pepper and walnut), Ardsallagh goat’s cheese and stuffed red piquillo peppers.
Empenada may feature less-than-traditional puff pastry but it is good pastry, enclosing flavour-packed roasted root vegetables, spinach and mature cheddar, a real winter comforter.
Though close to our limit, patatas bravas, with tomato, chorizo and aioli are ordered because they are on the menu. No one in their right mind refuses patatas bravas. Lovely chocolate and salted caramel tart close the door behind us.
Don’t bother seeking out the cracking Burgundy (pinot noir, Cote Chalonnaise 2016) that serves us splendidly throughout, pretty much the last bottle of a small consignment picked up on holidays, but the rest of the list is a fine assembly, including a decent spread of natural wines.
There was some trawling of the memory banks for a birth cert earlier this year as sister-proprietors, Jacque and Eithne Barry, wondered if a significant birthday was imminent but it turns out Jacque’s is still only 38 years old.
Off the top of my head, that makes it the oldest restaurant in the city, a genuinely treasured institution, yet Jacques comports itself with a sprightly elan belying its years, as vibrant as a youngun.
The food offering knows its place in this sublimely delivered hospitality experience: it is not attention-seeking fare, no screeching emissary for a chef’s ego; rather, it is well-sourced local, seasonal produce treated with integrity and respect.
What might be termed a ‘mission statement’ on the website states: ‘[Jacque’s] aim is to serve simple fresh Cork food, bursting with flavour, in a friendly relaxed atmosphere’.
Mission accomplished and then some.