Fish Bar at The Electric, South Mall, Cork; tel: 021-4222990; Website
THE Fish Bar proprietors are serious operators, always keeping a gimlet eye on international restaurant trends. Each move is carefully calibrated, nothing left to chance, so even ‘casual’ is highly calculated.
It begins with a lovely room, the River Lee running alongside and great city views including St Fin Barre’s spires to the West. Tall stools at marble countertops have diners often eating side-by-side, bar-style, and retro-tiling, clean lines and vintage bone-handled cutlery suggest summer in 1950s Sorrento rather than late autumn Cork.
It is artifice, no doubt, but so well achieved, it has to be one of my favourite dining spaces in the city. Brightly lit and buzzing on a Saturday night, it inhabits that space where pub meets restaurant. In a country where the pair so long existed in an apartheid state, prohibited from mingling, it further heightens the sense of being ‘elsewhere’.
I’ve rustled up a foursome to play this particular course, to have a real crack at the menu. A platter of Sizzling Tiger Prawns with Garlic, Harissa, Lemon and Toasted Sourdough transports us back to sun holidays abroad while a Ceviche of Whiting is clean, citric and pleasant, a novelty for the uninitiated but doesn’t linger on the palate. A Carmelised fig, Goats Cheese and Rocket Salad does something similar, both dishes for chatting over but then we up the ante.
Shellfish Bisque with Rouille is piscine comfort by the bowlful, built up from a proper stock of roasted prawn heads, the class of thing Neptune splashes on as aftershave. The garlic-heavy Rouille of olive oil, breadcrumbs and chilli, gives the sweet tomato broth serious heft and a body could survive the cruellest of winters on this alone.
Monkfish Medallions with Peanut and Lemongrass Crust, Mango Mayo and Zesty Slaw is soundly founded on in-season fish, sourced locally and cooked well. The Slaw, long slivers of fresh cabbages, has a nice crunch but it is the Mango Mayo, perfectly positioned on the spectrum between sweet and citric sharp, that elevates the entire plate. A good dish, thoughtful but not overly complex, which is how fish cooking should be.
Pan fried Hake with Lemon Butter is perfectly cooked but the accompanying Sweet Potato & Spinach Frittata is a revelation, delicately flavoured, closer to a shivering blancmange than the more usual rubber doorstops that often trade as frittatas.
Cianpinno Fish stew is mussels, tiger prawns, salmon in a tomato-based sauce that is a very close relation of the aforementioned bisque, if not the same thing altogether. No harm there as the bisque is very fine but the single Dublin Bay Prawn sitting astraddle the whole concoction would be far better served in the company of more of its own kind rather than the Tiger Prawns imported from Asia. Similarly, the farmed salmon hasn’t lost its texture but is mighty short on any real flavour.
I drink a Picpoul (Domaine Reine Juliette 2012, €23.50), fine, fresh and grassy, but fail to spot better suited options tucked away in small print underneath and by meal’s end I have nurtured a spiteful and petty resentment towards a largely inoffensive guzzler and begin horsetrading with our dining companions for a drop of their rioja.
Desserts are Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Truffles and the relentlessly ubiquitous Lemon Posset. They are perfectly serviceable, straightforward sweets but I plump for a bit of Durrus cheese and a glass of Brown Bros Muscat. They arrive, one as cold as the other, and the normally exquisite Durrus tastes like iced rubber. For once, the perfectly-oiled machine encounters a bit of grit in the cogs but my pontificating on the matter is received in the best possible spirit and the offending item never reaches the bill.
There’s some fine cooking going on in Fish Bar, the very best dishes featuring fresh locally-caught fish which always show up inferior imports. Turn that into something approaching an ethos and this place could begin to attract what would be deserved national acclaim. La Dolce Vita by the Lee.
THE TAB: Total (for four) including coffees and drinks — €165 plus tip
HOW TO: Thurs-Saturday, 5pm-late (last orders 10pm), also bank holiday Sundays
Wine list: 6/10
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