Does Cork have the best dining for vegetarians? I took myself to the city to find out.
You have to love Cork taxi drivers. No sooner have I told one that I’m spending a weekend in Cork to literally taste what the city has to offer, the driver nods in approval. “You won’t have a bad meal here, boy” he tells me. And he’s right.
I can’t remember being in a city where food seems at the centre of everything. Ask a local chef for the secret of Cork’s culinary wizardry, and they’ll give a smug hand gesture to the left.
They’re referring to West Cork: their sprawling, sea-swept backyard that provides the artisan cheeses, organic veg and seaweed that makes the city’s eateries so popular. Visit any farmer’s market in the region and you’ll understand. The county and its surrounding seas churn out top-quality ingredients quicker than you can say “the Japanese go mad for this stuff”.
With great food, comes great demand. I had to book a table for my chosen restaurant two weeks in advance.
And as I walked across Cork City on Saturday around noon, I saw something else I haven’t seen in Dublin: outside several cafés, people were queuing. They were calmly waiting outside in the sunshine, leaning against the wall, waiting for a table for brunch.
The Best Vegetarian Restaurant in Ireland
Cork City has another thing Dublin doesn’t: the best vegetarian restaurant in Ireland.
Café Paradiso is the Irish veggie mecca from the imagination and palette of chef/owner Denis Cotter. The Guardian name-checked it recently in an article on the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants saying:
“It is well worth a special trip to experience what he can do with local cheeses and Gortnanain honey.”
Cotter whips up complex dishes from simple ingredients with inspired flair of an alchemist. A typical pairing would be aubergine, sheep’s cheese and almonds, with a chilli pesto kick. Trust Cotter to make turnip and mushrooms uncharacteristically saucy by adding pecans and red wine gravy.
This is destination dining.
On my visit, I started with a velvety smooth potato gnocchi, which slid down my throat on an entourage of garlic butter and spinach.
My main was a risotto dotted with peas, broad beans and onion, oozing mature goat’s cheese. It tasted like decadent comfort food; the culinary equivalent of a warm hug from a wealthy aunt.
My companion ordered dessert with two spoons, though I declared myself so full I couldn’t manage another mouthful. That was until the chocolate pecan brownie with banana ice cream actually arrived. I almost licked the plate.
My last lesson in Cork flavours was down the road at the Cornstore cocktail bar. The mixologists here have won awards for their liquid creations, and have the crowded bar to prove.
It took almost 10 minutes to read the menu before I settled on a dessert cocktail of vodka, crème de cacao and crumbled chocolate flake. Desserts, I realised, can be even tastier and more satisfying in liquid form.
The rumours are true: in Cork, you can’t get a bad meal or a bad drink. Boy.