VSaunty Cork has always had a reputation for serving the best food in Ireland. Worn by major local producers such as Ballycotton Seafood and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery, as well as the city’s English Market, its modern dining scene began in the 1960s when Myrtle Allen pioneered field-to-fork dining at Ballymaloe House. In the 1970s, Arbutus Lodge in Cork City became the first Michelin starred restaurant in Ireland. Over the years, the city’s culinary scene, influenced by an influx of international chefs, has evolved impressively, mixing traditional Irish cuisine with something more innovative.
Now in the English market, alongside seafood, butchers and poultry counters, are stalls selling Japanese food, deli meats and kombucha. On the quays of the city, the marina market (established during lockdown) is a container city of hipster stalls serving smoothie bowls at Young Plant, Mexican food at Burittos & Blues and Korean fried chicken at Chicken-You. Fifteen restaurants in the department are listed in the Michelin guide, including the Turkish Dede in Baltimorewhich has one star, while across the city diners fight for tables at Michelin-starred restaurants such as ichigo ichie (a star), Greenes, Da Mirco and Goldierewarded with a Bib Gourmand.
Inauguration last month Cork to Fork Festival served a taste of the city’s vast culinary scene. Held as a pilot this year, the five-day event mixed whiskey and cheese tasting masterclasses with sushi and yoga classes.
Maharani afternoon tea offered during the festival at the iconic Hotel Metropole captured the mood. The Cork institution, which opened in 1897, offered an Indian high tea inspired by Maharani Gin – a local spirit created by the new Rebel City Distillery, the first distillery established in Cork for nearly 50 years. The gin is zesty with pomelo and spiced with nutmeg, mace and cassia and is a fusion of Cork and Keralan cultures, created by Irishman Robert Barrett and his Indian wife, Bhagya. The Met’s tea combined Maharani G&Ts with delicate poppadom wraps, delicious little bites of aloo masala and spicy chai scones.
In Izz Cafe, on the banks of the River Lee, owner Izz Alkarajeh spent the festival demonstrating his tiny coffee roastery. A Palestinian refugee who moved to Cork, Alkarajeh started by selling maneesh flatbread pizzas at the farmers’ market before opening his cafe in 2019. “Looking at the food scene in Cork, we realized there was potential for a place to eat in the Middle East,” said he explained. His rich menu of musakhan, manooshet falafel, za’atar and cheese has won him awards and accolades from Irish food critics. Today, his roasts of Palestinian coffee blended with cardamom sell across Ireland, while locals flock to drink his Arabic coffee spiced with saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. clove.
Watching his demonstration, locals Martina Murphy and her daughter Audrey are excited about the changing food scene in Cork. “Vegetarian options are definitely better now. There are different healthy alternatives and options for people with food intolerances,” they told me, listening to restaurant recommendations, including Yarn floura trendy new vegetarian restaurant serving Italian street food.
In a slim room decorated by Italian chefs Lorenzo Barba and Eugenio Nobile to resemble an Amsterdam café, Sonflour’s straightforward pizza and pasta menu reflects Barba’s belief: “Choosing between pizza and pasta is is like choosing between son and daughter.” They pride themselves on their sustainable approach, cooking every serving fresh and only making enough for each order so there’s no waste.
Across Town on MacCurtain Street, Cork Settlement Isaacs restaurant – which introduced French brasserie cuisine to the city nearly 30 years ago – now has neighbors including French creamserving revisited French cuisine, the fabulous MacCurtain Wine Cellarand the unpretentious look glass curtain – open during lockdown in the old building of Thompsons Bakery and already one of Cork’s most exciting dining experiences.
Chef Brian Murray traveled the world, working in Dubai and on yachts in the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, before returning home to create a menu he describes as “reflecting my travels around the world through the ‘Cork target’. He mixes local produce with international flavors to create a delicately flavored langoustine crudo, silky squid noodles and yuzu soy Dutch monkfish. His signature dish is a play on traditional Irish cabbage and bacon made with pork belly and mousse.
There is an Irish tradition of putting a spare place at the table in case a guest stops by. On the long shared food tables set up in the street for the Cork Food Festival, it felt like they were keeping that tradition alive.
Katie Glass’ trip to Cork was provided by Irish Ferries