After my appetite had been well whetted by Denis Cotter’s A Paradiso Year: Autumn and Winter Cooking, I decided that it was time to return to Café Paradiso itself and last weekend I went down to Cork. All my nights were tied up but Saturday lunchtime was designated Paradiso-time and who better to share it than my Sister, who lives in Cork, and the Canadian friend that I met in New Zealand. Both the girls are waitresses – one in the nearby Liberty Grill, the other in Cork’s famous Jacobs on the Mall – so Café Paradiso wasn’t getting the most uncritical audience.
As we arrived one-by-one and hadn’t seen each other in a while, there was lots to catch up on so we were glad to be given a breathing space between the arrival of the menus and the taking of our order. We shared a starter of House Breads with Olive Oil, Cannellini Bean & Herb Dip and Marinated Olives. For mains, the Sister picked Leek, Roasted Roots & Gabriel Cheese Gratin with Hazelnut Crust, Tarragon Cream and Braised Cannellini Beans while the Canadian and I chose Lime-Grilled Haloumi with Harissa Sauce and a Warm Salad of Couscous, Roast Shallots, Green Beans, Chickpeas & Chermoula.
Bridget Healy, the co-owner of Café Paradiso, is from New Zealand, a fact which is evident from the first page of the wine list. There was an abundance of familiar vineyard names – Seifried, Cloudy Bay, Brookfields – and even my beloved Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon was represented. We eventually chose the St Clair Sauvignon Blanc 2004, a fresh and classy mouthful which was a happy match with our food.
The Haloumi was suitably styrofoam-like and deliciously salty. I really enjoyed the way it contrasted with the couscous, which was tossed with roasted shallots and my favourite chickpeas. The drizzle of chermoula on the plate was too quickly absorbed by the couscous but a few slices of pickled lemon on the side kept the dish lively. Although this dish was satisfying – so much so that I couldn’t finish it – I think that the Sister won in the best dinner stakes. Mouth-wateringly good cannellini beans, which the Canadian and I started snaffling straight away, surrounded the gratin itself which was full of rich textures and flavours.
Comfortably replete after such good food and wine, we fell at the last fence and even the Lemon Tart with Praline Ice Cream couldn’t tempt us. We did, however, manage to share a handful of rich handmade chocolate truffles, accompanying them with a couple of coffees and a very decent pot of real peppermint tea.
It was a leisurely lunch, staring at 1.30pm and winding up around two hours later, but at no time did we feel rushed or under pressure to finish up. The one odd note was the Sister’s gratin arriving on the table before we had finished our plate of bread and dips but, being hungry, we weren’t unduly phased. The waitstaff were efficient – at no time did our water jug run empty – but relaxed, becoming speedily helpful when I asked for the bill while the others were briefly absent from the table.
Our meal – a shared starter, three mains, chocolates, two coffees, a tea and a bottle of wine – came to the grand total of €81. Fabulously enjoyable and imaginative food at a reasonable price. I won’t let a decade pass before my next visit.
Café Paradiso is situated at 16 Lancaster Quay in Cork. Phone: 021 4277939.