A question of taste

To mark the Irish Examiner Food Festival, Bridgestone Guide Contributing Editor and our own food columnist Joe McNamee unveils his inaugural food awards. Read on for the best in fine dining, bar grub, afternoon tea and much more in Cork and Dublin

FIRST, look carefully: this is ‘three of the best’, not ‘THE best’, so let no one get too hot under the collar if a favourite venue is not mentioned; there’s a reason why the Bridgestone Guide grows bigger every year and we simply don’t have the space here today to emulate the Guide and include absolutely everyone. On top of that, many establishments below could just have easily featured in multiple categories — for example, Bite in Dublin do cocktails as well even though we plump for their fish and chips.

While Cork and Dublin are both centres of culinary excellence, it is not comparing like with like: Cork will always have superior local producers (the ‘artisan’ tradition began in West Cork and there is also far more excellent agricultural land available to producers) with local restaurants very much reflecting the availability of that aforementioned produce. Dublin, on the other hand, has a much larger population (and larger ethnic population) and can support a far greater variety of restaurants and eating options.

But all in all, we should be very pleased with ourselves because we’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time and mostly on our own terms. Food is one of the few current success stories of the Irish economy, even in the much put-upon restaurant and hospitality sector.

Twenty years ago this list would have been infinitely harder to compile, some categories wouldn’t even have existed, and who would ever have thought that the best eating and drinking in the country would centre primarily around the use of splendid world-class produce of our own making. Think of it — we can now assemble an Irish-only cheese board capable of vying with a French one for global supremacy? The only way is up!

Coffee

The faithful cuppa’s prime spot as the national hot beverage of choice must surely now be threatened by our new-found addiction to coffee. Neither are we talking dried and jarred, powdered muck; with each passing year the quality of freshly ground and brewed coffee in cafes and coffee shops improves. (Dublin’s 3FE is more akin to a temple to the sacred ‘cuppa joe’.) Invariably, you’ll also find some fine eats accompanying those fine coffees. Furthermore, Irish roasters are becoming the equal of many international peers. In Cork alone, we have three of the best in the country: Cork Coffee Roasters, Badger & Dodo and Golden Bean.

Café Gusto, 3, Washington Street & The Boardwalk, Lapps Quay, Cork

Coffee Central, English Market, Grand Parade, Cork

Cork Coffee Roasters, Bridge St, Cork

Third Floor Expresso (3FE), 32/34 Lower Grand Canal St, D2 & Twisted Pepper Building, 54 Middle Abbey St, D1

Coffee Angel, Dublin locations at www.coffeeangel.com

Brother Hubbard, 153 Capel St, D1

Sandwich

Such a long strange trip for the humble ‘sangidge’ — at times, it lost the run of itself with some frankly outrageous and seriously unworkable combinations turning up on menu boards but traditionalists such as the Long Valley and their legendary doorstep sandwiches have now been joined by some very worthy 21st century contemporaries.

The Long Valley, Winthrop St, Cork

The Sandwich Stall, English Market, Grand Parade, Cork

Gulpd at Triskel, Tobin St, Cork

Honest to Goodness, 25 Market Arcade, Georges St, D2

Morton’s, Morton’s Station Building, Park Place, Hatch Street, D2

Crunch Café, Aungier St, D2

Burger

In a country that produces easily some of the best beef in the world, it is rather bizarre that an Irish burger was for so long something purchased from a dodgy van at a festival or a match and consumed with three Hail Marys and a very faint heart. Here are a few establishments that realise a fantastic burger is eminently achievable by simple use of the highest quality Irish ingredients, even down to the Waygu beef used by the Gourmet Burger Company.

Liberty Grill, 32 Washington St, Cork

Gourmet Burger Bistro, 8 Bridge Street, Cork

The Boardwalk Bar & Grill, The Boardwalk, Lapps Quay, Cork

Jo’Burger, 137 Lower Rathmines Road Rathmines, D6

Gourmet Burger Company, 97 Ranelagh Village, Ranelagh, D18

Rick’s Burgers, 24 Dame St, D2

Fish & Chips

We always did the old ‘one and one’ very well while also tolerating a fair scattering of second-raters. These days, punters increasingly want the best, which means this has now become one of the hardest categories to narrow down — we could give you six more tomorrow, each one offering equally fantastic fish and chips.

