Top of the ratings

IT MAY not be the kind of icy economic indicator that would beguile Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s, but the fact that a Saturday night table at Farmgate is not so easily secured must mean something positive.

It probably means a few things. The people of East Cork know a good thing when they see it, despite everything inflicted on us by rogue bankers and mysterious, jesuitical rating agencies good — or, as in this instance, excellent — restaurants have a far better chance of being busy than dodgy, falling-apart ones.

And most importantly of all — the belief that there’s nothing like a good steak and a rioja with broad shoulders to sweep away the Anglo Ague is still cherished and observed. Farmgate ticks all those boxes, and in a region blessed with more than its fair share of premiership restaurants it does more than enough to consolidate that enviable reputation.

Unusually, we were our own little troika — DW, supervising sister VW and myself — so we got to fiddle with more dishes than is usual. Just as well, Farmgate is one of those places with almost too many choices — it offered 13 starters, seven regular main courses, augmented by as many again on a blackboard full of specials.

An indecisive diner will suffer a peculiar anguish but after considerations that probably surpassed those routine for Dr Chopra and his posse of IMF accountants, the objective was reached — choices were made.

DW chose fresh crab salad with coriander tomato and it was as sharp and pert as an opener should be. A lovely, generous dish with fresh, crisp leaves — amazingly, not always guaranteed. It was as impressive as it was simple.

VW chose the über popular tempura of prawns with a sweet chilli dip. This has become a weather-vane starter as more or less every restaurant in the eurozone serves it. It is a kind of LSE Top 100, a fair indication of how the wind blows in the kitchen.

In Farmgate the plate passed with flying colours and made VW straighten her back in anticipation.

I chose kidneys sautéed with bacon and mushrooms. It was another reminder of how really wonderful offal can be and what a great loss it is to many modern diets. Soft, composty, meaty-knobs of real palate-smooching taste. If it was called MacKidney or disguised in soy sauce maybe?

VW, God bless her, was undaunted when warned that the rib eye steak was not for the faint-hearted — the waitress mentioned 20 ounces and I perked up, tempted to change my mind.

However, it turned out to be more scrum half than a creatine-built prop and so was entirely manageable. It was a wonderfully cooked piece of top class beef. Depth of taste, tenderness and a lovely seared, carbon coating from the griddle.

DW asked for roast cod on a bed of spinach. It came with wilted broccoli and citrus sauce, but it was the only wisp of disappointment for the evening. Cod is a hard fish to roast, the risk of it being a point or two on the tough side is always real. This was just a blip, not even the first cousin of a credit default.

I had roast turbot with a crab meat and mussel sauce. No matter how I try to ration the hyperbole, I’m sorry but this deserved the triple A rating. A wonderful combination of subtle tastes and textures.

Desserts — crème brûlée, chocolate tart and bread pudding — were heart-stopping, creamy-wonderful, too.

The wine was a write-down-the-name Spanish white — Terras Gauda from the O Rosal valley — and it reiterated how lovely and deceptive these sharp Spaniards can be.

Farmgate will be in business for 30 years next year and the quality represented by this meal make the restaurant’s top-table place in the firmament of the south east’s wonderful eating houses secure. If the whole country was as impressive, the troika, Standard and Poor’s, as well as Moody’s, could move on their next patient.


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