Reaching for stars

SO MUCH energy is spent fretting about what we can’t have but probably don’t need. Separating need from desire is the permanent frontline in consumer societies.

Advertising and spin are the weapons of mass destruction and our insecurities — our children’s too — the weak points.

Maybe, just maybe, this keeping-up-with-the-Jones gene is one that pushed us to the top of the food chain and allowed our dominance of the planet to become so destructive and increasingly irreversible.

Last week, enjoying the perfectly pleasant dining room of the Castle Restaurant, my mind wandered to the idea that in one part of the castle complex you can see all the way to Mars — did you spot Deputy Flanagan? — but in the restaurant your view is cut off by one of the castle walls that has stood sentry over the Lee for nearly five centuries.

The venue, as well as being home to the restaurant, is home to the Cork Institute of Technology Observatory ( so all of the predictable puns — planet of the canapes is just one obvious cringer — apply.

Had I not known about the observatory I would have been happy to be cocooned in the courtyard wondering what had passed under the ramparts since the 16th century when the city appealed to Elizabeth I to construct a fort to “repel pirates and other invaders”. What a pity they did not anticipate the bankers who bankrolled reckless lenders and speculators.

Thankfully, the restaurant has not offered a menu themed on space exploration but rather offers a list of good, middle-of-the-road dishes. It is a place to go to enjoy decent food in company which, despite everything, endures as a great centrepiece of European civilisation.

Three of us ate and, apart from the minorish crime of over-selling some dishes, it was satisfactory. This is not to damn with faint praise, but rather to recognise that what was promised was delivered.

For a starter DW asked for beef carapaccio with rocket and olive tapenade, but it was so overly oiled, so sodden, that, for the first time in years, we had to swap starters. I might not order it again but DW pronounced herself pleased with the chicken paté which, instead of the usual cumberland sauce, came with a pert and sweet spiced cherry chutney. DMacS chose pizzette with fresh prawns, ricotta, etc, and that’s what it was. A saucer of piazza and leaves. Not memorable or disappointing but perfectly in tune with the ambitions of the menu.

Mains were the best plates of the evening. The were simple, froth-free and had the kind of robustness achieved only if the pretension gene has been culled from the kitchen.

DMacS chose fillet steak, garlic mash potato, sauteed mushrooms and onions and a peppercorn sauce. What could be simpler and more comforting? And it was. DW opted for pan-fried sea bream with a potato and fennel boxty. The fish was just seconds in the pan short of dried out but it was all eaten.

My main was a very satisfying pork chop. It was butchered decently and had the kind of bulk needed to facilitate proper cooking. The kitchen kept their part of the bargain and it came with greens, spinach and a sweet, zingy tomato sauce. I would be very happy to ask for it again.

The marketing department may have gone beyond what is prudent in describing the desserts. “Bananas and dark chocolate on a salted caramel and hazelnut biscuit base topped with whipped cream” turned out to be, if not exactly, then a very close cousin of banoffi pie gloop.

The wine was a 2007 Muriel Crianza rioja and, again, was lovely without pushing for a place on the best-of list.

The restaurant has some lovely outdoor space and what a pity we don’t have the climate to get the best of it. This was a decent, enjoyable meal and if you fancy a night with friends without stellar culinary expectations, this might be the ideal venue.

And after the meal you can check out how Major Tom is getting on on Mars, all these years after David Bowie banished him to outer space.


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