It takes a little expedition mentality to find Greenes Restaurant. Yes, it is on the bustling McCurtain Street, which has seen a renaissance over recent years into the Victorian Quarter where theatre, good food and lively watering holes jostle cheek by jowl for the switched on Corkonian diner.
Its actual location is down a cobblestone laneway in a collection of antiquated buildings that were once bonded warehouses but now play venue to the long-established Greenes Restaurant, its younger trendy sister Cask cocktail lounge, and a recently renovated Isaacs Hotel.
The covered setting, backdropped by the mysterious waterfall that tumbles down the red-hued rock face, has done well from Cork’s embrace of alfresco dining; so much so that, even in the middle of December, the courtyard is busy with diners enjoying an oasis of hospitality in the middle of the city.
Inside, Greenes is all crisp white tablecloths and perfectly folded napkins; the dining room is small but perfectly formed. Head Chef here is Corkman, Bryan McCarthy, credited with breathing new life into the restaurant with menus that champion the best of local produce and seasonal flavours. Frank Schiltkamp, restaurant manager and renowned sommelier, ensures that whatever your wine selection the emphasis on quality and an eye for pairing will please.
In the evening, a multi-course tasting menu is in situ with an optional wine pairing. We are here during the daytime, and there is an a la carte menu in play billed as the Christmas Lunch Menu and providing three-courses for €37.50 per person which, by any stroke of imagination, presents fantastic value for money.
Spiced Beef is a Cork tradition that used to appear only at Christmas time but now is ubiquitous year-round. Admittedly, outside of Cork there may be an unfamiliarity about what spiced beef is, so I’ll quickly summarise: beef that is cured for several weeks with salt and spices such as allspice, cloves, and black pepper, then boiled in either water or stout, and eaten either hot or cold, sliced. If you’ve never had it before, think of pastrami and you won’t be too far off the mark! What it definitely is, is delicious.
My better half opted for the starter of Spiced Beef filled with a remoulade of celeriac, pickles, and a funky truffle mayonnaise. In a dish like this there is nowhere to hide, every element must deliver on flavour – and it really did. The simple, clean presentation left no mystery for the diner; the plate was scraped clean!
On the other side of the table, I opted for Monkfish Carpaccio, pearlescent disks of melt-in-the-mouth fish, anise flavours of Florence Fennel and zesty orange. The perfect balance of flavours ensured that the star of the show, the monkfish, was supported and not masked. But in truth, the rich green olive flavour of olive oil that dressed and finished the dish subtly but perfectly pulled back on the sweetness and anchored sufficient savouriness.
On to the main course, and an opulently presented dish of roasted chicken breast. The white meat of chicken crowned ochre from roasting, a sweet and spiced mulled wine jus, the dark forest green of cavalo nero, bright vibrancy of carrot puree and cartoonishly festive looking cranberries. All the colours of the season in a singular plate of food!
For me, a slowly braised featherblade of beef, glistening with a rich and sticky glaze, fell into perfect ribbons with the merest push of a fork. The smoked mash, although a little overworked, nonetheless delivered promised smokiness. More cavalo nero, potato crisps, and the slippery umami of shiitake mushrooms combined for a satisfying hug of comfort and luxury.
Main courses came with a selection of seasonal roasted root veg and potatoes; and we ordered an extra serving of triple cooked chips which were unctuous and satisfying if less crispy than expected.
A generous pause between main course and dessert allowed time to savour our meaty mains, sip away at the delectable carafe of Duoro that lead with vibrant and bright juicy flavours before mellowing out into a warming boozy envelopment, revealing its 14% ABV in all its glory. Perfect alongside the dark and rich winter relishes.
The desserts arrived. For him, the expected Christmas Pudding Parfait were two small half spheres dwarfed by an apple friand and a large scoop of ice cream. All was perfectly tasty, but the ratios were out of kilter – less cake, more parfait, came the summation.
However, my seductively wobblesome set cream flavoured with orange and cardamom, served with blood orange sorbet, zesty meringue and a glowing pool of Grand Marnier spiked sauce was perfect in every way. I savoured each taste – not too sweet, not too tart; just right!
Greenes says of itself that it creates “dishes of a seasonal nature, refined food with a simple food philosophy – local, fresh and staying true to each ingredient’s essence.” The latter part of this rings particularly true: the flavours and textures of each key element were enhanced; heightened, even.
My dining partner, not known for his way with words, said his “chicken tasted extra chicken-y” which is as succinct an observation as I could muster myself. The beef was beefy; the monkfish proud and resolute; and no doubt that my dessert was a celebration of the beauty of winter citrus.
The philosophy maybe about choosing what is at its best at the best time of year, but these are plates of food created by someone who relishes being a diner themselves: the kind of food that the chef himself would like to be served and enjoy eating too.
Maybe that is why there isn’t anything served up on each plate of food that doesn’t have a purpose. Nothing superfluous here – there’s no need for technical frippery; no need to show off or satisfy an irascible ego. This is confident cookery that is enjoyable to eat.
Greenes Restaurant, McCurtain Street, Cork City www.greenesrestaurant.com
Date of review: Saturday 11th December 2021
Saturday Lunch, a la carte, seasonal. €37.50 per person.
We also had a carafe of wine, Portuguese Duoro, €28; a bottle of sparkling water, and an Americano.
Online booking available.
WRITTEN BY KATE RYAN/FLAVOUR.IE