By Joe McNamee
A LONG with scribing duties, I also moonlight as SoccerMom/resident cook/chief bottle washer and it has been an especially hectic week on all fronts. In addition, the little green sponge that is our island home has been squeezed utterly dry, left to desiccate somewhere on the outskirts of Dubai, so I have no intention of spending another second at a stove while they squabble over the Hawaiian Tropic from sunbeds in the back garden.
We’re not really in the mood for a starter but, having parsed the merits of one particular favourite while driving from the city, order Crispy Egg with Hollandaise to share: deep-fried, breaded, soft-boiled egg, velvety yolk spilling forth over smoked bacon and even ‘meatier’ Ballyhoura mushrooms, an old school comforter of the first order.
La Daughter follows religiously the dietary maxim of breakfasting like a king, lunching like a prince and then, come evening, dining like a pauper, so what she does to off-menu homemade Chicken Goujons and French Fries truly astonishes us, clearing her plate with a remorseless efficiency more usually seen in her brothers.
No 2 Son has been coveting another diner’s steak from the off, so orders Michael Twomey’s Angus Aged 110z Rib Eye Steak with shallot-balsamic vinegar confit, a gorgeous slab of charred beef, rare pink in the centre. Colleague Leslie Williams would hold no truck with these fried ‘girders’ of potato being described as ‘chips’, correctly reasoning they are too big to deliver ideal crispy ‘chip-ness’, but they are nonetheless delicious, dunked in béarnaise sauce.
The Cat’s Pyjamas’ Roast Monkfish, Irish Crab Tortellini, Peanut, Coconut Milk, Chilli Veloute with sautéed pak choi, all reads rather ‘heavy’ for me on such a melter of a day, but the reality is someway different, sauce, light and bright with a balanced chilli flush. TCP says she’d order it again for the toothsome tortellini alone, al dente pasta parcels of sweet, fresh crabmeat.
Still recovering from a recent burger frenzy, I find myself currently favouring a vegetarian diet so Potato Gnocchi with Anna Bell Farm organic local spinach and Ballyhoura Mushrooms, sounds very appealing. While I’d personally prefer a tad more ‘bite’ to the pillowy soft gnocchi, the dish all comes together in a wonderfully, satisfying way: ‘metallic’ wilted spinach, full of Popeye’s essential iron, umami-rich mushrooms, and a sweet fudge-y Coolea cheese sauce. The clean, green crunch of fresh sugar snaps and a salad of organic leaves offset any potential food-coma torpor.
The lower end of the wine list is well sourced (from the ever-splendid Karwig’s) and competitively priced but offers little or no whites of sufficient heft to deputise for red wine on a day requiring chill in every glass; the single rosé listed is uninspiring. A step up the ladder sees us settle for a pleasant if unremarkable Reisling (Moselland), crisp, fruity, with slight effervescence, perfect for summer sipping and surprisingly good with a mouthful of steak but rather lost on my gnocchi.
The progeny finish with excellent brownies and good salted caramel ice cream while usually non-rhubarb-rating TCP surprises herself with her commitment to an extremely sound Rhubarb with Buttermilk Foam and crunchy speculoos.
The Square Table is elemental in its low-budget decorative simplicity, a sweet if unremarkable little space at one corner of the green in Blarney, so nondescript that chef Martina Cronin’s food always catches first-time diners by surprise.
Co-proprietor along with her twin, Patricia — who looks after front of house with never less than heartwarming exuberance — Martina’s CV is quite stellar, having worked for Ciaran Scully (Bayview Hotel, Ballycotton), Ross Lewis (Chapter One) and Graham Neville (then at Restaurant 41). (That all three chefs willingly travelled for the opening night several years ago is testament to the esteem they hold her in.)
Yet she eschews the pyrotechnics of fine dining to offer what appears to be simple, unpretentious food — and it is, in many respects — but it is also superbly-sourced produce, cannily rendered with sound technique as balanced, deeply flavoursome dishes, that make for very pleasurable eating.
As we finish, some tourists amble in, putting the menu through the wringer before turning tail again. I quite seriously contemplate running after them, to inform them of the huge mistake they’re making but, you know … it’s been a long week, there’s a sip left in my glass and I’m off duty at last.
The Square Table, No 5, The Square, Blarney, Co Cork. Tel: 0214382825; www.thesquaretable.ie
Total cost: €141
Wednesday and Thursday, 6pm to9pm; Friday and Saturday, 6pm to 10pm; Sunday, 12.30pm to 4.30pm