IT MAY be the tail end of November but Christmas is about to arrive in Midleton, the town abuzz as crowds gather for the official lighting of the town’s yuletide illuminations.
Many of them include the young families who have greatly expanded the local population in recent years, seeking a cheaper alternative to living in nearby Cork city, instead commuting there for work.
Though it is often the fate of ‘feeder’ or ‘dormitory’ towns to wither in the shadow of the larger conurbation, Midleton appears to be doing quite nicely, thank you very much, and I put a lot of that down to the town’s rich food heritage.
Long an agricultural breadbasket, its hinterland also includes Ballymaloe and Myrtle Allen’s legacy is having a trickle-down effect to this day, bequeathing a network of superb producers — and an excellent farmers’ market —and a nurturing environment for a very strong local hospitality sector, a most appealing set of epicurean attractions in 21st century Ireland.
Raymond’s was a local favourite, now relaunched as Ferrit & Lee, by its former chefs, Stephen Lee and Pat Ferriter.
It is just 6pm yet the place is more than half full, and a suitably festive frisson has followed us in from the street. Décor is muted and contemporary yet the room is warm and welcoming.
No 2 Son places his customary order for soup, here, a hearty Winter Vegetable and his spoon is soon ringing off the bottom of an empty bowl.
La Daughter and I share starters, the better to roam the menu: Crispy Goat’s Cheese Bon Bons come with Beetroot Relish, Pickles, Pistachio nuts, a pretty assemblage, with tastes living up to appearance; Beef, Mustard & Cheddar Croquettes are very more-ish, horseradish crème fraiche offering a crisp lactic acidity.
The oriental provenance of ‘Thai’ Fish Cakes appears to derive from accompanying Asian Salad and Nam Jim dressing, for the deep-fried croquettes of potato and fish are as Irish as Taytos.
Though My Heart’s Delight is disappointed not to receive the real (potato-free!) deal, they are tasty enough to forestall serious grieving so, with a mental geographical shift, she polishes them off.
Her Miso Marinated Monkfish, served with Hoisin Fried Bok Choy, Lime Rice, has Asian influences down pat yet also manages to perfectly fit an Irish winter’s evening.
No 2 Son’s Bacon & Smoked Cheese Burger is a beast, a dense slab of flavoursome beef. The only fault La Daughter can find with Chicken Pasta with garlic bread is quantity, enough to feed her several times over and plenty left for the pooch back home.
I have been struck down with a near-terminal case of what my grandfather dubbed Galloping Pyachia, symptoms including a bad case of the sniffles and near-fatal levels of self-pity.
The only cure for such a condition is a large dose of TLC, so I plump for safety on the menu, self-medicating with a tender, succulent 8oz fillet steak.
What’s more, it rides with a posse of old school sides; juicy mushrooms, crisply-battered onion rings, fries, fresh salad leaves and spiky pepper sauce; precisely the class of nursing required, most especially, in tandem with a Cote du Rhone (Les Terres du Roy, 2015) of spicy black fruit, trailing a crisp, metallic finish.
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While the progeny relish the elemental charms of jelly and ice cream, I’ve my heart set on date and butterscotch pudding, anticipating a sticky steamed cannonball of yore, so am surprised if no less delighted at the airy, light rendition that arrives, a salty caramel sauce completing my recovery.
Service is ‘mixed’, as in, very good and then the polar opposite of ‘very good’, depending on who turns up at our table, with some servers needing a rapid return to boot camp for re-training.
It is no easy task to impose your own stamp on an existing and already popular restaurant but Ferrit & Lee are finely attuned to the culinary desires of their current clientele and deliver accordingly, an unpretentious offering with broad appeal.
But those inclined to pay closer attention to the contents of their plates will register something deeper — good produce, cooked well, very keenly priced and, best of all, certain canny touches that already hint at a far greater sense of adventure to come in the future.
Ferrit & Lee, Distillery Walk, Midleton, Co Cork.
Tel: 021-4635235; www.ferritandlee.ie
The tab: €155
How to: Tuesday to Thursday, 12pm-3pm and 5pm-9.30pm; Friday, 12pm-4pm and 5pm-9.30pm; Saturday, 12pm- 4pm and 5pm-9.30pm; Sunday, 12pm-9pm
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