Joe McNamee reviews Joe’s + Bros, 21-22 Gilabbey Street, Cork. Tel: 086-3399744; www.facebook/joesandbros
IT IS almost 35 years since Dear Old Sainted Mother (DOSM) first dispatched off to college a teenager so skinny you could pick a lock with my emaciated frame. If caught for time, just slide me under the closed door. You see, I didn’t eat.
Very few people in Ireland back then bothered much with eating, particularly young people. It was the era of ‘convenience food’ (crispy pancakes, oven chips, Angel Delight, etc) and, in my case, DOSM’s relationship with the kitchen was fleeting at best. Instead we student-types simply refuelled, primarily to line the belly for a feed of porter in the college bar.
That has all changed. Nowadays, young people not only eat, they are actively interested in food: They ‘know’ food; they like food; they get food; they watch food TV, and they share food experiences on social media. They appreciate its nutritional impact and consume accordingly. They even eat avocados. (In my day, ‘avocado’ was solely a colour option for an especially racy bathroom suite.)
Dining out is second nature to them and this new youthful epicurean cohort is driving changes in the hospitality sector, from silver service to casual dining, so siting Joe’s & Bros within spitting distance of UCC and its endless supply of ravenous students is a canny move by proprietors Chef Joe Dowling, Colm Liston and Cyprien Jouve.
The interior is light, bright industrial chic leavened with natural wood. As we enter, even youthful types are leaning into each other, the better to hear over a stomping clubby playlist and save La Daughter and No 2 Son, our party is heading for bus pass territory. My Heart’s Delight (MHD) and Her Most Distinguished Colleague (HMDC), delicate souls both, wince in sign language.
And then, just like that, the volume drops, the playlist hurtles back four decades. If by design (as it turns out to be), a response to our arrival and age profile, then it is impressive attention to detail even if I am a tad conflicted by the aural equivalent of a teenager offering me their seat.
Salads are daily changing affairs and MHD orders all three. Beetroot and Red Cabbage has sweet, earthy crunch. Sweet Potato, Cous Cous and Red Onion, is another symphony of natural sugars chiming with coriander notes, while Chickpeas, Roasted Pine Nuts, Lentils and Beetroot is a fine meal in itself.
No 2 Son’s Corkonian sandwich (honey glazed ham, Bros sauce, leaves, Joe’s slaw) is rapidly dispatched, leaving us no more proof of purported quality than his own (to be fair, exceedingly reliable) word.
HMDC graciously shares his Americano (grilled chicken, sweet red onion, Monterey Jack cheese), a demure sambo earning an X-rating via zingy sriracha mayo. La Daughter’s well-balanced New Yorker is a smart play on a classic Reuben: pastrami, gherkins, roasted garlic mayo, Monterey Jack cheese and pickled red onion.
The Italian contains Macroom buffalo mozzarella, peperonata, basil pesto, carmelised red onion and roasted garlic mayo. A crisp acidic pickle or two might offset the almost too-comforting sweet-savoury-garlicky mélange while admittedly tasty bread lacks advertised ciabatta’s softer, chewier textures; this ‘ciabatta’ instead sporting an alarmingly crunchy crust that works with meat-filled sandwiches but overwhelms softer subtleties. (It is not unnoticed by Dowling who is working with the bakers to resolve the issue.)
Tater Tots are potato chunks blanched and deep-fried. Optional toppings include grated parmesan or the commendably sinful ‘Loaded’, melted cheese and fried chorizo, the class of healing a top ‘hangover consultant’ might prescribe and is going down well with a posse of battle-scarred students ending a skite that began the evening before. No 2 Son wolfs into our two portions as if coming down from a four-day bender with Oliver Reed. We finish with well-made Badger & Dodo coffees.
Dowling has a sound palate, confidently assembling flavours; with a family background in restaurants, he has worked in professional kitchens far longer than many of his peers.
Naturally, the weekday menu is student-centric but weekends sees a wider brunch offering, including fish tacos and confit duck leg served with fried duck egg, pancakes and syrup, a combo that makes increasing sense, the more you think about it. The sparks should really begin to fly when the planned evening openings commence.
As for the formerly emaciated teenager? Well he learned how to eat in the end and grew very ‘shtrong’ indeed.
The tab: €52.20 (excluding tip)
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