Monday, November 21, 2005

Cafe Paradiso, Cork

Cafe Paradiso
16 Lancaster Quay,
Cork City, Ireland

Tel: +353 21 4277 939

We spent the last weekend in Cork, Ireland. My primary reason for going was to visit the Cafe Paradiso. I've had the cookbook for a while, and I wanted to try the restaurant to see if the food was as good as the recipes sounded. When Ryan Air offered free flights there, we jumped at the chance to go and explore the fantastic countryside and sample Dennis Cotter's food.

After visiting Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone (well you have to do these things don't you?) we lunched at a restaurant called the Lemon Tree, just outside the castle grounds. The menu didn't look that veggie friendly from the outside, and I was preparing to have a salad when I was pleasantly surprised to find a rather tasty dish on the specials board.

The dish consisted of a pepper stuffed with pumpkin on noodles with a sweet chilli sauce which was quite tasty. My wife had the Irish stew, which she said was really nice. So, if you're looking for a decent lunch in Blarney, the Lemon Tree definitely worth investigating.

So, onto the main review - the Cafe Paradiso.

The restaurant itself is quite compact and cosy. It has a sort of Mediterranean feel to it with its 'random' decor of decoupage and postage stamps and it was very full.

I started with grilled portobello mushroom with cheese, pecan crumbs & sage and smoked paprika aioli which was nice, but the cheese tended to overpower the flavour of the rest of the ingredients. The aioli was very tasty on its own and did tend to calm the cheese down a bit when it was eaten with the rest of the dish. My wife had vegetable sushi with pickled ginger, wasabi and a dipping sauce and tempura of aubergine & cauliflower. We swapped each dish halfway through so that we could both taste the food. The sushi was very nice and somehow they'd managed to make the tempura tender and grease-free. It was very good indeed.

For the main course I had braised timbale of chard, roasted aubergine, puy lentils & cheese, with braised salsify, tarragon cream and pumpkin gnocchi and my wife had leek pancakes with plum tomato, caper & avocado salsa, braised fennel and mustard-chive mash. Both dishes were impeccably presented. The timbale was quite tasty, and the sauce was very nice, without being too "over-taragonny" which, I find can sometimes be a problem. I'd not had salsify before, and it was tender and very nicely flavoured. The pancakes, despite being stuffed with leek and cheese were quite bland and had little flavour, which was quite disappointing. However, the fennel and the mash were superb and more than made up for it. Again, the fennel flavour was quite subtle and your head didn't get blown off by a sudden overpowering flavour of aniseed.

My wife was too full for dessert, but I decided to go for the full experience. I ordered an almond & pear tartlet with spiced caramel and vanilla custard. The waitress, who had obviously been watching our plate swapping antics bought two sets of cutlery to the table, without comment which we thought was quite amusing. Needless to say, the dessert was as tasty as it sounds - the spiced caramel swirled into the vanilla custard was gorgeous.

A signed copy of Dennis Cotter's (the owner) latest book Paradiso Seasons, which has just been voted best veggie cookbook in the world, was obtained to go into my Christmas stocking - so I haven't seen it yet - and we returned to the hotel.

I'd definitely recommend the restaurant if you're in Cork and fancy something different from the usual vegetarian restaurant fayre.

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