Written for The Echo newspaper and published on 12th April, learn about some fantastic foraging walks, courses, weekend escapes and lifelong learning courses to unleash your inner forager!
Twas three nights before Christmas, and Mr Flavour and I palmed off our beloved Springer Spaniel onto our unwitting friends and heading to Cork for a night of food, drink, a Bag O’Cans and a gig in a Church. Rock and Roll!
The gig in questions was Beoga, Live at St Lukes, an incredible live music venue in a deconsecrated Church where there’s no drink to be had, only what you can stuff into a shopping bag from the Off Licence across the road. Beoga are great (watch and listen here), St Luke’s is brilliant; but it was the pre-gig dinner at newly opened The Glass Curtain that really kicked off the evening in spectacular fashion.
Back in August, I had gotten wind of a new restaurant opening on MacCurtain Street inside the old Thompson bakery while interviewing for a feature on Midleton’s fEast Food Festival in September. I managed to wangle an email contact for Brian Murray, a returning Corkonia, head chef and soon to be proprietor, and got in contact, asking him to let me know when the restaurant would open. Now, you would think that Brian had more important things to worry about that emailing me on the eve of the restaurant’s opening in early December, but he did. Attaching his press release was a lovely note recalling how our paths had briefly crossed earlier in the year. Those are the kind of personal touches that make you realise this is a chef who pays attention. I had thought I wouldn’t get to dine until after the festive season, but the impromptu decision to make a night of it in Cork for the gig meant I could make good on my intention earlier than planned.
Things to note about The Glass Curtain:
- It’s small. Only 36 seats with a funky bijoux bar with high stalls, perfect for sipping cocktails and partaking in a couple of the small plates.
- The kitchen is open and HUGE. I like seeing the chef team work – it gives a sense of dinner and a show. The long narrow nature of the space means the kitchen space is cavernous!
- A menu that can be shared or devoured alone. Small plates that can be shared or eaten as individual starters; large plates the same. It’s a flexible approach to menus that I love, personally, but for some might be a bit baffling.
- Have a cocktail before dining. Because the cocktails are excellent.
The Glass Curtain is about local, seasonal foods and celebrating the best of Cork grown and reared produce. Food is cooked over fire and charcoal; there is also magik and wizardry. Meat and fish feature throughout, but vegetables are treated with the level of detail ensuring that, only when together, does the flesh truly sing.
Casing point: For my large plate, I ordered Collar of Pork (a cut rarely seen on restaurant menus but one I love for its rich flavour and yielding texture). Served blushing, just the way it should be, melting and seared with sweetly sour sticky tamarind, it was possibly one of the best treatments of meat I have had this year (one exception: duck at The Chestnut, Ballydehob). It was served with a house made spicy Peanut Rayu and a selection of three cabbages: kale, sweetheart cabbage and green cabbage. The pork on its own was very good indeed, but only when eaten with the cabbage, buttery and smokey from the grill, did the dish truly come alive. I’ve always said that cabbage is a much underrated vegetable, and I would wager that Brian and I share the same belief; for while the Pork was meant to convince you of being the star of the show, frankly it was the unexpected glorious performance of the supporting act, Cabbage, that stole the show and made the Collar of Pork even better than it was on its own. A triumph of technique and flavour wrapped up in a cape of modesty. Positively indecent cabbage, in all the right ways.
Mr Flavour has a penchant for beef, and so opted for the Ribeye. Darkly barked and smokey without, erubescent within; sighing in surrender to the knife and served with an unctuous bone marrow jus: “This,” Mr Flavour proclaimed, “This is the best Ribeye I have ever eaten. EVER!” Now, Mr Flavour is not one to be given over to public, or even private, effusive proclamations of approval. ‘Tis Grand’ is the height of his usual praise, so you can imagine how utterly suspicious I was of this sudden outburst. But he kept saying it over and over again, so decided this euphoria was well placed. I was proffered a measly morsel, which thankfully was enough for me to agree with Mr Flavour that, indeed, this was a very delicious piece of beef, cooked to perfection. Bone marrow, I have determined, has the ability to do strange things to folk. And as this was our second taste of it, (the first being a split femur, from the size of it, filled with grilled onions and a crunchy herby crust), we were both certainly well indulged.
