A selection of the best restaurants as chosen by
ORSO KITCHEN & BAR 8 Pembroke St, Cork City, 021-2438000, orso.ie ¤ Opened by the same team behind Market Lane, Elbow Lane and Castle Café, this small but perfectly formed café brings Persian flavours to Pembroke St. During the day you can order from The Bar, a long counter filled with Ottolenghi-style large bowls of salads and sundries.
Breakfastis daily from 8.30am-11.30am and highlights include the warm banana flatbread with a creamy lime zest filling (¤4.50) and the BreakfastMoglai – a crispy doughbread stuffed with bacon, egg, cheese and coriander (¤6.50).
For lunch, go for the Manoushi, a Lebanese flat bread filled meat and cheese (¤8.90) or for a salad of pearl couscous with capers, cucumber, pomegranate and parsley (¤7). The sweet treats are plentiful; we’ll be back for their courgette cake (¤4.25) and their rosewater and pistachio meringue (¤4.50).
Nighttime sees the Kitchen taking over, and the Middle Eastern influence is strong in this menu too. It’s casual – the menu isn’t divided into starters or mains and sharing is encouraged. There are plenty of smaller dishes at around ¤8, such as Moroccan spiced beef patties (¤8), and bulgar wheat and chickpea falafel (¤8.50).
There are more baked goods from Lebanon, this time in the form of Sfeehas, delicious mini pies that are also stuffed with meat (¤8). They’re served at Orso with a crispy kale and a creamy dip. The menu holds a couple of largers plates for the heftier appetite, including a slow cooked lamb tagine (¤18.50) or a seasonal game pie with their own Orso spiced potatoes (¤17).
There’s a small but well-selected choice of craft beer and cocktails, and service is fast and friendly. They also host regular barista classes, led by their “professional coffee master” Yuliyan. The next classes are on May 10th and May 25th, and they’re open to people who want to upscale their hospitality skills or just those who really loves coffee and wants to find out more about brewing. AMcE
HARRY’S RESTAURANT Bridgend, Inishowen, Co Donegal, 074-9368544, bit.ly/HarrysBarFacebook ¤¤ Have you ever heard of the kind of restaurant that sits on a less than idyllic spot, perhaps next to a petrol station, but that foodies fawn over? Have you ever heard of the kind of restaurant that sits off the beaten track, perhaps next to a petrol station, that has food enthusiasts clambering into their cars to get to?
Harry’s is that kind of place. A totally unassuming location gives away to a passionate crowd of food lovers, whose main aim is to shout from the top of Malin Head about how great Inishowen produce is, as well as celebrating other great Irish producers.
You can follow proprietor Donal (that’s Harry’s son) on Twitter (@HarrysDonal) and if you ask him, he’ll tell you all about their walled garden a few minutes from the restaurant where they grow as much produce for their kitchen as possible. Check them out for lunch, early birds and evening meals. It’s a big place, with a large dining room with a good view of the kitchen pass, and an old-school family pub next door.
Their Sunday lunch is getting hard to beat, and three courses costs ¤20.95. For that, you could find yourself enjoying a walled garden onion tart with Coolea cheese, slices of roast Donegal turkey and ham with buttery onion and sage stuffing, followed by lemon posset with rhubarb. So, if you’re hungry when you arrive in the beautiful Inishowen peninsula, make sure you stop off at Harry’s to eat.
THAT’S AMORE 107 Monkstown Road, Dublin, 01-2845400, thatsamoremonkstown.ie ¤ That’s Amore is one of the most authentic Italian eateries in Dublin and even its endearingly cheesy name can’t take that away. Squeezed into a tiny space in Monkstown village, just a short walk from the Dart station, this vibrant little restaurant is bursting with the flavour and personality of Italy.
Owners Silvia Leo and Marco Valeri run an Italian Deli out of this space too, which means that the ingredients for lunch and dinner are flown in from their favourite suppliers from the homeland. They have one of those huge books of a menu with plastic pages filled with some familiar favourites and some dishes slightly less travelled; there’s antipasti misto (¤11.50) alongside a carpaccio di pesca spada (¤11.95 for sliced smoked swordfish). There is homemade gnocchi, tonnarello and penne on the pasta menu (ranging in price from ¤11.95 to ¤16.95). The pizzas are hand-stretched and stone-baked. They’re also enormous. Try the Capricciosa (¤14.95), a grilled artichokes, boiled egg and Parma ham beauty that will take up nearly the whole table yet somehow you won’t be able to stop yourself from eating it all. Without help. There are daily specials as well, and the fluffy slice of creamy tiramisu (¤6.95) I had there was one of the best I’ve had ever
So they’ve turned their attention to tacos in the old Odessa buliding on Dame Court. It looks very much the same as the old Odessa – forgivable when it’s a temporary set-up – with banquettes along the walls and lots of 4-top tables in the centre. Music is great and on the night we visit it’s busy all evening (including a few lost souls seeking Odessa, which has moved up onto the first floor).
