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Many thanks to Jack Power for his review of Crawford Gallery Café in his Irish Examiner Article. 

THERE are moments, just passing ones, but moments of real promise, at this time of the year when the hard, cobalt blue of the cold winter sky is softened by strands of viridian light, an energising, germinating light that promises that spring is coming on the next train; that the circle is indeed unbroken.

The moments pass, later to become spring and summer’s norm, but their pledge is always uplifting.

For some reason that I can’t explain these welcome suggestions always remind me of a house sparrow enjoying a bird bath, shaking off the dust of the past, feathers all fluffed up, ready for anything and optimistically expectant. Spring is coming... be ready.

And so it was when DW and I visited the Crawford Gallery Café for a Saturday lunch.

The light amplified by the room’s tall, elegant windows wrapped the diners — and every table was taken — in some sort of promise, a promise that the circle of growth and harvest that provided the food we were all about to enjoy would continue.

The brightness set a mood that even James Scanlon’s vibrant and mildly eccentric stained glass window, the one on the stair landing you pass on the way to the dining room, could hardly improve. Such are the mysteries of the heft and fall of human mood and emotion but they are all in their own way undeniable.

And how appropriate it is that light and colour should speak so loudly in a restaurant attached to a beloved city centre art gallery.

The food was undeniably good too. It was not spectacularly ambitious in the fussy, cheffy way that undermines so much honest effort in so many other restaurants — café is far too twee a label for this very wholesome enterprise. It could hardly have served its objectives or guests better.

DW opened with the steadfast leek and potato soup, a dish almost as abused as voters’ trust. Thankfully, wonderfully, not this time.

The core ingredients were allowed to speak in their own, deeply subtle way, a way that can soften even the most winter-hardened heart. The dish was rich and as soothing as only things so very earthy and fundamental can be.

My starter was earthy too. Devilled kidneys on buttered sourdough are one of those wonderful dishes too far beyond the radar of those unfortunate, missing-out generations misled to believe that frozen pizza is real food.

This lovely, spikey and cheering — and so simple — dish is a reminder of how wonderful offal is and what a pity it is that it is so very unfashionable. This seems a cause in need of a champion ... anyone?

For her main course DW chose caramelised onion and Crozier blue cheese tart with Ballymaloe — the mothership of the Crawford operation — relish and a salad.

The opportunities here, just as with the soup, for rubbery blandness are almost infinitesimal but they were resisted. The tart had, once again, such an earthy, soothing substance that it seemed a real, simple but soul warming pleasure.

My main course — spiced goujons of fish and chips with smoked paprika mayonnaise and tomato salsa — was almost as cheering as the spring light. It was as far removed from the usual fiddly bits of iffy fish embalmed in plaster-of-paris batter as it was possible to be. The fish — hake — was fresh and cooked perfectly.

The batter, fine and light, was flecked through with sesame seeds which added another dimension to an already lovely dish — as did the mayonnaise, turned into something far more interesting by adding a good handful of of smoked paprika.

And, this should be standard practice in a country with a food culture centred on potatoes, the chips were real, not those frozen, salt and fat ridden fingers of something you wouldn’t eat if you knew what they really were. Another campaign?

Desserts, it was Saturday after all, continued the earthiness theme — an apple sponge made something far greater than the sum of its parts by cinnamon, nuts and raisins. DW’s orange cake, pert and fresh, edgy and comforting at the same time was lovely too.

Cork city is not overly endowed with wonderful places to eat at night but the city has a top class selection of lunch venues. The Crawford café is one of the very best — and at any time of the year.

THE TAB

Lunch for two, three courses costs €51.50, tip extra.

HOW TO

Monday to Saturday, 8.30am to 4pm

THE VERDICT

Food: 8½/10
Service: 8½/10
Ambience: 8½/10
Value: 9/10

Saturday, February 21, 2015

By Jack Power

Read original Article