Cork: Comfort and ease

Man Friday, Scilly, Kinsale, Co Cork; tel: 021-4772260,

PHILLIP and Joss Horgan’s Man Friday restaurant may not be as venerable as the 1719 Daniel Defoe novel from which it takes its name, but by today’s here-today-andgonetomorrow chaos in the food business, it’s getting there.

Since they opened it 34 years ago it has built a reputation for consistency and admirable straight forwardness.

That the multi-tiered restaurant has survived the changing fashions and fluctuating fortunes of several generations of diners is testimony enough to the place and its simple philosophy — give the people what they want, do it well and be generous. Comfort rather than challenge, predictability rather than pyrotechnics, is very much the ethos. That it is done with an easy smile and natural grace makes it all the better.

When we — DW and I — visited on a Friday night the restaurant was busy but not completely full, however, the staff had more than enough to do. Nevertheless, they never missed a stroke, they did not impose or set the pace of our evening but neither did they, as staff in so many understaffed restaurants do, slip away while giving the impression that they had far better things to do than help us enjoy our visit.

Man Friday offers a wide range of menus including Sunday lunch. Each is extensive but there is, naturally enough, a strong emphasis on fish.

There is a conservatism though, it is highly unlikely that you’d make a new discovery, but here, this is a strength. Maybe the fact that it has to survive in a small town with far more than its share of good restaurants and a vibrant local food culture, focuses the mind on the basics.

Maybe the Horgans recognise the enduring conservatism of the great majority of Irish diners and are happy to appeal to that market. This uncheffiness is reflected in the almost unique fact that the restaurant’s chef is not even identified on their web site.

Such modesty is more than unusual and, in its own quirky way, reassuring. DW opened with a modern standard — deep fried brie with plum and port sauce. It was accompanied by a crispy and very nicely dressed green salad. Heston might not serve it but that’s his customers’ loss. It was simple, more than ample and very satisfying.

Even though I suspect the Trade Description’s Act should have a whole sub section dealing with what may or may not be described as scampi, I chose it with sweet and sour sauce. Choosing scampi can require a leap of faith because too many restaurants are happy to offer something described as scampi as long as it incorporates any flesh that once swam.

Very often you get little chewy globules of fishy matter and you’d need CSI’s best analysts to even guess which genus of fish has been shrouded in breadcrumbs. Unfortunately, a dish that can be magnificent has become one of the industry’s great swindles. Not here. Even though my excitement may be disproportionate I’m very happy to report that this was the real thing and was the best scampi I’ve had in years, so good in fact, that the sauce and my salad were almost unnecessary.

For her main course DW chose grilled escalopes of monkfish and salmon with a chive, lemon and butter sauce. Cooked to that almost undefinable point where crispiness is just about to assert itself over moistness, the plate, a very generous one, was really good comfort food but in a party frock. Excellent.

My main course — grilled fillet of turbot with crab and a light red peppercorn sauce — wore its party frock too and could have been held up as an exemplar of how fish should be cooked, the sweetness of the flesh spiked by the gentle sharpness of the subtle sauce. Excellent again.

Desserts were a crème brûlée with strawberries and an ice cream with hot raspberry sauce. Excellent once again. We drank an Italian white, Gavi Fontanafredda, a fine argument for wines made from cortese grapes. The wine list recognises the imperatives of our times and very few, and there are lots, break the €30 barrier. A really enjoyable, unfussy meal, one that showed how a restaurant can be so popular for so very long.

THE TAB: Dinner for two with a bottle of wine (€29) came to €119, tip extra

HOW TO: Monday to Saturday from 5pm; Sunday, 12.30pm to 9.30pm

Ambiance: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Wine: 7/10
Value: 8/10


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