Lennox’s, Bandon Rd, Cork city

Elsie’s, Unit 2 Block B, Fox & Hounds Retail Park, Ballyhooly Road, Ballyvolane, Cork

The Golden Fry, Ballinlough Rd, Cork

Leo Burdock’s, 2 Werbergh St, Christchurch, D8 (see www.leoburdock.com for other Dublin locations)

Bite, 29 South Frederick Street, D2

Beshoffs, 75 Mespil Rd, D4

Cocktails

Conforming alarmingly to national stereotypes, we were ever so slightly guilty of giving cocktails (ie alcohol) the gladeye back in the 80s ever before we got all hot and steamy for the nosebag. But we’ve matured (a work in progress?) and flashy cocktail benders are no longer the done thing, but there’s many a soul still happy to indulge in the occasional mojito or cosmopolitan, and here’s a few handy spots for such indulgence, including the rooftop terrace at Suas, very alluring on a sunny day.

32 Marlboro St, 32 Marlboro St, Cork

Long Island, Washington St, Cork

Suas, 4-5, North Main St, Cork

Saba, 26 Clarendon St, Ranelagh, D2

The Exchequer, 3-5, Exchequer St, D2

Sugar Club, 8 Lower Leeson St, D2

Bar food

The ominous threat of an old school ‘carvery lunch’, furnace-cooked meat subsequently dried to the texture of jerky under the heat lamps, recedes by the day and Irish pubs are increasingly turning out really superb food — the concept of a gastropub (love or loathe the word) is an eminently good fit in an Irish context.

Makes sense really, our pubs always retained a sense of community, so it’s lovely to continue that tradition with less emphasis on getting smashed and a lot more on a rather healthier indulgence.

Annie’s, 89 Sunday’s Well Rd, Cork,

Blair’s Inn, Cloghroe, Blarney, Co Cork

The Woodford, 15 Paul St, Cork

WJ Kavanagh, 4-5 Dorset Street Lower, D1

L Mulligan Grocer, 18 Stoneybatter, D7

The Chop House, 2 Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, D4

Afternoon Tea

It may be the sort of thing for which you reluctantly agree to join an aging, almost-always female relative, but as soon as you settle down in suitably swish surroundings — from the Merrion to Miss Katie’s, it’s all about pzazz — and tuck in to all manner of fabulous sandwiches, cakes, scones and cream, and tea, lots of it, in fancy china, you chide yourself for not indulging in this kind of thing more often.

Hayfield Manor, Perrott Avenue, College Road, Cork

Perryville Tea Rooms, Perryville House, Kinsale, Co Cork

Miss Katie’s Tea Rooms, 8A, Blarney Shopping Centre, Blarney, Co Cork

The Merrion Hotel, Upper Merrion St, D2

Cake Café, 62 Pleasant’s Place, D8

The Dylan Hotel, Eastmoreland Place, D4

Tapas

The initial introduction of tapas-style dining to Erin’s green shores was deemed an indicator that the fashionable foodies had truly lost the run of themselves.

But it has outlasted the normal lifespan of a fad and is actually thriving, incorporating quality Irish produce into an Iberian concept with élan and real creativity.

A natural fit, really, for a Gael out on the rantan, a nibble here, a sip or three there, a lot of yapping in between and a lot less of the Solpadeine the following morn.

The Electric Bar & Grill, South Mall, Cork

The Bodega, Corn Market St, Cork

Arthur Mayne Pharmacist, Pembroke St, Cork

The Port House, 64 South William Street, D2,

Jaipur Indian Tapas, 41 Georges Street, D2 (see www.jaipur.ie for other Dublin locations)

Havana Tapas Bar, Georges St, D2

Late night eating

Afraid there is no competition here, Dublin truly has the edge on Cork when it comes to late night dining options with scant few options other than takeaway. The pub, Sober Lane, is one of the few exceptions and that finishes serving food before closing time.

It’s down to numbers really, not enough down South to make it economically viable. Mind you, the late night options in Leeside are still most palatable indeed — a slice of pizza from Fast Al’s has that rare capacity to taste as good by day as it does after a feed of drink.

Fast Al’s, Paradise Place, North Main St & Pembroke St, Cork

Sober Lane, 5 Sullivan’s Quay, Cork

The Fish Hatch, Pembroke St, Cork

Bóbós, 22 Wexford Street, D2

The Good World, 18 South Great Georges St, D2

Ukiyo, Exchequer St, D2

Ethnic

Again, there’s really no contest with Dublin beating the ‘Real Capital’ hands down. Dublin has large enough ethnic populations to support ethnic restaurants, so lucky natives get to avail of the real thing without any of the compromise that comes with having to give Western palates what they think they want.

