Restaurant review: Cafe Velo, Cork

 

Restaurant review: Cafe Velo, Cork

FOR some 40-plus years, cycling has been my favourite transport. Even after I learned to drive, I happily reverted to two wheels whenever opportunity arose.

I have also done more than my fair share of leisure cycling, long, hard spins, sometimes for days at a time.

An Irish cyclist in this exceedingly moist climate is as likely to drown upright as perish on the flat of his or her arse but the endorphin rush of exertion, that sense of being alive to the elements as cool rain stings heating skin, always trumps a mid-winter rush-hour crawl to school, feral malcontents in the backseat, the only elevator of heart rates.

But when the recent cycling craze hit those of my generation weaned on the Tour de France exploits of Kelly and Roche, I remained absent.

Though still on my bike, I would never be espied drooping over dropped handlebars, silkily sheathed in Lycra. I have yet to even get my head around the notion I should really be encasing it in a helmet.

It takes a cousin-in-law of similar vintage — and he very slim and trim on his new regime of, yes, cycling — to introduce me to the acronym MAMIL: Middle Aged Men In Lycra.

I remain agnostic on the subject of Lycra: Sleek, figure-hugging kit is most complimentary to the male and female figure when said figure is in fine fettle but should I ever mount a bicycle thus clad, I fear the entire Japanese whaling fleet will pitch up in my wake to harpoon this especially humongous mammal.

But if it’s MAMIL, you’re after, they can probably be found in abundance in Cafe Velo.

‘Velo’ is French for ‘bicycle’ but also shorthand for any road-cycling culture with a Gallic inflection.

The themed interior is a reflection of proprietor Rob Horgan’s keen interest in the sport: Bright, spacious, and cheerful with an abundance of cycling paraphernalia to hand.

Spicy Moroccan chickpea soup is earthy and wholesome, sublimely sweetened with honey, but so far off boiling point, I wonder if serving temperature is intended.

The waitress offers to reheat it but I’m beyond further waiting and, though just warm, it is good soup.

Recent professional obligations having seen me overdose on elaborate upmarket offerings, ‘classic American cheeseburger with shoestring fries’ sounds delightfully elemental.

The very good burger (Bresnan’s meat) in sweet brioche is textured and flavoursome, though fries are neither shoestring nor overly crispy.

Castletownbere crab cakes are coated in breadcrumbs and deepfried. The molten fish mash within may alienate those who prefer texture but FirstBorn and I relish the crunchy coating and flavours are excellent, especially a dill-heavy aioli.

Side salad is overdressed but leaves appear local and are plentiful and fine.

Best of all is a pickled beetroot salad with Ardsallagh goats’ cheese with zingy orange segments. Roasted pumpkin seeds add welcome bite and honey dressing is nicely judged; all in all, substance delivered with lightness of touch.

FirstBorn is less than his usual remorseless self around the table, restricting himself to a single dessert, homemade lemon meringue pie.

I’d prefer more pastry to offset citric sweetness but it inspires FirstBorn, a growing young man, to follow that with another single dessert, a dense, squidgy chocolate brownie with a nice raspberry theme playing in the background.

La Daughter scoffs Mars Bar and Rice Krispie square, which tastes exactly how it sounds and is — therefore, exactly how she likes it.

Service is upbeat and friendly even if some waiters appear unsure of precise roles and we wait an inexplicably long time for what should be a swiftly expedited order in a largely empty and amply staffed post-lunch rush restaurant.

This is all easily remedied. Barring minor inconsistencies (a lowering of the guard once lunchtime rush is done?), cooking is accomplished and solid, good, well-balanced flavours with plenty of high points.

Finally, as if scripted, we spy an actual MAMIL clacking across the wooden floor in cleatsand sporting an old school casquette, the traditional cotton cycling cap, his shiny new mortgage on two wheels leaning against the window outside. We resolve, there and then, to cycle in for our next visit to Cafe Velo — sans lycra, of course.

The tab

€54.80 (excluding tip, including coffees)

How to

Monday to Friday: 7.30am-5pm; Saturday: 8am to 4pm; Sunday: 9am to 4pm

The verdict

Food: 7/10

Service: 6.5/10

Value: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Tagline: “If Café Velo can maintain and even improve already good standards, it will be a strong candidate for the ‘yellow jersey’ in years ahead!”

Cafe Velo, 3 George’s Quay, George’s Quay, Cork        

Tel: 021 4323044; www.cafevelo.ie

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