Restaurant Review: Rachel’s, 28 Washington Street, Cork

I’VE nearly tracked down a hen’s dentist by the time I procure a booking for Rachel’s but finally prevail, finding it rammed to the rafters on a Saturday night.

Sited in a former furniture store, opposite the courthouse, it is in the heart of student pub-land, the buzz inside like rag week on steroids.

Décor is bright industrial chic: Exposed ducting, matt grey walls, bare brick, sleek lines in metal and glass; a considered art selection adds personality; a less considered generic club classics playlist cranks up the high octane atmosphere. My Heart’s Delight finds it all very Celtic Tiger, perfect for a shouty night out, less suited to date nights.

I honestly have no idea of Rachel Allen’s (for she is “Rachel”) precise role but somehow doubt she is sweating over the stove; disappointing, maybe, for some fans but common practice in many high-profile restaurants. I am more interested in her desire to bring the ethos of her alma mater, Ballymaloe, her vision, “to serve nutritious, naturally produced and delicious tasting food”.

Starters arrive: for MHD, plump and well-cooked pan roasted scallops, but a blizzard of prosciutto crisp is the equivalent of double-salting, a saline excess that cauliflower puree cannot absorb; my buttered lobster tail pairs well with a balanced citrus beurre blanc. Wine yet to arrive, we pause to wait.

I like wine. Indeed, the stuff coursing through my veins might better be classified by appellation than blood type but, due to space constraints, I rarely make much mention of wine in reviews. This time is different.

To begin with, prices are cheeky. Cheapest on the Spanish whites list is a Rueda at €40. Second is a Martin Codax 2015, at €45, nosebleed pricing for a pleasant if unremarkable wine. First on the French list is a Viognier for €33. I plump for the third cheapest, a Rhone Marsanne (Yves Cuilleron) at €45 (prices continue rising, faster and higher than a Sherpa on overtime).

The Marsanne takes too long to arrive. It is near room temperature. But here’s an ice bucket, pleads our server. I ask them to check for a cooler bottle. Ten minutes later, server returns. I am asked to confirm satisfaction by feeling side of bottle. I’d prefer to actually taste. Again, near room temperature. Overly hungry, increasingly irritated, I reluctantly order the Rueda. Much later, it arrives, our starters are colder. I give up, request a bucket of ice water and set about chilling it myself, hoping to be ready when mains arrive. If wine prices are in Patrick Guilbaud territory then wine management needs to be infinitely better than this farce.

MHD’s roast free range chicken is excellent: Good meat, perfectly cooked, served with umami-rich parmesan and artichoke puree and peppery watercress. Salt-cured egg yolk completes the ultimate mother and child reunion.

Woodfired oven Dover sole is a mighty size, smothered in buttery capers, so impressive, a bearded young hipster sitting alongside suddenly leans over and gushes, “Wow! What’s that?” Again, salting is an issue; this time, briny capers and salted butter atop already seasoned fish. Sadly, it is also overcooked, gummy on the tooth.

Sides are good but serving crispy rosemary salt skinny fries as well as quartered crispy new potato wedges is doubling up. An innocuous looking salad of excellent green leaves is superb, barely dressed in peppery oil.

I order rhubarb mille feuille out of professional obligation. Rhubarb flecked with ginger is delicious, tartness cushioned by crème patisserie. “Mille feuille” translates as “thousand leaves”, referring to multiple leaves of wafer-thin puff pastry that should ideally near melt in the gob. This pastry is overdone, biscuit-hard, more bark than leaves, not unpleasant, but not mille feuille.

Rachel’s has the makings of a great restaurant and, now opened for lunch, should become a commercial Leviathan, especially attractive to ladies who lunch and nearby legal eagles. When the kitchen achieves consistency in delivery, food should receive just praise, for when it is good, it is very good. (To those around town muttering about prices: sourcing impeccable produce to this high standard does not come cheap.)

Very mixed service could certainly be looked at; despite the wine debacle, no one volunteers an apology, the bill remains untouched. And finally, the wine situation… well, I think I’ve said enough about that!

THE TAB

€156.70 (including two cocktails, one coffee, excluding tip)

The verdict

Food: 6.5/10 (higher if in-house standards were met)

Service: 5.5/10

Value: 6/10 (higher if in-house standards were met)

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Tagline: “‘Rachel’s vision has yet to be fully realised on the plate and in the glass”


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