SOMETHING DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT
ARRIVES IN CORK, BOI!
128 Barrack Street
021 431 1715
Irish Daily Mail
13 January 2018
When I heard the name of Cork’s latest food outlet I was immediately reminded of the rooster audition created by the city’s lunatically funny animators, Sminky Shorts. To cut a long story short, and make it quite dull by comparison, it involves the tendency of some Leesiders to conclude every sentence, remark, exhortation or curse with the word “boy”. Or “girl”, where appropriate.
Anyway, I’m mindful, as always, that when I enthuse about a new restaurant there may be those who expect such places to be all starched linen and clenched buttocks. Bao Boi isn’t like that at all; it’s essentially a takeaway with a few stools and a bar (of the eating sort). The starched linen and clenched buttocks brigade will be devotees of what tends to be called “fine dining”, a phrase I can barely type and which escapes my lips only with an accompanying sneer.
However, the fact remains that there’s no handy portmanteau phrase to cover cooking that is highly skilled, detailed, fiddly perhaps but in a good way, impeccably presented and served with some degree of ceremony. So fine dining it will have to be, in the absence of anything better but, I protest, under duress.
Bryan McCarthy is a highly talented chef who produces a superb –deep breath! – fine dining experience in Greene’s. This is his alter ego, a celebration of the steamed yeast bun beloved of the Chinese and known, in various forms, throughout most of south-east Asia.
The menu is short, it’s a no frills kind of place and I loved it. The bao – strictly speaking gua bao, a hinged bun – here tastes totally authentic while perhaps being a little more dense than the best classic version.
I never had a spice bag and I’m sure many readers will be in the same boat. It’s an Irish curiosity of recent invention, featuring chips with some form of meat, usually chicken, onions and sometimes peppers, all mixed together with salt and Asian spices.
Well, Bao Boi does spice bags (not actually in bags) and I’m sure they are a superior form of the genre. We shared a beef version with crisp chips that were mixed with slivers of pink beef, with fried onions folded through, topped with a kind of mayonnaise that may have featured Sriracha, and chopped scallions. Throughout the whole thing we could detect the influence of Chinese spices and plenty of sauce.
It was messy and delicious in a somewhat naughty, self-indulgent sort of way. The chef’s soup also featured beef and fine al dente noodles in a broth that spoke of nam pla, the Thai fish sauce, and a little too much of sugar.
A bao bun filled with black pudding (I’m guessing it was the estimable one from McCarthy’s of Kanturk) with a crispy fried egg – with some yolk still liquid – made the two key ingredients rather better than the sum of their parts. I think the slight sweetness of the bun element and its light if not quite ethereal texture is what did the trick.
The description on the one page A4 menu that read “Miso glazed Macroom Wagyu beef bavette steak (served medium rare only)” was both intriguing and worrying. I had never encountered a wagyu bavette steak before and it’s a tough cut that needs to be served rare, no medium about it.
But that’s how it came, seared on the outside just enough to make it smoky, the miso sweetish, the meat bloody and minerally and cut across the grain for tenderness. It came with pickles (including ginger) and kimchi, a bowl of which we had shared as a kind of starter: not just fermented cabbage but all manner crunchy vegetable matter, sharp and sweet. Perhaps a bit too sweet, to be honest, but good nevertheless.
Despite the compact menu, I hadn’t noticed the hearts and gizzards until we were finishing lunch. These are from Skeaghanore ducks in West Cork and come coated in panko crumbs with pickles and a dipping sauce. I’ll be back for those.
The mineral water and coffees, our bill came to €43.70.