KATY MCGUIN­NESS

RESTAU­RANT RE­VIEW

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Eating Out -

ICork Opera House, Em­met Place, Cork City. cork­op­er­a­house.ie

know that some­times I’m in dan­ger of sound­ing like a bro­ken record, whing­ing on about the lack of prove­nance in­for­ma­tion on the menus of some of the restau­rants that I visit. I’m aware that it can be per­ceived as elit­ist, this mid­dle-class food writer ten­dency to parse over where our food comes from, and how it is pro­cessed, when food poverty is a real and cur­rent phe­nom­e­non in Ire­land. So I stop men­tion­ing it for a few weeks, so as not to bore you all rigid.

And then some­thing stops me in my tracks and I start back up again where I left off. The most re­cent trig­ger in­volved a packet of roast chicken slices. I was re­search­ing a fea­ture about food la­belling, scan­ning the shelves of my lo­cal su­per­mar­ket for ex­am­ples of pack­ag­ing that might mis­lead con­sumers into think­ing that the con­tents were Ir­ish when in fact they were not.

The pre­dom­i­nant colours on this par­tic­u­lar packet were green, white and gold, and un­der the name of the (very well-known brand) were the words ‘Made in Co. Wick­low’. But the in­gre­di­ent list on the back of the packet didn’t iden­tify where the chicken in the ‘cooked, roasted and sliced formed chicken breast’ orig­i­nated. In small print, though, there was a note to visit the com­pany’s web­site for sourc­ing in­for­ma­tion. I couldn’t find any there, so I con­tacted the com­pany via email to en­quire as to the ori­gin of the chicken.

And they told me that it came from Brazil.

The mind bog­gles as to how it can make eco­nomic sense to im­port chicken from South Amer­ica in or­der to turn it into sliced chicken for Ir­ish sand­wiches, but it must do oth­er­wise it wouldn’t be hap­pen­ing. And it would be naive to as­sume that this is the only com­pany that does it.

So when I was cast­ing around for some­where to have lunch in Cork City, the sug­ges­tion of House Café from Lucy Dee­gan and Mark Crib­bin, the peo­ple be­hind Bal­ly­houra Mush­rooms, was at­trac­tive. “The food,” they said, ”has the best prove­nance of any­where in the city.”

Bal­ly­houra as a com­pany has had its own is­sues with prove­nance over the years, in that it is known to be such an ex­cel­lent pro­ducer — of a wide va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent types of mush­rooms and mush­room-de­rived prod­ucts — that some­times un­scrupu­lous shops and restau­rants have been tempted to pass off in­fe­rior mush­rooms as com­ing from Bal­ly­houra.

House Café oc­cu­pies the foyer space of the hand­some Cork Opera House, de­signed by ar­chi­tects Scott Tal­lon Walker in the 1960s. There’s a counter in front of the kitchen with hand-writ­ten chalk boards de­tail­ing the day’s of­fer­ing, which at first glance ap­pears to be more in­ter­est­ing and evolved than your run of the mill café fare and lists a host of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents in­clud­ing Jack McCarthy’s black pud­ding, sausages and ba­con, Kil­brack veg­eta­bles and Al­sham bak­ery flat-breads. There are plenty of op­tions for veg­e­tar­i­ans and ve­g­ans, and judg­ing from the in­ter­ac­tions at ta­bles nearby, di­etary is­sues are not a bother.

First up, a half por­tion of cele­riac and ap­ple soup that’s rather bland, but then some fine spiced and breaded hake tacos, with blue corn tor­tillas that ac­tu­ally taste of corn but would have been bet­ter if served more crisp. The tacos come with aji rojo — a mild, smoky chilli sauce that’s com­bined here with crème fraiche, a vi­brant red and yel­low tomato salsa and a bowl of hot, crunchy skin-on fries that are the busi­ness.

Given who the rec­om­men­da­tion for House Café came from, it would be bad man­ners not to or­der the Bal­ly­houra mush­rooms on sour­dough toast, they are a thing of beauty, a de­li­cious melange of fungi in a herby, but­tery sauce lib­er­ally anointed with Pecorino. Mush­rooms on toast? Yes, but what mush­rooms.

We fin­ish with a slice of lemon tart — good fill­ing, hefty pas­try, a lus­cious salted caramel truf­fle (€1!) and a cou­ple of ex­cel­lent cof­fees. With a woodruff cor­dial — new to us, but earth­ily pleas­ant and not too sweet — the bill for lunch for two comes to €39.60.

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