Not many good things come from Macroom, possibly bar the road to Cork. Now, before anyone gets a bit snotty at this statement, I am nearly a Macrompian, coming as I do from the nearby village of Cill na Marta. Road to Cork aside, probably the only other good thing to emerge from Macroom is the amazing talent of chef Dennis Cotter.
Cooking from Cafe Paradiso on Lancaster Quay in Cork, which he established in 1993, Cotter has firmly proved to many sceptics and carnivores that vegetarian cooking can be as high-end and as satisfying as any other cuisine. A meal at Cafe Paradiso is a true pleasure and immensely soul-warming.
We used to live to the rear of the restaurant, in a little flat on Dyke Parade while we were both PhD students and in those days, our budget didn't extend very frequently to Cafe Paradiso. On a recent visit however, we treated ourselves to an indulgent lunch, kickstarted by two glass of prosecco with raspberries (€7).
|Prosecco & raspberries to start|
For my starter, I chose baba ganoush with tomato & avocado salsa, red pepper & cashew dip all accompanied by plenty of oiled, grilled sourdough bread (€7.50). My plate arrived with 3 little bowls of deliciousness - the baba ganoush was spicy with that lovely warming texture that comes from aubergine. It was balanced with by the sweet red pepper dip and the cool tomato flavours of the salsa. Best of all, there was more than enough of the tasty bread to scoop it all up.
He chose a starter of grilled halomi with gooseberry chutney and a warm salad of purple potatoes, summer beans with a citrus and herb dressing (€8). The grilled cheese had a wonderful buttery flavour which layered amazingly well with the sweet, spiced chutney. Although not tasting any different to regular potatoes, the purple potatoes added incredible vibrancy and colour to the plate. The citrus dressing provided a tangy counterpoint to the sweet, sweet chutney and the soft flavour of the cheese.
|Baba ghanoush with salsa and red pepper dip|
|Grilled haloumi with gooseberry chutney and purple potatoes|
Our starter plates were cleared away, giving us a chance to look around the restaurant and into the kitchen. What stood out about the restaurant was the amount of young people dining there. Given that most of the tables were occupied by couples, I'm guessing that a fair few of the men had been dragged their by their vegetarian other halves. An American family was seated at another table, who were on a return trip to Cafe Paradiso for the second year in a row. Immense praise indeed, that a family would cross the Atlantic for this cooking.
His main was aubergine involtini of spinach, almonds and Knocklara sheep's cheese with fresh cherry tomato sauce, green chili pesto and coriander crushed potatoes (€14.50). 3 aubergine parcels were dense and meaty in texture while the accompanying roasted cherry tomatoes provided sweet, intense pops of flavour. (If you want to try this dish at home, the recipe features on the Cafe Paradiso website here).
I had chosen a corn pancake with black kale, leeks, walnuts and Hegarty's cheddar (€14.50). Again, the clever combinations of dense green vegetables with cheese provided a denseness to the vegetables that would sate the most meat-loving of cavemen. Also on the plate was a tasty, juicy medley of baby courgettes, cumin, sungold tomatoes and new potatoes.
We declined dessert as we were teetering on the edge of a vegetable induced afternoon nap, but we did have two excellent cups of coffee (but priced at a steep €2.80 - possibly the worst value on the menu). The total bill for our lunch came to €64.60. Without the afternoon glasses of bubbles, this would have cost approx. €50 and to me, it really represents an excellent price for what is unique and fantastic cooking. The cooking is creative, fresh and light. It really shames the nuts & lentils brigade of vegetarians showing, as it does, how vegetarian cooking can be elevated to polished heights.
|Aubergine involtini of spinach, almonds & Knocklara cheese|
Corn pancake of black kale, leeks, walnuts & Hegarty's cheddar
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