The menu comprises a handful of starters – Maryland crab cakes (¤11.95), sweet and sour chicken noodle soup (¤.6.95); mains include half-adozen tacos and a few other Tex-mex style dishes – “super” nachos (¤14.95), a rather terrifyingly large burger (¤17.95) and grilled swordfish steak (¤19.95).
The tacos aren’t cheap – ranging from ¤14.95 to ¤22.95 for a sashimi yellow-fin offering. However they are large – without the usual Mexican fillers of rice and beans. The standard fish taco (¤14.95) has three good flour tortillas, chunky tempura hake fillets with lots of lettuce, salsa and some very good smoky charred corn. The Chinese five-spice duck is better (¤16.95) with sweet, sticky chunks of sesame seed speckled duck and slivers of leek, cucumber and Chinese cabbage – plus an extra pot of hoi sin sauce in case it isn’t running down your arms already.
Sides are good value – street style chargrilled corn (elotes) come slathered in mayo and parmesan (¤3.50 for two servings) and in a rather incongruous nod to Canada, there are some poutine fries – slivers of fried potato drowning in black pepper sauce, melted mozerella and flecked with chunks of bacon, declared “filthy, but good filthy” by my dinner companion. Desserts echo the heart attack-inducing dishes in San Lorenzo’s, including their Nutella chocolate cheesecake (¤7.95) and a pail of popcorn slathered in hot caramel sauce and three large scoops of peanut butter ice-cream (¤6).
They don’t take reservations here – you’ll have to rock up and take your chances at getting a seat before they move on to the next trend.
Brown Thomas, Clarendon Street, Dublin 2, 01-672 8950, yosushi.com/restaurants/ dublin-clarendonstreet ¤¤ YO Sushi is part of a British sushi and Japanese food chain that has two outlets in Dublin – on Clarendon Street, and in Dundrum Town Centre – and they offer the only sushi trains in the city. A slow-moving conveyor belt snakes around the restaurant, bringing small plates of food to diners who pluck off whatever they like the look of. Plates are colourcoded, so you pay according to the hue of your platter: green is the cheapest at ¤2.25 (six small pieces of cucumber roll), moving through half-a-dozen colours up to silver for ¤6.65 (soft shell crab tempura). The menu has sushi, salads and 30 or so small hot plates. They recommend five dishes to make a meal – but depending on how you order, the bill can shoot up. Also, if you suffer from eyes-bigger-than-belly syndrome (ahem) you can eat a serious amount in a blink of an eye. There are calorie counts on each plate, so at least you know what you’re putting away.
A new menu launched last month, including popcorn shrimp tempura (¤5), six or seven large prawns in a very thick fried tempura batter – more cinema nachos than popcorn – they’re dressed in a creamy miso sauce which is quite sweet, but tastes good with a squeeze of lime. A better dish from the hot menu is the chicken yakitori (¤4.50). Skewers pierce tender dark pieces of thigh meat, separated by charred spring onion and covered in a sweet, sticky soy and mirin sauce. A duck and hoi sin salad (¤5) has tasty slices of duck breast in hoi sin and sprinkled with sesame seeds, sitting on a salad of mandolined cucumber, slivers of daikon radish, lettuce and red onion. From the sushi train, there are the usual staples such as spicy tuna mini rolls (¤5) or an umami-rich crispy fried salmon skin roll (¤2.25): two pieces of maki stuffed with chopped crispy skin wrapped in rice and slivers of spring onion. A tuna tataki and ponzu (¤5) has four generous slices of fatty yellow fin seared and coated in pepper, topped with carrot, crispy shallots, chilli and a citrusy ponzu sauce. There’s far too much pepper on this to really work, but a lighter touch and it would be delicious. There are offers to make a visit good value. All plates on the conveyer on Mondays are ¤3; a ¤10 deal gives one blue, one orange and one purple plate plus a water or miso; or you can do all you can eat on Sundays for ¤20 (with a limited menu).