So, what else did we indulge in? In addition to the bone marrow small plate, we also inhaled the sweet and earthy Beetroot Tartare with Horseradish Tofu and Nori and the Seared Scallops with Coconut and Broccoli. And once again, the vegetable treatment was excellent. Someone, probably famous, once said: anyone can cook a piece of meat, but it takes skill to get the most out of vegetables. I concur.
A note about dessert. As in previous posts, you may already be away of my proclivity towards anything remotely custardy. Therefore, it was an inevitable that to finish, I opted for the Honey Custard Tart with Nutmeg and Fresh Cream, scattered atop with Pistachios. Take me to church! (Well, ironically, I kinda did afterwards). Thick and stiff, like clotted cream, super thin, crispy pastry and that hint of wintery nutmeg. Rich yet light, completely indulgent and a day hasn’t passed that I haven’t thought about it and wanted it. Can one hold an obsessive desire for an inanimate plate of dessert? Well, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!
We arrived for an early sitting, but by the time we departed, dragging our full but happy bodies up the hill to the Offy for a Bag O’Cans and onto our gig, The Glass Curtain was hopping! I feel right now that only those in the know know about The Glass Curtain, but it won’t be too long before word properly gets out, and it’ll be a fight to the end for a table. And so it should be. Brian may have spent the last few years of his career Not In Cork, but now he is very much Back In Cork and, from his careful selection of ingredients, and the careful treatment of them using seemingly nothing but fire and a shed load of butter, Brian is a chef reveling in his prodigal return.
I don’t profess to know much about Korean food, but there is something reminiscent of this cuisine in Brian’s menu. Yes, there are overtures of Asian flavours, the smoke and fire charcoal BBQ element is very on trend with Korean BBQ right now; and yet the way these ingredients and flavours are put together are still recognisably, well, Irish? Tis far from Nori, Coconut and Tofu we might have been raised, but the core ingredients are well rooted in Ireland – embracing great Irish produce with flavours from far away, melding them together and creating something venturing on Modern Irish.
Cork City is settling in well to its reputation as an exciting proposition for diners, and The Glass Curtain is hitting a pitch perfect point between casual dining and restaurant dining; where the customers are made to feel like family and the food is excellent yet understated. I simply cannot recommend this restaurant enough.
A joy. An absolute joy.
Let’s talk about new powerhouse restaurant in Cork: Goldie Fish & Ale…
This is some of the most exciting food to grace Cork for a while: if not for the exceptional culinary inventiveness of 25 year old head chef Aishling Moore, or the deliciously friendly front of house service from a dedicated, highly motivated and cohesive team, but for its ethos.
For the past number of years, chatter has been all about #nosetotail and very much in the realm of meat. But other “wholeness” ethics of food production, cookery and consumption are pushing their way past and, in the hands of visionary and talented chefs like Aishling, are making an indelible mark and changing the way we think about what food is and how to better respect it by using the whole of it – not just the best bits: Root to Tip in the veg world, and Gill to Tail in the fish world.
Goldie is a fish and ale restaurant, and the nose to fin ethos is very much alive and kicking here: cod collar panko fried with chervil emulsion; the incredible fish head terrine, prawn cocktail crisps etc.
This, from a diners perspective is what makes Goldie Restaurant exciting – and challenging too. The fish head terrine may not be the first thing you’d automatically jump to, but order it – it is a texture somewhere between sushi and soft yieldingness of a crab salad: fresh, delicate, meaty and a lightness of being from the ribbon of fresh herbs running throughout. Crispy fish skin on top provides a contrasting texture to the soft bite.
