Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, June 5, 2017

[Review] Rachel's, Washington Street, Cork

The Allen family of Ballymaloe fame has tried, and failed, to open restaurants in Cork city before. It seems a woman was required for success, and this time, Rachel Allen has put her name to Cork's latest restaurant opening. A TV chef, cookbook author and daughter-in-law to Darina Allen, will Rachel's high flying fame bring enough star power to Cork's somewhat fickle and occasionally staid dining scene?

Rachel's is located in the Courthouse Chambers, directly across from the Courthouse on Washington Street. A neon sign with Rachel's handwritten signature illuminates the entrance. Inside the decor is beautifully chic in muted tones of blue and grey, with splashes of colour from modern art pieces dotted around the space. The space is large, with half given over to the restaurant and open kitchen complete with wood-fired oven. The remainder is used for the Piano bar, a relaxing space to sit and chat over pre- or post-dinner drinks. 
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Cocktail menu
Cocktail menu
Once seated, we get a chance to look around the bright, light room and take it all in. It's a Saturday night in Cork, and Corkonians are out in force, dressed to the nines for a night on the town. The general consensus is that it's all far more glamorous than a Saturday night out in a Dublin restaurant. While we contemplate the Cork social scene, and I wonder if I will see anyone I know, we are given boards generously laden with a bland brown bread and charred sourdough, and lashings of room-temperature butter.

As you'd expect from a scion of Ballymaloe, the menu has a strong focus on local provenance. Where possible, vegetables, fruit and herbs come from the organic farm at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Fish is fresh from Ballycotton Bay, pork comes from Darren Allen's farm in Shanagarry, while chicken comes from the free-range pastures of Robert Fitzsimmons in East Ferry. It's all very impressive. 

We kick off with a cevice, made with fresh fish of the day, combined with lime, avocado and coriander. It's pretty on the plate, nicely cured, but could benefit from a little more zing (€12.00). A salad of buffalo ricotta with buttered baby carrots, roasted red onions and toasted hazelnuts is artfully tossed on the plate, both bright and colourful (€9.00). 
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Bread
Bread plate
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Ceviche
Ceviche with lime, avocado and coriander
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Carrots with cheese
Buffalo ricotta with buttered baby carrots
The solid showing of the starters evolves into some really excellent cooking in the form of our main courses. The wood-fired grill is used to great effect to perfectly cook a piece of Dover Sole, this kingly piece of fish elevated by a coating of delicious gremolata sauce (€34.00). 

A rack of spring lamb is perfectly pink, coated with a wild garlic and almond crumb (€28.00). Fresh pea shoots, peas, mint and salsa verde all combine for a taste of Irish spring. 
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Grilled Dover Sole with gremolata
Wood-fired Dover Sole with gremolata
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Lamb rack
Rack of spring lamb with wild garlic and almond crumb
Desserts are a celebration of traditional flavours. A large, crunchy merginue is cracked with the back of the spoon and mixed with strawberry sauce, fresh strawberries and cream (€7.50). A casual rhubarb mille feuille with layers of puff pastry is brightly seasonal (€7.50).  

After dinner, we leave the restaurant and take a walk around the Piano Bar. Despite having two overly-sweet cocktails before dinner, we very much like the bar it, so we decide to grab some barstools and enjoy one more cocktail. This time we order from the classics section, rather than the house creations, and the results are much more impressive. My Brandy Crusta is a perfect example of the species. 
 Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Strawberry with meringue
Strawberries with meringue
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Rhubarb mille feuille
Rhubarb mille feuille
Stitch & Bear - Rachel's Cork - Brandy crusta cocktail
Brandy crusta cocktail in the Piano Bar
While we are impressed by Rachel's, there are some oddities. The menu definitely lacks some lower-priced options for the more casual diner; the wood-fired pizza of the day is priced at €20.00 while a vegetarian pea, asparagus and cheese risotto clocks in at an impressive €25.00. On the flip side, the traditionally expensive mains of steak and so on are in line with normal pricing. It should be said that all main courses come with skinny fries, green leaves and organic new potatoes, so there are no additional costs for sides. The wine list is well-designed with several pages of choice, but it feels slightly on the expensive side. 

Sitting back and thinking about it, I believe that Rachel's delivers an experience that Cork badly needs; a modern, contemporary and grown-up restaurant with swathes of style. Head chef Anne Zagar has worked closely with Rachel and Isaac Allen in the design of this classic yet fresh menu, and I have the feeling that there's lots more to come yet. 

Rachel's, 28 Washington Street, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)21 427 4189
Twitter: @RachelsCork
Instagram: @rachelscork

1 comment

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