The Spinning Wheel Restaurant is in Griffin's Garden Centre. Anyone in the Cork region, even South Munster, with more than a passing interest in gardening will have found themselves in Griffin’s Garden Centre at some stage over the last 25 years. But while it has grown year on year to become one of the premier garden centres in Ireland, the restaurant side of the business has evolved at a more considered pace, for a long time content to offer not a lot more than afternoon teas and cakes. But that has certainly changed in recent times; the shop alone has long moved beyond concentrating solely on garden fare and includes a good selection of cookbooks and an excellent range of local and artisan produce.
The dining area is a relaxed, casual and lightfilled room but if you get a window seat, you’ve got yourself something special, an eyeful of the Dripsey River just as it meets the River Lee, down in, as official road signage unashamedly declares, the ‘Beautiful Lee Valley’. On a sunny day, you can get even closer to the view, dining al fresco on the lovely south-facing terrace area outside.
Mind you, you may be too busy perusing what has become a very extensive menu to be bothered with scenery. It runs the gamut: breakfast, dinner, tea and in that order too; this is a confirmed rural location where dinner is served in the middle of the day. Add to that, myriad sandwich, salad and sweet options along with an afternoon tea that is extremely popular with the green-fingered ladies who lunch.
We make a good start with the salads: a rice and beetroot; an egg salad with crunchy pickled cucumber; and a chorizo, olive, tomato, spring onion and brie combo. Simple yet carefully assembled, unlike the haste and disdain with which so many salads are lashed out in this country, they actually taste of something. It’s not just the addition of chorizo that prompts the query and, sure enough, it turns out today’s chef is Roger from Spain, a country where salad is more than an afterthought.
There is the proverbial atin’ and drinkin’ in a Cream of Vegetable soup, a hefty, flavoursome, thick broth but nothing compared to the main courses when they arrive. As stated before, we are in the country, where dinner is still served in the middle of the day, a belly demands ‘proper’ feeding and these are most certainly man-sized portions. Scratch that— men-sized portions. Neither has quality been sacrificed for volume; nicely fish-filled Mackerel Fishcakes come with an excellent and delightfully tart homemade tartare sauce and lovely salad leaves, the sprinkling of toasted seeds, a deft and tasty touch.
A succulent Chicken with Mushroom and Red Wine Sauce comes country-style again with two types of addictively more-ish spud – mash and herb-roasted – and the ubiquitous veg plate, this one comprising broccoli, carrot, sweet potato and turnip. But unlike a million nightmare weddings, this is good veg, all cooked perfectly a point.
A beef curry might have been the better for a longer, slower cooking, a little bit sharp but no question it is tailored for the local tastebuds, nothing there to startle the horses.
But the true stunner about these very good main courses is the price – a tenner and no more, exceptional value, indeed.
The diminutive but very friendly and helpful waiter Patrick, replete with dickie bow, likes to play up the ‘Manuel the Waiter’ schtick for those green-fingered ladies who descend in their droves for the afternoon tea and he brings along a typical three-tiered cake stand with the usual selection: lovely light scones with cream and homemade blackcurrant jam; strawberry cheesecake; some nicely spiced apple turnover; and an airy, light chocolate brownie. This isn’t high end patisserie, just good, solid homebaking done very well but after those salads and especially after those men-sized main courses, the best we can manage is some faint-hearted dabbling. Not our two-year-old dining companion who lays waste to the whole shebang; never send two men to do a child’s job!
Griffin’s was always an excellent garden centre; the Spinning Wheel restaurant appears to be headed in the same direction.