The other radical element of this ethos is the commitment to the “whole catch approach” to fishing. Goldie sources all its fish from day boats landing into Ballycotton and Kinsale. These boats are small, heading out and back to shore in a day catching small amounts of seasonal fish from within inshore fishing grounds. The catch is landed in the morning and arrives into Goldie the same day and served up from 5pm to their customers. Family enterprises usually run these boats and are essential for sustaining coastal communities reliant on the inshore fishing trade. Fishing in this way is sustainable in many ways, and by buying the whole catch means that these boats can be sure they have a market for whatever they can catch, but also it is incumbent on the chef team at Goldie to make use of every bit, bite, fin, scale and bone of every fish landed in, making zero/minimal food waste another essential part of their offering thanks to their understanding and respect of the work that goes into bringing this fish to shore.
The interior of the restaurant is almost diner-esque with just a hint of art-deco Hollywood kitsch. There is window seating, counter seating and a few tables towards the back with high stalls. The kitchen is Right There; open to the customers with the pass aglow. Aishling’s team of chefs work with a quiet focus that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the plates are very seriously good. At the pass, Aishling inspects every dish, adding final garnish flourishes and a last meticulous clean of the plates, and then they are gone and delivered with a studied efficiently to your table in seconds. The dish comes with a spoken guide, and whatever question you may have about the food, its provenance or even what to drink with and why are all questions deftly handled with ease. The whole vibe is relaxed, welcoming; and every now and again in a moment of quiet time, Aishling herself steps out from behind the pass to come and say Hi, find out how your doing, and answer any more questions you might have while singing the Gospel According to Day Boats. It is all simply brilliant.
Finally, let’s talk about Aishling.
I met Aishling nearly two years ago during an interview where someone else was the focus. After that initial interview was over, I sat and chatted to Aishling for a good while, and quickly realised that she was someone to keep a beady eye out for. She was working in Elbow Lane at the time, mastering the grills at this fire only restaurant, and really finding her stride. She had spent her apprenticeship studying Culinary Arts at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), and had earned stripes working beside strong, talented female chefs Pamela Kelly at Market Lane and Kate Lawlor, the one time proprietor of the now sadly lost to us Fenn’s Quay. We bumped into each other a few times after that: at Food on the Edge in Galway and so on. And then in August earlier this year there was a very unpretentious post on her Instagram story that she was starting a new project and was looking for team members in the kitchen and front of house. Immediately, I got the tingles because it could only mean one thing: Aishling was finally opening a restaurant of her own.
To open a restaurant that just specialises in Fish is a risky business, but Ireland as a whole are finally starting to shake off the negative emotions towards fish, largely as a cultural and social hangover from the time of An Gorta Mhór: when there was nothing else to eat, eat fish. Along with Oysters, Mussels, the rise in popularity and quantity of high end Fish and Chip shops/restaurants and a newly embraced fascination of seaweed and other sea vegetables, we are learning to love fish again. It is our most abundant wild food source, but it is also our most precious, so it makes huge sense from a sustainability point of view that, if we are to start giving fish a more important role in our diets, replacing meat a few times a week, then we shouldn’t make the same mistakes as meat and only cherish the most popular fillets, cuts or species. Goldie does that by looking at the fish as a whole and then turning on the creativity to decide how to use every single part of it; embrace the seasonality of this migratory food source and take pressure off fish stocks but giving equal credence to all fish and seafood, not just the premier and most favoured.
I love what this restaurant is doing; and I love what Aishling and her merry cohort of chefs, front of house staff headed up by the ever smiling Jerry, and beer sommeliers have created. Being part of the wonderfully diverse Market Lane Group, (encompassing: Market Lane, Elbow Lane Restaurant and Brewhouse, Orso and the Castle Cafe in Blackrock), Goldie Fish & Ale is yet another very exciting addition but still with that unmistakable friendly and welcoming MLG touch.
And, without a shadow of a doubt, keep an eye on one young lady in particular. At only 25 years old, Aishling Moore is going to become a name that you will start to hear more and more often. She is already a gift to the culinary scene of Cork city, and one that will no doubt continue to develop both skill and creativity – and that is a very exciting prospect indeed.
