Crawford Gallery Café
Phone: 021 274415
Irish Daily Mail
16th January 2016
The restaurant at the Crawford Gallery in the heart of Cork has been a family favourite of ours for years. This high-ceilinged, airy room with tall windows, is one of the best environments for eating that I know and it’s a kind of common room – virtually a club, in fact - for people like us who drive for an hour or more to shop in the Real Capital. And there are lots of discerning Leesiders as well.
There was a change of management some time ago and, as a result, I thought I’d let it settle down under the new regime before returning; needless to say, I left it too long and now realise what I have been missing.
Well, what exactly is it? There’s the Ballymaloe ethic, same as it ever was, and the restaurant is still part of that small empire. The baking is as wholesome, as real and as “homemade” (oh, you know what I mean!) as it ever was too. But the menu has branched out under Sinéad Doran who, amongst other things, is a protegé of one of Ireland’s best but least known chefs, Michael Quinn who now adds extra lustre to the culinary team at Waterford Institute of Technology.
The room has been rearranged a little and looks bigger and more angular, the wine selection is smaller and cleverer and the waiting staff are the treasures that they have always been.
My starter was roasted marrow bones with a little salad of parsley and capers, served with toasted sourdough bread. This is a dish made famous by Fergus Henderson of London’s St John; he’s responsible for the bones, while the brilliantly simple salad was invented by the great Rowley Leigh, one of my culinary heroes. Rowley insists on adding finely sliced shallots and I think he’s right.
Having said that, I’m not complaining. Shallots would have made a great dish perfect, but there it is. This fabulously rich, messy affair was pleasingly balanced by the green elements (and there are few savoury dishes that are not improved by the addition of capers, let’s be honest).
Johann’s devilled kidneys, cooked á point to the perfect shade of light pink were thickly coated with an intensely savoury sauce that smacked not just of mustard but, we thought, of chilli for extra kick.
Having been watching Dickensian on television lately, we were struck by how these two starters would have been familiar to so many of the characters. Mind you, they would have had them with a half-pint of sherry, which is a chastening thought.
We shared a main course, not due to frugality but because we guessed the starters would be pretty satisfying. This was a tart of caramelised onions with Crozier Blue, the sheep’s milk cheese from Tipperary that I think knocks your average Roquefort for six.
The buttery pastry was good and was probably fabulous when straight from the oven. At this stage it had flabbified but the creamy, buttery, cheesy filling was so deliciously intense and rich that we would have eaten it off beer mats. It was an exercise in savouriness, in umami, with a touch of decadence.
This slice of perdition (to diet fiends, at any rate) came with a splendidly eclectic little salad of oriental mustard greens and winter purslane – not a shred of iceberg in sight – dressed with peppery olive oil and, I’m guessing, a squeeze of lemon juice.
For pud, we again shared, this time a slice of citrus almond cake, flourless and clearly made with the new season Seville oranges. It was moist, just sweet enough, tangy and with a refreshingly grown-up bitter twist. These seasonal oranges are not utilised nearly enough on menus elsewhere (probably because they are only here for a few weeks).
With two very pleasant glasses of wine (way above “house wine” quality), a San Pellegrino sparkling water and one espresso (slightly too hot, if I’m to be brutally honest, but this is the Cork way) the bill came to €42.
We felt that this is cooking you can trust, done the way we do it at home, using excellent raw materials and avoiding any messing with them. It’s first class home cooking with a bit of a twist and a healthy dose of inspiration.
I often say that Cork still punches way below its weight in terms of really good places in which to eat, and I have not had cause to revise that view. But the Crawford Gallery Café would be exceptional anywhere in Ireland.
Dublin should be jealous. Now, there. I’ve said it.