Again, no faulting the Cork restaurants, but unlike at ML in Dublin, where they hardly even speak English and offer a deeply traditional Szchechuan menu, Corkonians don’t look like getting the option of fiery hot chicken feet any time soon. Let’s look forward to the day when one of the new arrivals on Leeside finds his or her feet and begins to cook up the real deal — and with not a single chip to be found anywhere on the menu!

Banna Thai (Thai), 15 Maylor St, Cork

The Ambassador (Chinese), 3 Cook St, Cork

Lal Quila (Indian), Tramways Terrace, Douglas, Cork

Dada (Morrocan), 45 South William St, D2

Rotana Café (Lebanese), 31 South Richmond Street, Portobello, D2

M & L (Szechuan Chinese), Cathedral St, D1

First Date/Romantic Restaurant

Now, ‘first date’ doesn’t always equal ‘romantic’ — indeed, an excess of crooning Mariachi bands in Stygian candlelit near-darkness, or whatever method you favour yourself, can often overwhelm a potential conquest before the first rose has been plucked from between your teeth. It’s all about balance: seemingly safe ground, a bit of life, but the kind of place that can suddenly make you feel like you’re the only two people in the world when the right moment happens, which is how we make the leap from a bustling Fallon & Byrne’s to the ring-nestling-in-the-pocket romance of Longueville House.

Blackrock Castle Café, Blackrock, Cork

Star Anise, Bridge St, Cork

Longueville House, Mallow, Co Cork

Fallon & Byrne, 11-17 Exchequer Street, D2,

L’Gueuleton, 1 Fade St, D2

Pichet’s, 14-15 Trinity St, D2

Family Friendly Restaurant

It’s a tricky one. Some restaurants claim to be family-friendly on the basis of a few extremely grim chicken nuggets and greasy chips, but produce a bottle of chloroform at the first sign of children doing any of the more outré things children are wont to do — crying, shouting, yelling or even having a good time. We are not for a moment saying a restaurant any more than any other public venue should have to tolerate the behaviour of near-minted juvenile offenders, but here are six establishments that give the impression they might even have children themselves. (Sadly, a rite of passage for many young Dubliners and ‘culchies’ alike, The Bad Ass Café in Temple Bar is no longer with us.)

Scoozis, 2-5, Winthrop Lane, Cork

Luigi Malones, Emmet Place, Cork

Milanos, Oliver Plunkett St, Cork

Neon Asian Street Food, 17 Camden St, Dublin 2

Moloughney’s, 3 Vernon Ave, Clontarf, D3

Ely, Gastro Pub, Grand Canal Square, D2/Bar & Brasserie, IFSC, D1

Party Restaurant

No, we’re not talking the class of joint where they offer to polish sir’s mirror if he chooses to start knocking out lines of coke, or where they turn up the heating if an impromptu tabletop striptease should ensue. Just a place with decent food at a reasonable price where the Maitre D’ or other clientele won’t have an attack of the vapours should raucous laughter erupt or blanch at a rousing rendition of happy birthday.

Soho, 77 Grand Parade, Cork

Corn Store, 40A Corn Market St, Cork

Isaacs, 48 MacCurtain St, Cork

Coppinger Row, 1 Coppinger Row, off South William St, D2

The Bernard Shaw, 12 Richmond St, South Rathmines, D2

Dillinger’s, 47 Ranelagh, D6.

The Gourmand’s Choice

It is a truly wonderful thing to direct visitors to some of our finer restaurants and to subsequently hear so many rave reviews running along the lines of ‘best meal ever’, that class of thing.

Right now the baton is in Dublin hands, some truly exceptional restaurants operating in the Smoke, but it’s not all that long ago that it was the other way around and these things continue to evolve. (Besides, the chef/proprietor at Dublin’s very best, Chapter One, is Corkman Ross Lewis, the Queen’s Cook!) Who knows, it may soon be the turn of another Irish town or city? Two or three decades ago the best recommendation you could possibly make — save a few benighted outposts of culinary civilisation — was to ‘maybe, try another country?’ Next stop, a genuinely Irish, genuinely world-class cuisine.

Les Gourmandises, 17 Cook St, Cork

Café Paradiso, 16 Lancaster Quay, Cork

Sage, 8 The Courtyard, Main St, Midleton, Co Cork

The Greenhouse, Dawson St (off St Stephen’s Green), D2

Thorntons Canapé Lounge, 1st Floor, The Fitzwilliam Hotel, 128 St Stephen’s Green, D2

Chapter One, 19 Parnell Square, D1

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