Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A birthday dinner in Cork

It was my birthday this day last week and as has become an annual tradition for us, my boyfriend and I celebrated with a special meal out. "I'd like to go somewhere the food is imaginative and different," I said, "somewhere with a chef who is really trying to be creative."
Quite how this led to us booking dinner in Les Gourmandises in Cork, a restaurant I'd always assumed to be a classic French place, I don't know. But I'm glad it did.

We were impressed from the very beginning. The room is pleasant with high ceilings, white walls, red banquettes and sparkling chandeliers. It was busy. Everyone was buzzing. And the staff were attentive and friendly from the moment we arrived.

Our meal began - as all the best meals do, in my opinion - with a glass of something sparkling. In this case, it was Cava and it came with a selection of breads from the nearby English Market - all fresh and crusty and delicious with some cold and salty butter.

I had the monkfish beignets to start. The fish was perfectly fresh. The batter was light and crisp. And it went well with the sweetcorn puree and the tartness of the caper-rich sauce tartare it was served with. My only gripe might be that it was too large a portion. As you can see from the picture above, there were three small bowls (with two small beignets in each one). It's a lot for a starter, isn't it?

My boyfriend had the Castletownbere crab dish. This was a near perfect dish. The crab (which was served potted style with some clarified butter on top) tasted fresh from the sea and this freshness was highlighted with spikes of lemon, offset by the melon and grapefruit that came in the accompanying salad and the refreshing pink grapefruit jelly that was served alongside. Just the thing to bring the palate to life!

I chose the seafood platter for my main course and it contained some really good elements. There was pan-fried red snapper in a crispy skin. There were salmon rillettes. There was that lovely crab from my boyfriend's starter, those monkfish beignets from my starter, that really nice pink grapefruit jelly from my boyfriend's starter...
Are we beginning to notice a pattern here? Maybe I was unlucky in our choice of previous dishes, but I was disappointed to see so much repetition, especially as I had found that there was too much in my monkfish beignet starter to begin with. It all tasted good though.

My boyfriend had pan-fried guineafowl which was served with confit onion, a potato fondant type thing, barley and a port jus. He loved the sweet juiciness of the onion set against the earthiness of the barley and the moreishness of the sauce and the perfectly cooked bird. Well, that's what I think he said as he scoffed the lot!

We asked for two side dishes to go with our mains; a serving of French fries and peas with asparagus. The French fries were great and though the serving was small, it was probably enough. But the serving of peas and asparagus was tiny - three spears of asparagus and a handful of peas. It felt a little miserly, which I don't think is the impression you want to give guests in your restaurant and was completely at odds with what I thought about the size of the starters. However, they did give us more when we commented on it being small.

We shared a dessert platter to finish. Clockwise from top left, there was a
crème brûlée, that snapped under my spoon just as a crème brûlée should. There was a tangy lemon posset - zingily delicious. There was a chocolate and cognac cake. And there was a raspberry panna cotta. All were good. Not amazingly good but good.

Our bill for the entire meal - 2 glasses of cava, 2 starters, 2 main courses, one dessert plate, one bottle of white wine, one glass of red wine, one bottle of sparkling water, a tea and a coffee - came to €167. So, it wasn't cheap but as you can see, we treated ourselves to quite a lot.
Was it worth it? Though I had some complaints, the food was based on quality ingredients that were well prepared. The wine - a Pinot blanc from Alsace - complemented the food very well. The service was attentive and friendly. I enjoyed the atmosphere and overall, I had a good birthday dinner. I'd go back again.  

Les Gourmandises, Cook Street, Cork City

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