For Corkonians, there is one place in our City (recently voted 3rd friendliest city in the world too, by the way), that captures our hearts more than any other. Maybe it’s because it has been part of the Cork City landscape for long; maybe it’s the Parisian feel of La Fayettes Cafe or the sumptuous surroundings of Wine Bar Seventy Six? Well, not that anyone ever needed an excuse to extend that grá to a visit to The Pembroke Restaurant, but since Jerome Joyce strolled into town with his band of merry chefs there is now one extra reason to go weak at the knees for The Imperial Hotel on South Mall, in Cork…boi.
There is an understated elegance about The Pembroke: a touch of quality but without the stuffiness of a fine dining restaurant. The space in comfortable, the front of house staff are attentive and the kitchen pass opens onto the dining room floor. And everything is immaculate.
Speaking of the kitchen – Mr Flavour and I had heard there was a new head chef appointed to The Imperial, and so naturally we were curious about the promise of a brand new menu, shaken up and injected with a fervour for the very best of what is local and seasonal from Cork’s larder. It sounded like just our thing.
So here we are, sat in the lap of luxury being waited on hand and foot, let off dinner making duty – and on a Monday night too! We are dining early, post work, but the restaurant is not long in filling up. First things first – lets talk about the menu…
Put any of these words on a menu in whatever order you chose and I will be forever putty in your hands: Wild Boar, Beef Short Rib, Crab, Chocolate. Imagine my utter delight when ALL of these words appeared on the menu in front of me. The menu in general displays a very nice array of local meats, fresh fish and vegetarian dishes. Allergens are very clearly marked with the offer of informing the kitchen if you have any special dietary requirements – handy if you have strolled in from a day of exhausting window shopping without a pre-set reservation.
Mr Flavour and I are both driving, so we have to limit the old alcohol intake. I opt for the Rose, because its summer, and Mr Flavour opts for a rich Malbec. Both wines are fantastic although I would have preferred my Rose a little more chilled. We order: Wild Boar for me and Lemon Sole for him; Halibut for me and Beef Short Rib for him. I also ordered a side of tenderstem broccoli flavoured with almond butter – partially because I had never had that before, but also because I thought it was nice that this was a side dish that was suitable for vegans too.
The Wild Boar, slow cooked and braised, fell away at the slightest touch of the fork. The housemade BBQ glaze on the top was piquant but full of smokey flavour, pairing with well with the rich Boar. A little finger of black pudding that had been rolled in panko and black sesame seeds was a lovely earthy counterpoint to the sweet pork. The genius of using baby apples, lightly pickled, as the edible garnish was brilliant. I was at a festival recently where Kevin Thornton told me that a garnish must have a purpose or it should not be used. This was a case-in point. Apple and Pork are the best of friends, but these little gems with their crunch and touch of acidity were just what was needed to round off this delightful plate of food. I was ready for action!
Mr Flavour’s Lemon Sole Goujons were oh so fresh and oh so perfectly cooked. The tempura batter was light and crispy yet full of flavour, and the little ragu of red pepper and tomato that I worried would overpower the fish instead was a perfect balance of sweetness. Basil Mayo and Lemon and Olive Oil emulsion as garnishes all complimented the main flavours of sole and tomato really well.
Halibut with Fennel Pollen Crust – the king of fish and always a pleasure to see it pop up on a menu. I’m a massive fan of fennel, the pollen is collected from the flower and imparts the subtlest of all fennel flavours. A great choice as otherwise the Hake, delicate in flavour, would have been in danger of being overpowered. Instead it added great texture with the feintest of aniseed backnotes. Underneath my meaty portion of halibut was a cassoulet. The menu did read white bean and broad beans (now in season) so I’ll admit I was a little disappointed when the cassoulet was chickpea and French bean. However, that aside the flavour of that cassoulet was fantastic. Little dots of chorizo through the bean mix added delightful punches of smokey sweet flavour, along with a little extra meaty chew.
Around the plate I was treated to some of the nicest potatoes I have tasted so far this year. They tasted almost like fondants – I’m almost sure there was a half a tonne of butter used to get the sunshine yellow colour and the soft just yielding texture. But oh, the taste – just how potatoes really should taste. I gave a bite to Mr Flavour who was wondering why I was making such a fuss, but his face said it all – we had just experienced Awesome Spuds, and both commented why it was such a rare and beautiful thing!
I was looking forward to my crispy crab claw which did look very impressive on the plate, but when I dug in the mashed potato to crab claw ratio was too much in favour of the mash. And given I had just eaten what felt like my body weight in sweet, buttery potatoes it was a bridge too far for me. Dip it tempura batter and give it to me to handle and rip with my teeth….grrrrr!
Apparently himself had ordered the short rib not of beef, but of DINOSAUR! At the best of times, Mr Flavour can develop a tendency to eat like a bird (much to my frustration), so I had little doubt in my mind that this course would end in some surreptitious hiding of meat beneath the mass of bone. As he gave the stout glazed short rib a little nudge and it all came tumbling in a mass of succulent meaty ribbons, I wondered if maybe I should keep the bone for use as a weapon of self defence should I be set upon walking back to the car later.
Mr Flavour proceeded to make too many unholy noises at the dinner table as he methodically made his way through the mound of soft unctuous meat, buttery mash and star anise braised red cabbage. With every mouthful I could see The Wall fast approaching, and soon enough I looked up to find him trying to hide what he couldn’t manage underneath the bone and declaring himself “well and truly done”, much like the remains of the beef short rib languishing in victory upon the plate.
My belly is screaming at me. She’s looked everywhere, but there’s no room for dessert – nothing, nada. So I order the chocolate marquise and start talking about the weeks’ workload to drown out the irksome wailing sounds coming from my “second brain.”
Dark chocolate and cherry is one of my all time favourite flavour combos. I am very much in a state of anticipation for its arrival. Dessert is the only course where I almost feel guilty about tucking in – not because of the calorific content of course, but because the plates always look so darn pretty. A fluffy dark chocolate sponge base topped with a milk chocolate mousse that’s as light as a feather is crowned with a glistening lake of dark chocolate ganache. Underneath lies a slick of dark cherry puree. Fresh raspberries, two floating swirls of cream; a chocolate and coconut tuile suspended in mid air and some shards of untempered chocolate complete the ensemble. Absolute, unadulterated SIN on a plate. I should probably go to confession but I’d only burn up on entry to the church. I figure I’m comfortable with this level of gluttony, bravely taking up my spoon and going in for the kill!
We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal and walked away feeling more than well fed and looked after. Jerome Joyce and his team have judged the zeitgeist for the Cork diner perfectly – working with the best of locally produced ingredients with an eye to seasonality; beautifully presented plates of food that deliver on flavour: substance to the style, a theme that runs all the way through the historic veins of this majestic mecca to the finest in Cork hospitality.
#collab: We were invited by the Imperial Hotel to dine as guests on the advent of their new menu and chef team headed up by Head Chef Jerome Joyce.by