From spectacular seafood, to award winning vegetarian restaurants, to great coffee – Cork cuisine is putting Ireland firmly on the foodie map
With Ireland’s position as the UK’s fifth-largest export market – the country imported UK goods and services worth £27.8bn in 2014 – it’s little wonder so many British execs are making a regular hop across the water to catch up with customers.
The southern city of Cork, home to a diverse business scene ranging from mighty corporate giants (Apple has its European HQ here) to innovative start-ups clustered around the universities and colleges, is a natural draw. And when it comes to finding the perfect location to wine and dine with new contacts, the sixth century-founded city is hard to beat.
The River Lee Hotel, perched on the southern channel of the waterway from which it is named, is a great base for a visit – 20 minutes’ drive from Cork Airport, the sleek, glass-fronted escape boasts a central location, excellent service and eateries that pride themselves on showcasing the best of local cuisine.
Arriving on a sunny lunchtime, Director grabbed a table at the informal Terrace on the Weir – a lovely spot for an alfresco drink or bite with a business contact – where the Ballycotton seafood chowder with Guinness bread was the perfect appetiser for a day exploring the city’s culinary delights.
Indeed, every nook of Cork’s easily walkable centre seems to harbour another artisan food and drink business – get your caffeine hit at superb ‘espresso and brew bar’ Filter (19 George’s Quay) where the standout coffees come from Irish artisan roasters Badger & Dodo.
Or, if it’s a healthy thirst-quencher you’re after, grab a smoothie from hip salad and juice bar Rocket Man HQ (38 Princes Street) where the emphasis is on seasonal ingredients. It is from here you’ll find yourself lured by the smell of baking to the doors of Nash 19 (19 Princes St), a beautiful café that has become a local institution – grab a scone made with butter from nearby Macroom to go, or stay to devour the West Kerry crab cake salad or hearty beef and Guinness casserole.
For treats to stash away and enjoy later, a visit to the English Market (main entrances from Princes Street or Grand Parade) is a must. Local producers have been trading here since 1788, making it Ireland’s oldest covered food market.
Small businesses rub shoulders with some of Ireland’s biggest names here – discerning carnivores will want to stop by at A O’Reilly’s to try some drisheen (blood pudding) – and these traders supply some of the region’s finest restaurants. Little wonder that the Queen stopped off here on her state visit in 2011. The refined Farmgate Café on the market’s upper level, meanwhile, is a smart yet sociable spot to enjoy sharing food with clients in an informal setting.
Coastal Cork cuisine
Opportunities to learn the secrets of some of Ireland’s culinary greats are also plentiful around town. Frank Hederman has been smoking salmon at his Belvelly Smoke House since 1982 (“Mr Hederman smokes fish, which is like saying Steinway makes pianos” quipped the New York Times) and it’s well worth making the 30-minute drive east of the city to take a look behind the scenes.
The man himself is a superb host – rakish with a fiendish sense of humour – and just as likely to offer acerbic quips on world politics as he is to discuss his world-famous smoked fish, lopping off chunks for you to taste as he holds court.
If you’re able to stay a little longer, though, take a 30-minute drive south to spend an afternoon at the pretty fishing town of Kinsale. It can get hectic in the height of summer as the yachting, sea-fishing and golfing crowds herd in for long weekends – but catch it on a quieter midweek day and it’s a picture of breezy serenity, characterised by a fascinating history and thriving art scene.
Book a table for lunch at Fishy Fishy, the restaurant of affable TV chef Martin Shanahan, a popular figure in Ireland, and repeatedly mobbed for selfies as he attempted to run through his fine menu.
The emphasis is on local catches of the day and we opted for steamed mussels with fresh basil and lemon butter sauce followed by pan-fried scallops and Rosscarbery black pudding, though regulars attested that Shanahan’s haddock and chips are the finest they’ve ever tasted.
But Cork cuisine is not just the domain of the meat-eater, as dinner at award-winning vegetarian restaurant Café Paradiso, back in the centre of town, will confirm.
Starters include black bean, chocolate and chilli soup with avocado salsa, soured cream and corn gougère and mains feature parsnip tortellini with leek, asparagus, tarragon and aged Coolea cheese. Finish with the cardamom-set custard, rhubarb and pistachio praline, and you’ll be glad it’s only a short stagger back to the River Lee Hotel to turn in for the night. The hotel has an excellent gym, we should add, but that can be a matter for tomorrow.
Cork: getting there
Aer Lingus flies to Cork from Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jersey, Leeds Bradford, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton. Prices start from £29.99.
Rates at the River Lee Hotel start from €150 (£132) per room per night.
For more information on Cork, click here