One of my favorite indulgences is to explore new things – and that includes food. Trying something different can be intimidating, but when it is in the setting of Ireland’s food capital the result can only be sweet reward.
This past Saturday, Cork City held its first ever Cork Gourmet Trail with 14 restaurants participating in this landmark event. Many of our favorites took part and I certainly can let my arm be twisted if it involves eating for over five hours!
The pirate theme confused us at first, but having a theme kept the atmosphere light and festive – not stuffy. Some event-goers went all out wearing outfits that could fit right in on the Black Pearl herself. Landlubbers and seafarers alike were given a red felt pirate’s hat (with the Captain Morgan logo) to sport, which livened spirits and brought on many cheers from passing cars along the trail.
The day started with a relaxing Champagne reception at Soho on Grand Parade. Pannier, a delectable French Champagne, was plentiful lending an air of sophistication and luxury to the kick-off. Of course, Heineken and Irish spring water were also available here and throughout the day thanks to Classic Drinks. This is where the large collection of attendees was split into three groups – our crew for the day! Once we learned the identity of our pirate leader (trail guide) and fellow gourmands, we embarked on the adventure.
Our first stop was Greenes on MacCurtain Street. I had previously eaten at Greenes for my wedding anniversary, a feast to remember surrounded by beautiful ambiance. I knew I found a favorite restaurant that day when I could order my steak “à point”, a French term used to mean cooked to the perfect point of doneness – and it was. My visit this past weekend only reaffirmed that affection. We were welcomed with plentiful beverages, a necessity given the sunny walk up from Grand Parade – not to mention the soothing sounds of the waterfall beside the restaurant entrance. Seating was available in their bar area and on the patio. A gentle yet lively selection of jazz was playing through their sound system, giving a lovely ambiance to the venue. Tucked into a side event room was a buffet of prepared tasting plates and fresh options from Isaac’s, Rising Tide, and Greenes.
Isaac’s Restaurant offered lamb cutlets with a mint Béarnaise sauce, McCarthy’s black pudding (the stuff that makes Kanturk famous) on a light crostini, and a chocolate dessert. The lamb was perfection! The pudding lived up to its reputation. No photo of the dessert, but it was like a fudge cream with just the right chocolate sweetness, but not what I would consider very sugary.
Rising Tide elegantly prepared tuna in seaweed, but my attention was captured by the two-chocolate dessert with scrumptious cherry chocolate truffles.
Greenes did not disappoint with their selection of fried shrimp with a creamy dipping sauce, fried smoked salmon and fish balls with tartar sauce, chilled beet root soup, seafood chowder, and a lemon curd tart with fresh strawberry slices on top. When all was said and done, I had four servings of the soup and can’t stop dreaming about it. The tartar sauce was definitely house-made and had a charming combination of pickles and capers in an ideal consistency.
For vegetarians, an Indian plate selection was offered with a delicate basmati rice with cilantro. The yogurt sauce was far from bland and balanced the spice of the chick pea dish nicely. The poppadom added that bit of crispy crunch.
The tour then continued on to The Boardwalk Bar & Grill on Lapps Quay where we were greeted by Club Brasserie, Augustine’s, El Vino, and The Boardwalk and a selection of beverages. The dock in front of the patio seating was lively with preparations for the Vibes & Scribes Lee Swim and the weather was ideal for al fresco dining. I had previously been to Boardwalk for a reception for the work of Cork-based photographer Miki Barlok and truly enjoyed the menu and casual decor, but this was my first chance to eat on their patio.
Club Brasserie offered a selection of Mediterranean fare, including pesto with toasted pine nuts, hummus, crostini with melted mozzarella and a tomato spread, and garlic bread.
Augustine’s had a tasty chicken dish as well as a pot au chocolat with Wexford strawberries which was topped with honeycomb.
El Vino had a refreshing salad with shiny fresh anchovies, parmesan shavings, and what appeared to be Parma ham. In keeping with a nourishing but light summer menu, they also had a smoked salmon mousse served in cones! For their sweet finish, El Vino served what looked like pavlova with lightly sweetened whipped cream, fresh berries, and chocolate straws.
I am allergic to pork/ham and cannot eat smoked fish or too much sugar right now, but El Vino was enthusiastic to still let me try their selection and prepared me a special dessert of just the fresh berries with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar and a few token chocolate straws and whipped cream on the side.
The Boardwalk served up classic bar fare but with distinctively excellent flavors. Their steak strips and American chicken wings were offered with fried shoestring onion strips and chips. Of course, they also had dessert!
