It's been a while since I visited Cork city, so when I heard that 16 of Cork's finest restaurants were getting together for a Gourmet Trail day, it gave me the perfect reason to go to the other capital for the launch of the event.
The Cork Gourmet Trail is scheduled for Saturday, July 30. The day begins with a Champagne reception in Soho at 11.30am, and after that you will be guided to four destinations, at each of which four restaurants will provide food. The day ends with entertainment in The Bodega.
There's a treasure hunt and a prize for the best pirate-themed costume, as well as a chance to sample some of Cork's finest food. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more. The ticket price, which includes your food and wine for the day, is €75.
The launch took place in Greenes, next door to Isaacs. The chef in Greenes is Fred Desormeaux, and I first discovered the charms of his cooking a few years ago. He left Greenes for a while, but he's back again since 2010 and, once again, he's impressing customers with his skill in cooking seafood.
Many of Cork's restaurateurs were there for the launch, and when it was over, Gerard Carthy of Taste of Ireland and I made our way across The Lee to Fenn's Quay, a restaurant in a terrace of the same name. Thankfully, this being a Monday night when many restaurants were closed, it was open.
Fenn's Quay isn't visually striking. The décor is simple, verging on the plain, and it's comfortable rather than plush. What it does have is a sense of warm hospitality, which I found most welcoming. We took a table by the window and I had a fine view of one of Debbie Chapman's cow paintings hanging on a wall opposite me. I've long admired her work. As usual we had two menus to choose from, an Ã la carte and a set menu, as well as a few daily specials.
Sadly I had a problem that I don't normally have -- because I'd eaten rather too much of Fred Desormeaux's finger food at Greenes, I had but a small appetite. Gerard is made of stouter stuff than me and was able to eat a starter and a main course, but I limited myself to two starters.
The set menu had five starters, five main courses and three desserts and was priced at €27.50 for three courses and €22.50 for two. The Ã la carte had starters at around €9, with just the crab starter at €12.50, and main courses between €20 and €27.50. There were six daily specials -- three starters and three main courses -- so we had plenty of choice.
Our order eventually became chicken livers followed by monkfish for Gerard, and crab followed by soused mackerel for me. Gerard wasn't drinking, so I had a glass of the house Sauvignon Blanc and we shared two large bottles of water.
Despite just having one glass of wine, I did look through the wine list. It's well laid out, with the wines divided into types, rather than simply into colours. For example, the whites are divided into 'crisp and light', 'rich and complex' and 'tangly and tingly' -- whatever that may mean.
What is very useful is that each wine comes with a fairly full description, which manages to be informative without being pretentious. There are some very good wines on the list and the mark-up is fair, so you can have a decent Chablis for €28 and, a favourite of mine, the Abadia Retuerta 2007 from the Rioja for €28.95.
The starters arrived and were very nicely presented. Gerard's chicken livers came on a long rectangular plate and four quadrants of a potato cake were topped with the livers, and they were accompanied by a Port sauce. Gerard gave me a taste, and I thought they were well cooked and properly seasoned -- a good dish.
My crab was also nicely presented: spoonfuls of crab meat were separated by wafers of millefeuille and came with a pepper and honey dressing. This was just perfect for me, not filling and very tasty.
There was good bread to nibble on and no one tried to take it away from me with the empty starter plates. I always like to have bread beside me for the main courses, just in case there's a particularly delicious sauce that can be scooped up with bits of bread.
Gerard got his main course and I got my second starter. A whole monkfish tail was on his plate, and I could see by how it moved under his knife that it had been cooked perfectly. The very centre of the tail was only just cooked, something that needs expert timing. It came with rustic potatoes, which were nice enough, samphire, which is delicious, and sea spinach, which is okay. It was a dish that had Gerard enthusing, partly over how well the fish had been cooked and partly over the samphire.
I had a fillet of soused mackerel, which was on a bed of celeriac and radish remoulade. Let me make a plea for mackerel, it really is one of the tastiest fish in the sea, and if nutritionist are right, its oily flesh -- rich in omega oils -- is very good for you. It's abundant and it's not under threat. Surely then it's a better alternative than farmed fish?
Soused, the way I had it, means pickled in a liquid of vinegar, lemon and other flavourings, which preserves the fish as well as flavouring it. The pickling gives the mackerel a tartness, which helps take away its oiliness. What I had was good and, although not a big portion, it was just perfect for my main course.
It might have been nice to try a dessert, but we were both very well fed and could eat no more. We finished up with an espresso for me and an Americano for Gerard, which brought the bill to €75.15, not including service.
Not cheap for three starters, one main course and one glass of wine, but the food was good and the service was excellent. If this food is anything to go by, the Gourmet Trail looks like being a foodie's delight.
VALUE FOR MONEY 7/10
- Paolo Tullio