Once upon a time, Cork had two great music venues. Sir Henry's was a nightclub which catered to both the Indie and Electronic crowds with regular club nights. It is more than legend to a whole generation of Cork people. Thousands of people "claim" to have attended the famous 1991 gig where new band Nirvana played support to Sonic Youth. I became familiar with Sir Henry's as a UCC fresher in 1996. This love affair lasted all the way through my undergrad and postgrad careers until Celtic Tiger Ireland intruded and it was knocked down to be replaced by a car park.
The other renowned Cork spot was the famous Lobby Bar, where many great musicians played to small, packed crowds. My favourite memory of the Lobby is a Beth Orton concert on a beautifully warm, sunny summer evening, with the audience squeezed as tight as sardines in the upstairs room. Alas, the Lobby closed in 2005 and subsequently housed a series of restaurants. But things picked up significantly in December 2011 when L'Atitude 51 opened.
Owners Beverly Matthews and Emmanuelle Legrande (both holders of WSET diplomas) have done something special with this venerable location. The interior has been painted in muted colours, the bar sells Irish craft beers and ciders, and I'm reliably informed that they sell some incredible sausage rolls for breakfast. Open from 10am to late 7 days a week, they offer a selection of French-inspired daily specials alongside a regular menu.
|The upstairs interior at L'Atitude 51|
|The food and wine menus at L'Atitude 51|
I've visited several times since L'Atitdude 51 opened, with the most memorable occasion being the Little Beauty wine tasting. This is part of a regular series of Meet the Winemaker events hosted by L'Atitude 51 in conjunction with a selection of Irish wine importers and distributors. I've also called in several times while working in Cork for a glass of good wine, or one of their tasty but simple French dishes.
We visited on a recent Saturday night to find all seats taken downstairs. Seats were still available upstairs, through a stairwell still papered with gig posters from the Lobby era. The lighting is just enough on the bright side of dim to be comfortable with little tea lights flickering on the tables. We quickly looked at the specials chalked on the board, before settling on two platters of mixed cheese and meats (€12.50 each) supplemented by an order of aranicini (€7.50).
We settled in with two glasses of 2009 Secateurs Chenin Blanc (€6 per 150ml glass). I like the way that the wine menu is laid out, with categories such as "Fruit Driven" or "Fruity with Attitude" in the red half, balanced by "Herbaceous" and "The Aromatics" in the whites. It definitely gives you an idea of what you might like to experiment with. I also love the glassware used in L'Atitude 51 - there's a real love of wine here.
Our two boards featured large chunks of room-temperature cheese and sliced meats. If I have a favourite food, it would be cheese, and I was in cheese heaven with the wide selection. All nationalities were represented with generous chunks provided. A lot of restaurants could learn from L'Atitude 51 about temperature and portion size.
|Meat and cheese board No 1|
|Meat and cheese board No 2|
Due to the delay in giving our arancini order, they were late in arriving, coming just as we were scraping the last of the cheese rinds. We had ordered a mixed plate with both ham and spinach varieties. Arancini are Sicilian rice balls, made with mozzarella and other ingredients which are then deep fried until crispy golden. As you can imagine, the end result is a gooey, melted dumpling with a lovely crispy exterior. By this stage, we had finished the Chenin Blanc, so we ordered a 250ml pichet of 2010 Domaine de la Renne Sauvignon Blanc (€9), which offered better value than 2 individual glasses.
|Mixed selection of arancini|
I've got to admit that I'm a big fan of Emma and Beverly's venue. They've taken a venerable Cork venue and produced a modern, yet relaxed wine bar. It's easily possible to spend hours sitting in the window, watching the River Lee flow past, while sipping on a fine wine. Their passion for all matters oenological (I just love that word) is evident in every part of the bar, from the large chalked wine lists right through to the regular wine tastings and classes.
Since L'Atitude 51 opened in December, another wine bar has opened in the former premises of Arthur Mayne Pharmacy on Pembroke St. But there is a massive difference in attitude. Arthur Mayne does occupy a beautifully restored nostalgic premises, but it also chases the loud late night bar crowd. Walking into a crowd of under-dressed over-sexed late night partygoers is not something I find sits naturally with the enjoyment of a good class of wine. That's where L'Atitude 51 wins. So pull out your GPS and get yourself to (51.9, -8.47) and relax.