DESPITE the dreadful impositions of the zeitgeist, the wretched panini has yet to usurp our national dish — the toasted special sandwich, the mid-day cousin of the breakfast roll — in the hearts of True Gaels.
Annie’s Bar and Restaurant, 89 Sunday’s Well Road, Cork; tel: 021-4398384; www.annies.ie
This heroic stamp of an Irishman, far better than anything contrived by Percy French or marked out of a game by Thade Quill, may be spiralling towards red-list rarity but it is a mark of the genus’ endurance that in the face of relentless attack from video referees, dieticians and wans with clipboards mother-henning around the site/farmyard/factory floor in high-viz jackets that there are still far more Gasping Paddies than Gastro Pubs in Ireland.
Set against the Irish drinking culture — the cure for all our ills, the cause of all our problems — the idea of the gastro pub seems almost effete, a kind of metrosexual shadow of the kind of place a fella would once retreat to to meet like-minded souls to fight the rearguard actions of the soul.
Nevertheless, the True Gael has not had it all his own way and some wonderful redoubts have had to install microwaves and even offer paninis, the embodiment of anti-food. This cultural colonisation has not always been successful though. A lot of those places did not endure and went the way of CB radio, Babycham and Fianna Fáil. They may actually exist but more as a harmless aide-mémoire than as an active reality. Some remake themselves by changing their objectives or furniture. Others by replacing staff. Some do both.
Annie’s, a bar turned restaurant is in the hands of a new team since earlier this year and they seem to have moved the goalposts in a very positive direction. The food we — yours truly with friends Ms S and Ms O’S, — enjoyed was of a different order to that offered on my last visit though that older menu still haunts Annie’s website — kangaroo and ostrich now just seem tragically false and Celtic Tiger hollow.
We visited on a quiet, mid-week night when things were less than hectic. Trying to create an atmosphere in a less than half full restaurant is like trying to convince a wavering congregation scattered thinly around an echoing, cold basilica that there really is a god who cares about your problems. It’s hard work and not always rewarding but we made our own fun.
Ms S opened with crab and salads and enjoyed what seemed a plate of crispy fresh leaves and a good supporting cast, and she assured us that they all came together very nicely. The crab meat looked especially fresh, it almost had that smell you only get on seashore piers; ropes and timbers soaked in seawater for so very long that they smell as it they should be miles off shore.
Ms O’S opened with more or less the same supporting cast of leaves but chose terrine of ham hock as her main player. She thought it a tad salty but there are few positions in life more varied than individuals’ ideas about the right amount of salt to put on anything. I opened with goat’s cheese and … the usual supporting cast. The cheese was piped onto little doughy discs, almost like soft-centre crackers and it was acceptable even if wavering towards blandness.
For her main course Ms S chose sea bream and pronounced herself very happy; well cooked, generous portions and — again — fresh, tasty fish. Ms O’S chose roast duck breast and not a sliver escaped. It seemed, from across the table, a lovely moist piece of duck — an achievement that cannot always be taken for granted as too many kitchens have regimes that turn this lovely, sweet flesh into something as tough and rubbery as Crocs sandals.
I chose one of the evening’s specials and really enjoyed it — properly butchered lamb chops left as stallions rather than geldings — the tastiest bits on the bone arrived at the table rather than being pared off the bone to serve one of the most preposterous fads in contemporary cooking. They were really excellent and went straight on to the to must-do-again list.
Dessert was shared, a good, varied cheese plate that went well with the last of a decent French malbec Élevé (€29) albeit from a limited enough wine list.
This was good food, well cooked and well served. If every gastro pub in the country matched this standard the idea might even catch on with toasted-special True Gaels.
Dinner for three — two courses each and a large shared cheese plate for dessert — was €94.
In a sentence:
Good honest food, unpretentious and well worth a visit, good value all adding up to a renewed option in Cork city’s suburbs.
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