Greenes Restaurant
48 MacCurtain Street
Cork City
Phone: 021 455 2279

Irish Daily Mail
23 May 2015

The last time I ate in Greenes, I felt that it was all rather down at heel and old-fashioned, and that included the food which was, a few years back, pretty poor stuff. All that changed with the arrival of a new chef, Bryan McCarthy, and the first I knew about this was when he organised a foraging expedition followed by lunch for food writers.

I was unable to go but I put Greenes on my list for a revisit, something I achieved only the other day when I went for a solitary Saturday lunch. As it happened, this pretty well coincided with the launch of their new lunch menu. Lunch not being a major feature of the Cork restaurant trade, this is a bold move.

McCarthy’s cooking is elaborate, classical and quite French. There is very little of that kind of thing to be had in Cork, Ireland’s most culinarily conservative city (and this despite being surrounded by an ocean of the finest fresh produce in the entire country). The style of the restaurant is quite formal and the crisp linen and excellent, attentive service has a pleasant, old-fashioned charm. Greenes is not a cutting edge establishment and there are times when I’m very grateful for places like this.

Anyway, my starter was, in a sense, as pretty as a picture and, while I’m not the biggest fan of black plates, the background did rather set off the elements. And there were quite a few elements. There were tiny fragments of pork crackling which had been cooked to resemble puffed rice. And there was a piece – a small ingot, so to speak – of free range pork belly, cooked slowly to a melting tenderness and a rather lovely concentration of essential pigginess. And there were what I would call croquettes, while the menu referred somewhat ambiguously to “dumplings” of a very delightful black pudding, almost certainly a fresh blood pudding, encased in crisp breadcrumbs.

That would have been enough but the detail continued. Each of these three crisp spheres sat upon a little cushion of the finest celeriac remoulade that you can imagine, made of filaments rather than julienne strips, and nicely sharp.

There was a drizzle of sweet-and-sour apple purée and even tiny cubes of what I think was apple jelly.

This is ambitious, fiddly and complex food (at an astonishingly reasonable price) and the question is: did it work? Well, it did, somewhat to my surprise. There was not an element out of place, nothing was redundant and, above all, it tasted terrific: balanced, intense, satisfying.

My main course of hake was, if I’m to be brutally frank, on the cusp of being overdone (and this may well be how Greenes customers like it) so that it produced quite a lot of moisture, something that does not look good when the context is a black plate. However, the flavour and freshness was beyond reproach and while I would not have chosen a silky cauliflower puree as the main accompaniment, salty, crisp strips of ham and strands of samphire (salty and crisp in quite a different way) were inspired.

It was good, too, to see a garnish of winter purslane, known traditionally as miner’s lettuce, a succulent, fleshy little salad leaf that should be much more popular than it is.

The vegetables and fruit here are locally grown by people who take their cultivation seriously and I was encouraged to try the strawberries which had just arrived on the premises from West Cork.

The dish was called, I think, “strawberry textures” and, again, it was rather involved and complex, in a way that perhaps does a disservice to such fine fruit. There was strawberry meringue, bright pink, gloriously concentrated strawberry sorbet, strawberry jelly and what seemed to be crumbled sponge. It was just a bit too much. Such wonderful produce is much better enjoyed – and showcased, indeed – in simplicity.

With a good macchiato, a bottle of mineral water and a glass of wine, the bill struggled to get beyond €30, outstanding value for cooking of this level. 

Greenes has long been overshadowed by the very different, bustling and eclectic Isaac’s, next door, but the current regime is offering something quite different. Between the two of them they have made MacCurtain Street an outpost of exciting food in a city where such stuff is not as common as Leesiders might like to think.