28 Washington Street
Phone: 021 427 4189

Irish Daily Mail
2 September 2017

Cork’s latest restaurant is called Rachel’s, or actually, rachel’s to be precise. No prizes for guessing who she is. And being Cork, and Rachel being an Allen (by marriage – Allen men have a knack of marrying powerful, talented women), people have views. There’s the fan base who believe that Ballymaloe and all who sail in it, so to speak, are to be treasured. And there are the begrudgers.

Just to be clear, I gravitate very much towards the former, much larger group. You only have to think of what Myrtle and Darina have done for Irish food to wipe away any temptation to carp. The Ballymaloe ethic is hugely important, and not just in Ireland.

Anyway, when rachel’s opened its doors, there were mutterings about the prices being, well, somewhat ambitious. It did strike me that the pizzas cost €20 at first, which would be pretty ripe for Dublin 2, let alone Washington Street in Cork. They are now €18 at dinner (still ambitious) and €15 at lunch.

It was the wine list that caused a gasp of astonishment in one of the early reviews that referred to “nosebleed pricing.” This was a reference to Yves Cuilleron’s delicious Marsanne being €45. Well, it has since gone up to €50, eclipsing Chapter One’s price by €2. Martin Codax’s very widely available Albarino is an eye-watering €45 as against €30 across the river in Isaac’s of McCurtain Street. (Martin Codax makes Aldi’s delicious Albarino that costs €9.99, by the way).

And let’s be clear. This restaurant is much more on a par with Isaac’s than with Chapter One.

It’s a kind of joint venture between Rachel and a local pub owner and I suspect that pricing may be a moot point between the partners.

Anyway, what of the food? I went there with my daughter for an early Saturday lunch and was delighted to find Jackie, that stalwart for many years of the front-of-house at the Crawford Gallery Café, is adding her warmth, charm and general pzazz to rachel’s.

The menu, which appears designed to be all things to all people, plays pretty safe apart from a ceviche of plaice which we shared to start. Slivers of fish “cooked” in lime juice were ace: so fresh, tart, delightfully textured. They came with slices of ripe avocado, tiny cubes of under-ripe tomato and excellent salad leaves. This was a very pleasant dish that would have been even better with a few wedges of lime on the side.

A theoretically excellent pizza topped with goat’s cheese, pancetta and a scattering of raw rocket on top, in the Milanese style, tasted terrific but was severely let down by being woefully undercooked. A Neapolitan pizza flops from about one third of the way in when you hold up a slice. This flopped from the very rim and patches of virtually raw dough were evident. Too evident.

In fairness, however, it has to be said that my famished daughter, straight off the Aircoach from Dublin, finished every scrap. It had as much to do with the taste as being an impecunious young actor.

My baguette with buttermilk-fried chicken was pretty unremarkable. The bread element was rock solid and I don’t think this would have been Rachel’s intention. The aioli was fine, the chicken a bit overcooked and the accompanying salad simply superb. This is the true Ballymaloe touch: lots of varied leaves, all as fresh as a daisy, dressed with a vinaigrette subtle enough to let the vegetable matter do most of the talking.

We finished with decadently syrup-drenched orange cake which regulars of the Crawford will recognise very gladly, and a couple of coffees.

With two glasses of wine our bill came to €62.40 which, despite our quibbles, we thought not unreasonable. If everything had been done properly, it would have represented good value. There’s a rather cool bar for the inevitable cocktails and the overall design is probably best described as fashionably grey semi-industrial chic. Service is delightful and they have a rather splendid wood-fired oven.

But as they say in school reports, rachel’s could do much better and wine prices need urgent attention.