12 tables restaurant is a homely and unpretentious slice of Brooklyn in Cork city, says Joe McNamee.
What happens to rock stars when they eventually tire of turning it up ‘one louder’, all the way to 11, and wish to exit stage left?
Those who get the Spinal Tap reference will recall fictional lead guitarist Nigel Tufnell’s aspirations to be a hat salesman, a wonderfully sly dig recalling dullards of the British rock aristocracy and their fish farms, but, truth be told, all rock stars seem to want to do is open restaurants.
I can furnish a lengthy list but selected highlights include: Bill Wyman’s Rolling Stones-themed, Sticky Fingers; Moby’s upmarket LA vegan establishment; Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan’s Chinese-style tea house; and top of the pile, The Spotted Pig, NYC’s superb gastropub, operated by former Smiths manager Ken Friedman, backed by serial restaurateur Jay Z, REM’s Michael Stipe and Fatboy Slim.
I have my own memories of life on the road (lowly roadie, not budding pop star) and, nutritionally speaking, it is bleak, overly sustained by mini-bars and motorway service stations.
Once the party life loses its allure, many performers come to regard their main meal as the daily high point of a dull off-stage routine and epicurean interest blossoms accordingly.
12 Tables proprietor, Dave Farrell is another recovering ‘rock star’, formerly lead singer with Cork band Ruby Horse.
Granted, they never quite achieved stellar status but still gave it their best shot for several years in the US.
Unlike certain ‘creatives’ who turn to hospitality, Farrell is no dabbling dilettante: this is his second hospitality involvement since returning to Ireland but the first flying solo (with wife/business partner, Cat) and their commitment is total.
The Farrell family now live locally in Douglas and were determined to re-create a Brooklyn-style neighbourhood diner recalling their Stateside sojourn but it is equally the pragmatic decision of a canny pro for Douglas is the only suburb in Cork supporting its own thriving hospitality sector.
The premises has been home to several restaurants but 12 Tables is the first to specifically target the local demographic, young middle class families seeking a relaxed, child-friendly venue.
The location is uninspiring so the interior is a pleasant surprise.
An abundance of natural light streams through floor-to-ceiling windows onto white walls and exposed brickwork, painted gray; a ‘living room’ with sofa, fireplace and toy basket is a young parent’s dream coffee pitstop while diners sit elsewhere on salvaged wooden folding chairs at simple ‘kitchen’ tables.
A single menu includes ‘all day’ breakfast and dishes reflect local ‘topography’: a ‘Fingerpost’ chicken sandwich and ‘The Tinny Shed’ (home of Douglas RFC) honey baked ham sandwich.
This particular SoccerMom arrives with young progeny markedly more interested in filling bellies than emptying toy boxes.
No 2 Son plumps for The Tramway, slow-roasted BBQ pulled pork with apple and fennel slaw while La Daughter orders poached eggs on toast with house fries.
Tender, moist pork is well-cooked if lacking depth of flavour but that’s true of all pork nowadays other than genuine free range, and good, fresh slaw adds satisfying crunch.
I adore my Mick-O Burger (possibly named for a local Munster rugby legend, though Farrell coyly refuses to confirm), two fine chuck steak patties of tender, textured Irish meat, interior just the legal side of pink; mature cheddar and red onion jam, sublimely-judged, cognisant of their role as servants to ‘Boss Beef’.
House fries are splendid: crisp, crunchy with a fluffy heart.
Garlic aioli is an underwhelming bought-in mayonnaise instead of fresh eggs and is ‘enhanced’ in-house, another conscious decision taken with target audience very much in mind, particularly pregnant or breastfeeding young mums.
A trivial matter, perhaps, but I’d suggest examining alternatives to further bridge the gap between ‘very good’ and ‘perfection’.
The progeny order sweet stuff: pleasantly ‘sticky’ French Toast Muffin with a cinnamon whisper; chocolate brownie calibrated to young palates; Nutella crepes. I enjoy good Badger & Dodo coffee.
Evening openings (with good local beers and a considered wine list) are to begin in April but, just three months old, 12 Tables is already a smashing operation and I fail to see how such commercial nous combined with genuine integrity around provenance will lead to anything other than a roaring success for this little slice of Brooklyn in Cork.
Who knows, perhaps Farrell will make a serious bundle and eventually retire to do something else.
A rock star, perhaps?
Tues-Sat: (9am-5pm; Sun: 10am-5pm (Kitchen closes one hour before closing, beverages and cakes only till restaurant closes)
€52 (excluding tip)
Tagline: “A homely and unpretentious slice of Brooklyn in Cork city”
12 Tables, Tramway House, Douglas
Call (021) 241 9196
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