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.