This is how I eat chicken wings. It is a slow, but rewarding and tidy process. The chicken wings from The Boardwalk are my favorite in town and remind me of a place in Kentucky that makes great wings. After all, the true test of a chicken wing (or fried chicken) is if its delicious when you’re sober. And I was.
The tour then continued on in the beautiful sunshine to Electric on South Mall. I have been to Electric on many occasions for Tweet Meet Tuesday as well as a pre-grand opening dinner. The space has amazing natural light, focus on customers, and high standard for ingredients. Ambassador Chinese Restaurant, Soho, Electric, and Jacobs on the Mall awaited our arrival with a sprawling display of foods and a sunny top floor patio with a bar and live music entertainment.
Ambassador Chinese Restaurant had spare ribs, sticky Chinese rice, and a selection of seafood and meat favorites from their menu. A real treat! Sorry, no photo.
Soho offered a gigantic platter of sushi alongside beautiful displays of fresh meats, cheeses, breads, and crackers. For dessert, a light raspberry cheesecake mousse thing that I demolished too quickly to properly take notes on.
Electric had their usual impressive selection with chilled sea bass and also quail which they served atop papaya salad, offering fruity satisfaction with a spicy kick. The real prize was their elderflower panna cotta, which is an ideal summer treat. I picked up one because I can’t resist elderflower anything and after a few bites, my husband had to get his own. Definitely a new favorite – the texture and flavors were just right.
Jacobs on the Mall pulled out all the stops with their spread, which included toasts with pate and what looked like caramelized figs. As beautiful as their presentations were, however, I missed enjoying them because of the pork content so my descriptions are lacking here, but there are photos!
The final stop on the Gourmet Trail for our group was The Cornstore. On Saint Patrick’s Day when the crowds were overwhelming the city streets, my reduced-mobility mother and I ducked into Cornstore for a drink. It was an oasis of calm and we ended up staying for a delectable lunch – when my mother taught the bartender to make American iced tea. This day, we we were treated to foods from Amicus, Fenn’s Quay, and The Cornstore. The lighting here was not conducive to taking photos, so this is the only one to share for the final stop on the trail. The delectable round toast with tomato and goat cheese was from The Cornstore. The Bloody Mary and beet root over beef on brown bread was from Fenn’s Quay. Amicus had an impressive tapas spread which included a lovely basil drizzle and an unboring selection of bread rolls and mini loaves.
The final stop on the tour was The Bodega at St. Peter’s Market (Corn Market). This was the beginning of the nightlife portion of the event. Live music from a good local band performed in the reserved upstairs space as we sipped beverages and ruminated on the amazing food we had devoured over the past five hours. One drink per person was covered at The Bodega as part of the Cork Gourmet Tour and beyond that it was out-of-pocket. This is also where the winners of the day’s contests were revealed and awarded. Not everyone won a prize, but we all felt like winners – very full winners.
Now, it was not all sunshine and rainbows, there were a couple drawbacks to the event. As someone with a very limited diet, it was heartbreaking to see so many things I could not eat and there was a moment when I wanted to sneak away from my tour crew and go back to Greenes for more beet root soup, but the lively ambiance kept us tethered and, even when the food wasn’t ideal for what I could eat, the welcome was warm and the beverages were refreshing and plentiful. My favorite dishes of the day were Greenes beet root soup (surprise, surprise), Isaacs chocolate dessert, The Boardwalk’s chicken wings, El Vino’s summer berries, Club Brasserie’s pesto on toast, Electric’s elderflower panna cotta. Now, don’t underestimate my use of the phrase ‘favorite dishes of the day’, if you served these foods up to me every day for a week, I’d still be asking for more!
The day itself was relaxing, interesting, and fulfilling. The initial idea of a €75 price per ticket seemed pricey, but after attending the event I am reassured it is definitely worth it. Consider that the ticket brings with it four gourmet feasts in Cork City, each consisting of three to four restaurants’ selections – with two to four courses/dishes per restaurant. Then there was the wine. Different vintages of red and white wines were available throughout the tour to accompany the food. Not the cheap wine either, this selection was made to go with gourmet cuisine and given great consideration. Beer and bottled water were also available. The Cork Gourmet Trail is something that I recommend highly. If you see if on the calendar again, sign up! Honestly, it’s even worth a weekend getaway to Cork if you don’t live locally. A few members of our group, picking up on my American accent, asked if we came to town just for the event, which just goes to show Ireland (and Cork) is still a preferred foodie and tourist destination, especially for Americans.