Cork: Comfort zone

Blairs Inn, Cloghroe, Blarney, Co Cork 021-4381470

THERE are several kinds of conservatism, each with a flavour of its own. Maybe the one most Irish people of a certain age are most familiar with is the faux, flexible conservatism of great institutions that stood inviable until evolving mores made it no longer sustainable.

Purgatory, closing cinemas and dance halls during Lent, the holy hour, Articles 2 and 3 or making women give up careers once they had a husband to love and obey are relatively recent examples of fairly adaptable principles.

Another kind, let’s call it Darwinian conservatism, is the kind that’s happy with things as they are but wouldn’t object if they were more so. The policy of the Romney/Ryan ticket — cut taxes for the rich, cut benefits for the vulnerable — are as good an example of this anti-society, tooth-and-claw greed as you’ll find in today’s papers.

A third kind is the conservatism of security. And this warm, lazy corner to purr in is the natural home of so many Irish people. We are suspicious of change because we’ve been led up the garden path far too often, taken a punt and signed a cheque we couldn’t really afford. We’ve seen principles people once queued up to die for set aside once they became an obstacle to greater ambitions. And, as with any other comfort, there is a price to pay for this national apprehension.

That price, if calling it that in this context is not stretching it a shaving of Grana Padano too far, can be seen on most restaurant menus. Once you know the price point a restaurant pitches itself at then you can, in the majority of instances, make pretty accurate assumptions about the menu. This is entirely natural but it would be a dull old world if we could not wish that the predictable might occasionally be va-vavoomed with just a frisson of difference.

Blairs’, a snug, family-run and popular restaurant on the western fringes of Cork city, is like many other restaurants around the county. It does decent food to a decent standard in nice, comfortable surroundings. It offers a huge range of options and each has that deeply comforting ring of familiarity about it. Why should any restaurant offer something it knows it will struggle to sell? Why blame kitchens for being conservative in a country that produces wonderful beef but where so many people want it very well done? It’s not that they can’t, it’s that we won’t. Most of us anyway. Blairs’ menu, and thousands more across the country, reflects this reticence and who can blame them?

DW started with a tian of smoked chicken, celery and apple. That the definition of a tian decrees it should be a kind of gratin did not take away from a pert, fresh opener. I too chose a tian — corned beef, cabbage, potato and parsley — simple and traditional, it was very good, almost grand.

For her main course, DW chose lemon sole. This was the least impressive dish of our evening. The cooking oil overpowered any sea sharpness the fish might have had. From experience, I can confirm this was most unusual as Blairs’ fish nearly always passes muster.

I, continuing the conservatism shaping the evening, had a rib-eye steak. It was sweet, generous, cooked exactly as requested and as soul-satisfying as only good beef can be. Vegetables were good and plentiful.

We shared a dessert — chocolate brownie with walnuts and vanilla ice cream — and a glass of über syrupy Californian black muscat Elysium dessert wine. All lovely and the wine will certainly get further consideration.

We drank Vignobles Brunier Le Pigeoulet des Brunier, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse 2009 but I thought it considerably coarser than a €29.50 bottle should be.

One of the areas in which Blairs’ excels is the service, always attentive but never intrusive. This was a pleasant meal in a pleasant place. If every restaurant was as consistent then we’d have little enough to complain about.

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