Five Stars. I will become a regular here…
Find out more: www.goldie.ie – also on Instagram
Something magical happens when you sit down to dine with Takashi Miyazaki. It happened the first time I visited his eponymous restaurant, Miyazaki, on my birthday a couple of years ago, and it happened again last week when we sat at the Kappou counter of his new fine-dining restaurant ichigo ichie.
For me, this is what happens: first, the excitement. The thought of trying something that is a genuinely new experience. Secondly, the fear. The fear of chopsticks specifically, for nature saw it fit to provide me with thumbs that are worse than useless and render me unable to ever use chopsticks correctly.
Thirdly, you are transported. Just as I forgot where I was the first time I ate at Miyazaki, the meditation of noodles, broth and contemplative music sending me off far beyond the boundaries of Cork, so yet again within the cocoon of ichigo ichie, somewhere around the eighth course, did I notice I had transcended any physical place. Was I in Cork? I think so. But yet again I could have as easily been in Tokyo, Okinawa, London, New York…
The point is that when Takashi is crafting food into art for us to eat, he has the ability to transport from what you thought you knew, what you thought food could be, in a way so gentle that you barely even notice it is happening.
But let me take you back to the beginning…
The excitement when word began to spread that Takashi was opening a fine dining Japanese restaurant in Cork was beyond palpable. When people spoke about it there was a frisson of electricity, a glint in the eye of anticipation, chatter thinly disguised as wanton gossip: Any news of when it is opening? When is the website going live? Have you seen the space? Have you spoken to Takashi about it at all? In all my years, never have I experienced a tautly strung eagerness around a restaurant opening as this one.
Three weeks before the opening, the online booking went live and a block of initial dates for April, May, June and July were released. To say I went “in like Flynn” is an understatement. My husband, Mr Flavour, was barely awake, one eye open battling a hangover as I burst into the room like a rambunctious child, phone and credit card in hand shouting Friday or Saturday repeatedly at him until he finally asked me to shut up and explain myself. We settled on the Saturday, 6.30pm, for the Kappou style sitting. Booking made, I left Mr Flavour to collapse back into bed to repair the damage I had inflicted upon his hangover.
There are three options to choose from when dining at ichigo ichie. Miyabi Kappou – or at the counter, five seats reserved for an up-close and personal dining experience watching Takashi create the dishes on the menu. Nagomi “Harmony Dining” seating 12 and situated in the middle of the restaurant and finally, Zen “Japanese Garden” at the front of the restaurant in a cool calm space flanked by a garden of white gravel, an arrangement of large slate coloured stones, bamboo and candles.
The décor is classic Japanese with a modern edge. Dark charcoal grey against a stark white floor; the Kappou counter gleaming in smooth blonde wood and Takashi in his Japanese chef whites at the head of it all, in total effortless command.
After promptly knocking my chopsticks on the floor the moment we were walked to our seats, I decided I needed a drink to calm down. The drinks menu is illustrated by Takashi with dishes from the menu, an indication of how personal this restaurant is to him. I ordered a rather punchy Plum Sake which frankly was so delicious I ended up having, let us say, more than one.
The words ‘fine dining’ can conjure up thoughts of a staid and stiff experience firmly outside our comfort zone. But as soon as the dishes were presented to us, the sake flowed and the chat amongst the five Kappou diners started to liven up, it became obvious that the fine-dining element here was very much about the gastronomic experience and nothing at all to do with polished diner etiquette.
The menu is a Japanese tasting menu, known as Kaiseki, 12 courses in length and changing every six
weeks to reflect the seasonality of the Irish and Japanese ingredients on the menu. Although the words and descriptions may seem unfamiliar, the flow is as you would expect a tasting menu to be: a series of main courses and side dishes flanked by an amuse bouche, sushi, starter selection, broths, fish and dessert. There is a definite flow of flavours building from delicate to powerful, through hits of intense saltiness, sweetness and layers of heart thumping umami.