MAD HATTER CAFÉ
Unit 1, Keenan’s Lane, Castledermot, Co Kildare, 085-7148085, madhattercafe.ie ¤ A pleasant surprise on a dark, stormy Sunday afternoon, this cosy café open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. There’s a range of sandwiches, soups and wraps, plus shelves of goodies to take home, including breads, cakes, preserves, oils and coffees – there’s a table of freshly potted jars of homemade chutney awaiting labels when we pop in.
The menu, which feels a little dated, but obviously works as the place is jammed, includes an all-day breakfast (variations on a full Irish, from ¤6.50 to ¤8.75 with juice, tea or coffee) and homemade granola with yoghurt and coulis (¤4.95). The panini, which has quietly skulked out the back door of many lunchtime establishments, lives on here, named after characters in
(the motif is carried through to the menu and décor). The Tweedledum (¤7.25) has goat’s cheese, house-roasted vegetables, sun dried tomato and pesto.
A ciabatta special of turkey, brie, stuffing and cranberry sauce (in March?) is declared excellent, despite its unseasonable ingredients. My toasted club sandwich (¤6.75) is very good – a triple decker of thick granary bread with tender chicken breast, bacon, slices of cheese, lettuce and a very good homemade relish.
A very modern touch is the raw chocolate smoothie (¤4.50) made from raw cacao powder, banana, almond milk and honey. Served in a jam jar, it’s a rich, tasty imposter on the otherwise traditional menu.
University Court, Castletroy, Limerick ¤ realitalianfoodies.com / facebook.com/lacucina Whenever I take a trip to Dingle, which is usually once a year for the Other Voices festival in December, I make a pitstop halfway to a little Italian café off the motorway in Castletroy, Limerick. I first became aware of La Cucina through the blog and tweets of its owner Lorraine Fanneran. “@italianfoodie will you have space for two hungry pizza lovers at around 2.30 this afternoon?” I’d tweet, somewhere around Roscrea. “@aoifeforkful of course!” would come the reply. “We’ll get the dough ready for you.”
Lorraine and her partner Bruno (the Pizza Boss and son of Italian immigrants ) opened La Cucina in a business estate in Castletroy in 2003, and have been dishing out freshly made pizzas, great ciabatta sandwiches and Italian salads ever since. It’s a casual spot. In fact, it’s won Best Casual Dining a couple of times at the Irish Restaurant Awards. On a good day, the Limerick sun spills in through its windows into this small, buzzing space.
Their pizzas range in price from just over ¤10 to ¤13.50 and all the classics are there, from the margherita to the fiorentina. You can get a bowl of pasta amatriciana (¤10.50) or a plate of bruschetta parma (¤6.50).
They also launched their own range of Real Italian Foodies pasta sauces, which you can pick up at the shop or on their online store. This is a family business worth supporting. Go visit. And make sure you send them a tweet when you’re nearby.
SHELL’S CAFÉ AND LITTLE SHOP
Strandhill, Co Sligo, 071-9122938 ¤ shellscafe.com Jane and Myles Lamberth were looking for the good life and found it in Strandhill, Co Sligo. They opened their seaside café and bakery in 2006, thinking it might be a seasonal gig and that they could spend the rest of the year surfing. But then they got really busy. Turns out people travel for a great brunch.
This blue-hued café looks out onto the Sligo shore, and on a sunny day, you can sit outside on their benches and feel like you’re living Jane and Myles’ dream. Take a walk around the beach and come back ready for nourishment.
They have specials on every week. You might be lucky and catch their Buttermilk Pancakes with dry cured bacon (¤6.95) or maybe their roast chicken, avocado, halloumi, cheese and spicy mayo toastie (¤9.50 with a side salad and chips).
They love doing breakfast salads as well; when I was last in I had a pork belly salad which came with chunks black pudding and a perfectly poached egg. Woah, momma.
They’re open from 9am-6pm Mon-Sunday, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s homemade cakes, Irish-roasted coffee and glasses of wine on offer, too. They opened a shop next door selling some of their favourite things. There’s food produce, ceramics, fancy paper and other lovely things. Oh, and did I mention the couple have written two cookbooks? Turns out you can get a lot done when you’re living your dream.