IN 1997 American writer Mark Kurlansky published Cod: A Biography of The Fish That Changed The World. It seemed an arcane subject but it quickly became a minor publishing sensation.
It achieved great success because it told the story of our self-destructive recklessness in a challenging, haunting way. Almost two decades later Kurlansky’s history-cum-parable is even more relevant.
Kurlansky showed that we were very capable of killing the golden goose that laid the golden cod roe.
He recorded how a species once so abundant that its destruction could not have been imagined much less predicted was no match for our insatiable greed. He showed that even when confronted with science that predicted oblivion for the species that had been over-fished for centuries we could not restrain ourselves and pushed cod to the point that the species could hardly sustain itself.
When, in 1992 and despite huge protests from commercial fishing interests, Canada closed its northern cod fishery the species was on the brink of collapse. Tragically, and despite great hopes to the contrary, it has not recovered to anything like its earlier abundance.
Kurlansky’s history predicted our future. Today’s parallels are only too obvious. He used the leverage a commercially successful book affords an author to write Salt, A World History describing how the common rock Homer described as a “divine substance” shaped our world, our food commerce and culture. As rocks go it is one of the cornerstones of our world.
Salt is also the name for a newsish, energetic, fizzy wine bar — if a wine bar can be fizzy — on Cork’s Victoria Road, a brisk, ten-minute walk from the city centre.
Wedged into a little space beside a dominant neighbour it looks for all the world like the bow of a liner as you appraoch from the river — so much so that you’d not be too surprised to see Kate and Leo canoodling on the roof, her hair horizontal in the sea breeze, her neck arched and inviting — but even Kate and Leo might have to queue (maybe) for a table if they were all taken, Salt does not take bookings.
This is a growing trend of pretty questionable merit, certainly from a paying customer’s perspective.
We, three colleagues, C & C, fizzy like the wine bar, and yours truly, arrived like Cervantes’ diners on a Friday. We wondered, well I did anyway, if we’d get a seat but we slipped in between the on-the-way-home punters and the out-for-the-night adventurers. But we were most certainly not confined to Don Quixote’s pollock or salt cod.
We had, if this is not a culturally misplaced description, a smorgasbord. A little bit of that, a pinch of the other and some of something else.
Followed by a few bits the other thing and a few neat balls of whatever you’re having yourself.
Variety is one of the great attractions of wine bar/tapas bar grazing but, and this is just a personal view and not a criticism, the absence of structure to the meal can mean that the idea of being sated, of a satisfied completion is not always obvious. But that’s just me, many others love this pick-and-mix opportunity.
And Salt gave a wondferful chance to pick-and-mix: A plate of seriously good Mediterranean cold meats; a fish plate of wonderful variety — smoked salmon, sardines, rollmops, calamari, salmon roulade — duck spring rolls, crabmeat croquettes and chickpea burgers built high and fluffy like those matresses — 12 was it? — put between the princess and the pea.
Though we did not agree on every dish — especially the duck spring rolls — the verdicts were pretty consistent. The food was good if not spectacular but you’d find it pretty difficult to do much better at this price range.
The wine — OPI Malbec Mendoza, Argentina €26 — was as impressive as the Pumas team at the rugby world cup and just as devastating.
Though it’s nearly 500 years since Cervantes died it is hard not to think that he’d have enjoyed an evening of food and wine at Salt.
Plates range from €7 — bread with olives, hummus, sundried tomato tapenade and beetroot hummus — to €14.90, so a few plates and a glass of wine won’t cost and arm and a leg.
Monday, 7.30am – 5pm; Tuesday to Friday, 7.30am – 11pm; Saturday, 10am – 11pm; Sunday, 10am – 5pm
A lively, welcoming spot with a good range of food and wines, very easy, almost too easy, to enjoy.