It would be utterly pointless of me to try and explain each dish to you: how it tasted, the textures and aromas, the beauty of the presentation. But what I can say is that this goes down as one of my all-time
favourite dining experiences. I say experience rather than meal because this is what ichigo ichie is and what
it does, for long after I have departed this restaurant what will remain are the indelible taste memories, laughing at the thought of Takashi walking around Douglas in the early hours of the morning collecting cherry blossom from the trees; admiring the carefully chosen pottery for each individual course, studying the Japanese calligraphy in Takashi’s own hand; even chatting with Ría about coffee and the space age toilet (you’ll know what I mean when you go there yourself!), and of course watching the Master himself at work.
The beauty of the Kappou counter is the proximity to the action. Somehow, Takashi must balance serving 25 people 12 courses of perfectly presented and flavoured food and chat to the five inquisitive diners at his counter. Watching Takashi work with his knife rhythmically slicing the squid into fine ribbons of noddles, or his movements almost tai chi like as he forms the sushi rice for the nigiri and then each plate served up to us with two hands, an almost imperceptible bow, a smile and a lightening quick description of the dish: These are the practiced motions of someone who is consummately familiar with his art. To acknowledge that this was only the restaurants second day is unfathomable, as everything is flowing with metronomic constancy.
It is hard to say with certainty what my favourite moments during the meal were as they were innumerate, but these few things have created taste memories that I will go back and relieve time and again:
- The mackerel nigiri
- The salted cherry blossom on top of the set asparagus curd
- The ginger and bonito dashi broth served with the daikon, castletownbere brown crab and mitsuba
- Those squid noodles with the quail egg yolk
- Soy milk, chocolate, mochi rice cake, mocha and Jameson cask whiskey
I asked Takashi if he was happy. For a brief moment he looked taken aback as if this was the first time being asked. But then a broad smile swept across his face, a deep exhalation of breath before saying that he was, very happy indeed.
ichigo ichie translates as “once in a lifetime” – an experience that diners may never have had before,
and may not experience again. And although my plan is that this visit will not be the only one I ever make, I know this: the next time I do go the menu will be sufficiently different that I will indeed have another once in a lifetime experience.
But more than what the diner experiences, I cannot help but feel as though ichigo ichie is as much about Takashi’s own story and journey: His own once in a lifetime experience in bringing his unique approach to gastronomy finally to life. A chef is one of our last true journeyman trades: A product of years of study and learning, travelling, building on failures and successes alike. Takashi Miyazaki has taken all of that, all of those years, and wrapped it up into a gift given to us.
Kaiseki menu is a set menu priced at €95pp. Drinks and gratuity are extras.
You can’t make an exceptional thing to eat or drink without exceptional ingredients. But more than that, the finished taste and experience should be in the hands of a skilled artisan. This is especially so for coffee and a skilled barista.
Any old fool could make a cup of Joe, just the same as anyone could fry an egg, but just as you wouldn’t choose a battery farmed egg over a free range one if you could help it, neither should we accept a weak cup of coffee made from scraps off the coffee factory floor as a compromise (usually price related) from a coffee made with well farmed beans in great conditions and with great care.
Michael O’Donovan is co-founder of the Food Depot Gourmet Street Kitchen food truck with his wife and Masterchef Ireland reigning champion, Diana Dodog. If you have ever visited the food truck, I’m sure you’ll agree the coffee is outstanding. But Mike didn’t just turn up with a coffee machine without any clue of what he was doing. Mike has a wealth of training and experience in the barista arts, and he is on a mission to let people know that great coffee shouldn’t be a surprise, rather it should be part of the everyday. In this exclusive blog post, Mike lets us in on his thoughts, hopes and dreams for Ireland to become a nation of coffee lovers in the everyday sense and to do away with the perception that good coffee is elite at best, a myth at worst! Don’t suffer in silence – Mike will let you in on some great little hints and tips to make sure you are never without a great cup of coffee!