Nash 19
19 Princes Street
Phone: 021 427 0880

Irish Daily Mail
27 June 2015

It’s an unfortunate fact and one of which we – Corkonians in particular – need to be reminded from time to time. The fact is that the State’s second city, despite all the protestations about being the Food Capital, punches far below its weight in terms of great places in which to eat.

Saying this in public doesn’t do much for my share price in Cork but the food balance shifted from Cork to Dublin years ago and the city has had no truly “fine dining” restaurant since the Arbutus Lodge closed. And yet it has dozens of deadly dull, downright bad mid-market places.

Cork, you see, is a tough city in which to do really good food, despite the plethora of excellent raw materials on the doorstep. The population simply doesn’t have the critical mass to support a great little place for eating on every street. San Sebastian, it ain’t.

And while I’m on the subject, does it not beggar belief that you can’t buy free range or organic pork in the delightful English Market? Or that there’s only one wine retailer of any significance in the city, namely Bubble Brothers? Consider all of this and then think of Galway, Kilkenny, Waterford. See what I mean? Cork is underperforming.

This, of course, is what makes the achievement of the great Cork restaurants all the more impressive. In a sense, they are prophets in their own land. They certainly have to have the courage of their convictions and very considerable determination, even unto nerves of steel.

Nash 19 has been ploughing its own, very distinctive furrow since way back in 1992. In the restaurant business, that’s a very long time indeed.

And they have been doing it very much their way, which involves the pursuit of excellence through simplicity and attention to detail. Claire and Mairéad have a very clear idea of what is required, and they get on with it.

So, why is Nash 19 not more on the radar, especially of visitors from far-flung places like Dublin? Possibly because it’s at the darker, more remote end of Princes Street and almost certainly because they don’t open in the evenings (and I’m assuming this is because the team, not unnaturally, want to have a life).

The city centre floods were, in a sense, a blessing in disguise for Nash 19. In a trice, the dated and mildly gloomy interior was gone and all is now brightness, light, simple lines and cool, minimalist design. In other words, an environment that perfectly suits the kind of food they do.

I should stress that Nash 19 does a thriving custom-built sandwich trade and I don’t mean tired salads and “dairy spread” from industrial tubs, what I think of as the tuna and sweetcorn nightmare of the sandwich bar.

No, Nash 19’s sandwiches are the stuff of Cork legend, utilising proper breads and impeccable materials. You can can take yours away or bring it to a table and eat. Or you can plonk yourself at a table and be waited upon, which is what we did.

Some things are impossible to resist and so it proved when the menu offered a dozen oysters from O’Connell’s (remember Pat and the Queen?) in the English Market. Even though this is not exactly peak oyster season, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

And so it proved. With plenty of Alsace Pinot Blanc these juicy bivalves, presented on the half shell, sitting on a bed of crushed ice with just a few lemon quarters, were bracingly salty and sea-tasting. They were as good as – no, better than – a brisk trot along the beach. Apart from the squeeze of lemon, all they needed was a twist of black pepper and a quick slurp. Decadent.

This was followed by a salad of Ardsallagh goat’s cheese (from Jane Murphy over by Carrigtwohill) rolled into spheres, breadcrumbed and briefly fried until warmed through and crisp outside. The tang of the cheese and the crunch of the shells, so to speak, had a perfect foil in a complex salad from small leaves and a sweet yet sharp fig compote.

The local producers’ tasting plate is a great idea, a delicious showcase of all manner of splendid foods that are the very antithesis of “processed”: smoked tongue and black pudding from Jack McCarthy in Kanturk, Frank Hederman’s hot and cold smoked salmon, Fingal Ferguson’s salame (including the venison one), some crisply battered cod, ripe Ardrahan and Cashel Blue cheeses, their own silky smooth chicken liver parfait and the most impeccably buttery little sweet yet salty biscuits.

With a shared raspberry millefeuille, coffee and lots of Aqua Panna, the bill was €95.