Two Cork food stalwarts reign supreme with top quality dishes

We’re almost there, on the cusp of returning to dining out proper and though we’ve largely avoided reviewing precooked food, the entire Kitchen Brigade — namely me — has downed tools, refusing to lift so much as a frazzled finger, even to put finishing touches to another meal kit, willing only to wield a corkscrew.

Instead, we’re off to our ‘local’, The Castle Cafe at Blackrock Castle for ‘Friday Dinner’, back home and dishing up within four minutes of collection; I’ve encountered slower delivery times in actual restaurants.

Castle Café at Blackrock Castle, Cork

Starters are: crispy calamari on a crunchy salad of radish, cucumber and red onion with a chilli vinaigrette; ham hock and apple fritters with a nice sharp piccalilli; and the pick of them, wild mushroom arancini, crisp casing housing deeply flavoursome rice with a celeriac remoulade.

For her main course, CW has the Fragrant Fish Curry, a tropical melange of tomato, lime, coconut, courgette, peppers and fennel with crispy rice while No 1 Son has a very decent and wholesome braised short rib bourguignon pie, honey glazed carrots, hasselback potatoes.  Winter fare, certainly, but then again, May has been almost entirely wintery.

pic from Castle Cafe Cork facebook

pic from Castle Cafe Cork facebook

Reveling in demob inertia, grazing so slowly a hot dish would become permafrost before I’m done, my cold vegetarian ‘buffet’ is the perfect fit for pace and appetites: black bean fritters, carrot hummus, tahini, beetroot & mooli slaw and hazelnut dukkah, with pitta and chunky chips. Finishing with chocolate and hazelnut tart with Baldwin’s vanilla ice cream, we enjoy a very pleasant and lazy evening of wining, dining allied to some nuclear-level conviviality.

The tragic plight of the Palestinians largely interned in Gaza has been very much to the fore of late and Pro-Palestinian support is especially pronounced on Leeside. Queues outside Izz Cafe stretched back down George’s Quay for the entirety of a recent Sunday when the little Palestinian restaurant donated all funds taken on the day to support Trócaire’s work in Gaza when we collect our takeaway dinner.

Manooshet Falafel, baked flatbread, one of the dishes from Izz Cafe (Picture: Joe McNamee)

Manooshet Falafel, baked flatbread, one of the dishes from Izz Cafe (Picture: Joe McNamee)

The tale of Izz and Eman Alkarajeh’s life by the Lee has certainly captured hearts, locally and nationally, ever since the Palestinian couple went, in a few short years, from living in Direct Provision to opening their own restaurant — just recently picking up the annual Cork Business Association’s Best Cafe in Cork Award.

But heartwarming stories don’t fill any bellies and the success of Izz Cafe is very much backboned by Eman’s iteration of traditional Palestinian cuisine.

Mana’eesh — flat bread with toppings, baked in the oven — are Palestinian flatbreads baked with toppings, and usually topped with fresh salads. We order a selection to share.

Manooshet Musakhan is Irish chicken breast with cardamom, red onions, pine nuts and Palestinian sumac in extra virgin olive oil and, when baked, served with pomegranate seeds and yogurt dip.

Manooshet Labneh, baked flatbread, one of the dishes on the Izz Cafe menu (Picture: Joe McNamee)

Manooshet Labneh, baked flatbread, one of the dishes on the Izz Cafe menu (Picture: Joe McNamee)

Manooshet Beef Lamb is minced meat sauteed in tomato and spices with finely diced onion, tomato, parsley and green pepper, lemony salad including pomegranate molasses, sumac and bright fresh mint. To be honest, we sprinkle sumac on everything as this native berry’s citric fruitiness is a heavenly condiment that perks up all and has long been employed in our own domestic kitchen.

Manooshet Za’atar And Cheese is a mix of Palestinian oregano, sesame seeds and olive oil topped with traditional cheese. For the labneh version, the creamy, tart strained yogurt is baked on top of the savoury za’atar.

Falafel was the first item from Eman’s repertoire to capture the public imagination at the farmers markets where they first dipped their toes in the water and we’d never not order it. Here a falafal mix flush with cumin and fresh parsley is spread on the dough and baked, then topped with salad and creamy tahini dressing.

The absolutely perfect accompaniment to the mana’eesh is the Izz Cafe taster’s plate, one of the best value ‘picnics’ to be found anywhere in the city featuring: soft yeasty flatbreads, three different hummus, tabbouleh (bulghar wheat, mint, parsley, olive oil) and my beloved makdous, baby aubergine, steamed, then stuffed with walnuts, garlic and chilli and left to ‘pickle’ in olive oil for up to two weeks.

We finish with some of iconic Eman’s cinnamon buns, her sweet, yeasty take on the Scandinavian classic.

It has been more than a pleasure to welcome some very fine Irish restaurants, Izz Cafe and Castle Cafe included, into our homes during all these lockdowns, but let’s hope we can more freely choose between dining ‘in or out’ for a very long time to come into the future.

Izz Cafe 

  • 14 George’s Quay, Ballintemple, Cork T12 EY2

The Castle Café 

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