A selection of the best restaurants as chosen by Rachel Collins
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.
Breakfast is daily from 8.30am-11.30am and highlights include the warm banana flatbread with a creamy lime zest filling (¤4.50) and the Breakfast Moglai – a crispy dough bread 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 Sfee has, 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
THE LONG DOCK Carrigaholt, Co Clare 00-789432
The Long Dock is a gem at the heart of Loop Head and the perfect stopping-off point en route to climb the lighthouse over Clare’s spectacular cliffs. As you’d hope in this part of the world (but not always find), the seafood selection is spectacular.
One a recent visit we got stuck into a massive bowl of mussels in a delicious wine and garlic sauce (¤9.95); great, meaty crab claws (¤13.95); a surf and turf that delivered loads of flavour and great value at €19.95;and a rich, creamy seafood pie hiding beneath a pillowy mash top (¤14.95).
The daily specials are much more adventurous then we were on this visit. The cosy bar setting and roaring fire was the perfect antidote to one of those early summer days that delivered all four seasons in one. This is one worth making a lengthy detour for.
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.
8 Dunville Terrace, Canal Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, 01-497 9337 ¤ This little coffee spot is named for its location opposite lock number six on the Grand Canal (you know the one, it features in every “it’s sunny in Dublin, look at all the people drinking outside the Barge” photo- graph). It opens from 7am on weekdays for coffee and breakfast. It’s a cool little hideaway, protected from the passing traffic by a stone and wire mesh wall with some interesting wooden outdoor seating for those bright summer mornings. Breakfast offerings include porridge with stewed rhubarb ¤4.50 or bacon and eggs (¤4.50) with or without bread. Locally roasted Ariosa coffee beans keep the baristas busy with passing commuters, who can grab baked treats such as fresh pain au chocolate (¤2.50) made by Dublin’s Bakelicious bakery. At lunchtime, the Kamado lump wood charcoal barbeque roars into action out the back, with a daily meat special served with salad or in a sandwich, with a corn on the cob. You can expect chicken (¤6.25), steak (¤7), thick cuts of bacon with avocado (¤6.25) or some really good foot-long sausages from O Flynn’s Gourmet Sausages in Cork’s English Market (¤7). It closes at 4pm, but on Fridays, the Canal Club comes to life from 5pm – a fun evening party with live music, DJs (such as Reza Mottiar), those foot-long sausages on the grill and a limited drinks menu – but you can BYOB for a small charge. There are plans to extend the Canal Club to Saturdays for the
summer, plus a new kitchen is on the way to expand the food offering. It’s also a popular spot for birthday parties the day after wedding. Go in search of the confession box out the back – a leftover from a photoshoot that has become a permanent fixture.
PEPPER POT CAFÉ
Powerscourt Town House Centre, South William St, Dublin 2, tel: 01-707 1610, thepepperpot.ie ¤ Wrapping around the first mezzanine level of the Powerscourt Centre, this is a bustling little café with some of the best scrambled eggs in Dublin. Possibly the best. There, I said it.
With its cutsie mismatched tablecloths and crockery, it has a ramshackle, homely appeal. It’s open from 10am to 6pm – the Powerscourt opening hours. The menu includes an all-day breakfast – those creamy scrambled eggs with mushrooms and toast (¤7.50) hit the spot at any time of day. There’s also organic porridge (¤4) with toppings such as roasted pear or banana and honey. There’s a soup of the day (¤5), on the day we visit it is an excellent wild Irish mushroom with tarragon and a splodge of whipped feta. You can get sandwiches – the Mount Callan cheddar with bacon and roast pear (¤6.50) is particularly good – plus homemade bagels, tarts and salads. There are always a couple of specials – a huge, free range Pigs on the Green pulled pork sambo on focaccia with caramelised onion and pickle (¤11.50) looks very good, but we opt for a big bowl of that soup with homemade brown bread heavily laced with seeds and a slab of butter. You can add a cup of soup to any main course for ¤2.50. A salad of pan fried goat’s cheese with Gubeen chorizo and vine tomatoes may have lost the tomatoes en route from the kitchen, but the fatty discs of chorizo and the thick slice of cheese, coated in polenta and fried golden were very, very good. Staff are busy but very friendly here, and it’s a brilliant spot to watch the world go by. A real treat.
SUPER MISS SUE
2-3 Drury Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-679 9009, supermisssue.com ¤¤ From the same stable as 777, Dillingers and The Butcher Grill, John Farrell had big plans for this corner building on Drury Street – to include Cervi, an old-style Italian fish and chip shop, a casual seafood café, and a more formal restaurant (this hasn’t materialised yet). He’s had planning and power issues, and subsequently opened a “popdown” restaurant in the basement. Now the casual ground-floor café has had a menu overhall, with a strong Caribbean influence. There’s a lovely, airy dining room here although seating is limited (we are brought behind the bar to reach our far table, so as not to disturb a large group). A square booth is probably the best seat in the house on a cold, wet evening.
There is a long ice bar holding fresh fish – which still features heavily on the new menu – on the smaller plates, fried gambas with a sweet red pepper vinaigrette (¤10) come fat and well cooked, some shell on, others shell off. There are some excellent crab claws (¤10), braised in cast-iron pot with a rich, moreish “shellfish and tomato ragout” and some very good sourdough.
The Caribbean influence is less evident in the smaller dishes, although there was a nod east in some sticky duck wings (¤10) – far superior to their chicken cousins – which came with a ginger and mango sauce and topped with lots of chilli and garlic (no kissing after these).
The heat turns up in the mains, with chargrilled Jerk poussin with buttered yams and scallions (¤19) and a blackened swordfish burger with mango (¤18). We opted for a rich West Indian glazed beef short rib (¤22) – fat and heavy on a rather whopping rib bone – served with roasted pineapple, spices and dressed liberally with crushed peanuts.
Best of the mains is a whole sea bass (¤19), coated in panko and fried crispy on the outside, while still deliciously delicate inside – propped on a bowl of sweet and sour black beans. It will be interesting to see the final phase opening at this spot, possibly later this year.
14 Dame Court, Dublin 2. tel: 083-449 9584, tacotacodublin.com ¤¤ Mexican food makes money in Ireland. Chains such as Pablo Picante, Boojum and Little Ass can’t keep the burritos and fajitas coming fast enough. Cheap, cheerful, fresh and filling, it’s ideal fast food. Taco taco is a pop-up restaurant run by the team behind San Lorenzo’s on George’s Street. These guys know a trend when they see one, having queues out the door on the back of their #brunchofchampions hashtag on social media last year.
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).
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. AMcE
SLIGO 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. AMcE