Orso, tucked away on Pembroke Street in the heart of Cork city, is a restaurant that’s always on the “to go to” list for locals, and a delight to have stumbled upon as a first time visitor. Small but perfectly formed, Orso has never been afraid to bring something new and authentic to the discerning casual diners of the city. And as a lover of Levant cuisine myself (food from the region that stretches from the southern Mediterranean coasts of Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey to the old Persian kingdoms of Iraq, Iran and Syria, and encompassing North East Africa, Palestine, Lebanon and Israel), I’m always delighted to settle in to eat. It is a cuisine that balances earthy and aromatic spices with an abundance of fresh herbs and punches of acidity from citric fruits both fresh and preserves. Charcoal vegetables, slow cooked meats, tangy yogurts and pillowy breads all amount to why Levant food is my favourite of all (second only to “Indian” food…).
Orso Kitchen and Bar delivers all of this and serves them up to their diners from a menu that always reads beautifully and with flavours and ingredients that seem immediately accessible and inviting. This is something that happens only when you have a team who truly understand the basis of the food they are creating: the basis here is SPICE! Orso’s head chefs are Mamun and Shiroz, originally from Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. Levant food might not be the first thing you associate with their backgrounds, but what Mamun and Shiroz do have in bucketloads is the innate understanding of the alchemy of spice!
In food we talk often about the fifth sense: umami, and most often associate it with the cuisine of the Far East, but umami happens in all cuisines; in it’s simplest form it is ‘deliciousness’ – that unexplainable desire to go back time again to experience a flavour, taste, aroma and mouthfeel. Food that we here would describe as “Indian cuisine” (for shorthand I will use this term to include all the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent to include Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and the Island nations of Madagascar and Sri Lanka) imbues its own umami through the use of spice (a spice box is as essential in every kitchen in the region as a knife), time (marinades and slow cooking) and copious amounts of ghee!
In Levant cuisine, spices play a huge influence in the regional dishes, something that penetrated from the spice trading routes between the Western Mediterranean, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. So, with two head chefs at the helm each from countries where spices are literally a cultural and culinary bedrock, it is not a huge leap of culinary imagination to apply these spice balancing skills to a neighbouring cuisine whose roots are intertwined so closely with theirs.
The food offering here has always been exceptional value, and with dishes to suit the breakfast, lunch and dinner diner there is something for everyone all of the time – not an easy achievement in any walk of life, let alone food! And yet, there is something new to be had!
From 7th November, Orso Bar & Kitchen have launched a brand new Prix Fixe Menu, a 3 courses offering for just €19. The menu is available every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 5-7pm and the menu will change weekly too, so you can be assured of a brand new dish every week!
Speaking with Dee Munnelly, owner/manager or Orso, about the new menu she said, “We created the ideas for the Prix Fixed menu collaboratively. Mamun and Shiroz, myself and Stephen Kehoe (our Executive Chef) all worked together to bring together the ideas for the menu. We feel it represents fantastic value for money, and that, as we head into the Christmas season, it offers a refreshing antidote to the heavy seasonal foods we come to associate with the time of year.” And Dee is right of course! Levant food is all about a celebration of flavours that can be equally as comforting as sitting down to a bowl of Irish Stew, but without the heaviness. And of course at €19 a pop, it’s a celebration you can afford to have more than once!
I was fortunate to have a little sneak preview of some of the new dishes from the first Prix Fixe Menu and I can say that the food was fantastic. Fresh, rich with aromatic spices and yet fresh with herbs, citra and yogurts – the plates were devoured. My favourite had to be the Roast Pumpkin with Labneh, Gremolata and Pomegranate. A thin-skinned pumpkin was used for this dish, and the skin was burnished to create a really satisfying texture in the mouth. The sweet roasted pumpkin was perfect and the gentle spicing around it and with the garnishes helped to perfectly enhance the flavour of the star of the dish and not to mask it. I heartily recommend you check it out, and at only €19 for three courses, you can treat yourself to a delicious glass of wine to go with it! I had a fabulous Spanish Tempranillo which Dee sold to me when she said it was “Light and Lunchy” – she wasn’t wrong!
This first menu reads like this – note that this will change weekly:
Small Plates & Starters:
- Chicken Manti, Tomato Ragu, Toasted Seeds
- Roast Pumpkin, Labneh, Gremolata, Pomegranate
- Sardines, White Bean, Roast Tomatoes, Sourdough
- Red Rice, Black Bean Falaval Harissa
- Oregano & Lemon Lamb Shoulder, Feta, Fennel
- Stone Baked Hake, Hot & Sour Salad
- Chicken, Date Marjoram Tagine
- Veg Bake
- Chilli Chocolate Pot
Orso Bar & Kitchen is part of the Market Lane Group of Restaurants in Cork City which also includes Market Lane, Elbow Lane Smoke and Brew House and the Castle Cafe at Blackrock. Each restaurant has an owner/manager who is also part owner in the Market Lane Group.by