Restaurant review: Cork's Pigalle right on the mark

Restaurant review: Cork's Pigalle right on the mark
Bar Pigalle on Barrack Street, Cork. Picture: David Keane.

Pigalle Bar & Kitchen, 111 Barrack St, The Lough, Cork, T12 FK75

Tel: (021) 432 3214

Website: www.facebook.com/BarPigalleCork

Opening Hours: Wed/Thurs, 5-11.30pm; Fri, 5pm-12.30am; Sat, 5pm-12am; Sun, 5-11pm

The rebirth of ‘Barracka’, or Barrack St, as a local hospitality hotspot on the narrow, vertiginous, cobble-stoned street that winds its way up from the River Lee and past the Elizabethan Fort, began with the late, lamented publican, Tom Barry’s eponymous pub, halfway up the hill.

Tom Barry’s pretty frontage, invariably flower festooned throughout summer, is an inviting opening gambit from a tiny little pub that gradually evolves into the space behind, now including a lovely beer garden with an outdoor kitchen turning out fine wood-fired pizzas.

Barry added to his portfolio of venues on the street and others were inspired to follow. Takashi Miyazaki, opened his first Japanese outlet, a takeaway just around the corner, but the area was still crying out for a proper night time restaurant. That finally arrived this year in the shape of Pigalle Bar & Kitchen, another component of Barry’s legacy and right next door to the original TB’s mothership.

As ‘Bar Pigalle’, it had formerly flirted with various identities, a wine bar and subsequently a cocktail bar, but neither really caught fire. Then last March, chef Mark Ahern took over the reins, installing a new kitchen and culinary ethos.

It is the jazz festival weekend and town is en fete with bright, young things hardy enough to eschew warm winter clothing, the better to flaunt their fashion, but two jaded old roués, Chanson Foley and I, are delighted at the snug, cosy welcome that is the first impression of PB&K.

A long, narrow, low-ceilinged room, soft lighting draws a warming glow from bare brick. Seating is along the bar and in tan coloured leather banquette booths on the opposite wall. To the rear, an additional dining space has been ‘recovered’ from the former backyard. All in all, it is vibrant yet intimate, innately stylish yet not remotely showy.

Ahern was head chef in House Cafe at Cork Opera House for three years until it’s closure last year and continues a serious commitment to sourcing the very best of local produce, crucially including chemical-free and organic vegetables from Caroline Robinson and Paddy Frankl’s Kilbrack Farm, both mainstays of the wonderful Coal Quay Farmer’s Market.

CF kicks off with crisp breaded fritters of chunky fresh monkfish with dense squid ink aioli and a cracking in-house shichimi chilli pepper, a condiment including dehydrated zest (left over from the excellent cocktails), chilli peppers, dulse and sesame. My bowl of plump fleshy mussels is of a higher order again, arriving in a creamy sauce of seaweed and Little Fawn IPA, bursting with bolshie flavours, not least from fiery chilli of nduja pork salume.

CF opts for further fritters, this time, tasty battered cauliflower alongside hunks of tender, carmelised Crown Prince squash; pickled cauliflower and verdant sauteed kale successfully engineer contrast.

I have Carrigcleena duck, from one of the country’s best poultry producers, Carrigcleena Farm Poultry, near Mallow, in North Cork, Ahern maximising already superb flavours with a two day dry-hanging before cooking the breast medium-rare. It also features more delicious pumpkin and kale, along with a puff pastry tarte tatin, sweet sugars of toffee-ish apple mollifying the iron-rich blood of exquisitely tender meat.

We share dessert: textured pear poached in white wine and spices, sweetened with woodruff; rye sponge offers soft nutty contrast; surprisingly spry spiced calvados ice cream completes a balanced and beautiful dish. A pinot noir (Paddy Borthwick 2018) from a tidy little wine list serves us well and service deserves especial mention: Just three servers cover bar and the two hectic separate dining spaces yet combine consummate professionalism with relaxed and genuinely friendly charm.

Cork city is a great place to dine by day but is less well served with top drawer nocturnal offerings, so it is a pleasure to discover PB&K which has rather immediately cemented a place near the summit of my own personal favourites. Ahern’s cooking is smashing: consistently superb produce is always honoured and delivered with a maturity and humility, his adroit hand and keen palate forever seeking an elemental purity of flavour over any need to showcase his own ego, and the food being served in PB&K is as authentic a strand of contemporary modern Irish cuisine as any out there. It is also a further posthumous validation of Tom’s original vision for ‘Barracka’.

The Verdict

Food: 8.5

Service: 9

Value: 9

Atmosphere: 9

Tab: €140 (including pre-dinner drinks and tip)

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