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Cush review: This three-course €38 set menu is phenomenal value

Restaurant review: Simplicity is at its best at this smart place with exemplary fish cooking

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Address: By The Pier, Ballycotton, Co. Cork
Telephone: 021 464 6768
Cuisine: Irish
Cost: €€€

I’m sure that anyone who has a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking is full of warm feelings for the unlikely star and original TV chef, Julia Child, as she flambees her coq au vin into the doubting hearts and smartly-tailored midriffs of the studio bosses of 1960s Boston in Julia, the television series that’s airing on Sky Atlantic.

My copy is pre-Amazon, with an onion skin patination encroaching on each brittle page. It is a reference for vadouvan, particularly with scallops, that has me flicking through the recipes. Although coquilles St Jacques feature, there are none with vadouvan, a blend of spices similar to masala that originated with French colonisation of Puducherry in southeast India.

It is relevant because there are two scallop starters on the menu at Cush, a very smart restaurant perched high over the harbour in the fishing village of Ballycotton in east Cork. And what critic could pass on a compare and contrast opportunity like that? Particularly when it's Norwegian hand-dived scallops (€9) versus west Cork scallops with vadouvan spiced sauce (€14).

I would love to tell you that I have a definitive answer. That the simplicity of flashing the hand-dived scallops under the grill after they’ve been dotted with roast garlic and nduja so that the top of the soft sweet flesh is burnished copper, is as simple and clever as it gets, against scallops with boudin noir, a dish that has been doing the rounds since square plates.


But it is not so. Much of the success of this dish lies with the quality of the ingredients. Not just of the west Cork scallops, but also of the boudin noir which breaks into ferrous, earthy crumbs, mixing with a buttery vadouvan sauce that is split with a vivid green chervil oil. It is delicious and precise cooking. Something that would not be out of place in a Michelin star restaurant. Which is not surprising, as the chef in this kitchen, local man Daniel Guerin, spent a number of years in Gareth Byrne's one Michelin starred restaurant Campagne, in Kilkenny. In February Guerin landed a Michelin Bib Gourmand for Cush.

It is all about the fish here, much of it landed by dayboats just a sprat’s throw away, but there is also an option of squab pigeon or beef sirloin on the a la carte, and a phenomenally well-priced €38 three-course lunch and dinner menu (three-course vegetarian, €36). The wine list is accessible, and a Steininger Gruner Veltliner (€44) from Austria is the perfect lunchtime wine.

Vadouvan features again with a light touch on the wild halibut dish (€30), a mother of pearl strip of loveliness. It adds a warm halo to the foaming langoustine bisque which is intense yet sweet, and has skilfully steered clear of being over-reduced. Dots of a Grenobloise sauce bring an assertive kick of capers and acidity, and there is sweetness from two charred spears of white asparagus.

The John Dory (€32), which has curled out slightly from its taut skin, is a pristine taste of the sea in a dish which clearly appreciates the value of butter – in a sauce speckled with briny dillisk, in a seductively rich celeriac puree, and lashed on to sweet baby leeks. And the little saucepan of equally buttery pomme puree (€4.50) is in on the game too. Delicious, but don’t try this at home, at least not every day.

A light dessert, preferably something tart, is always welcome after a feast of fish, and thankfully it’s rhubarb (€10), one of my favourites, sitting on top of a Velvet Cloud yoghurt panna cotta with those delicate shards of meringue which seem to have colonised the country. A bite-size chocolate and coffee choux bun (€2.50) is delightful.

There’s nothing overtly cheffy here, no hand-thrown plates, or parade of chefs bringing dishes to the table. It is simplicity at its best, technique worn lightly, underpinning the cooking of each dish.

We’re heading into another long weekend and an expanse of summer. And while many of us will be jetting off for a taste of how they do it overseas – and let’s face it, for the weather – it’s worth remembering the special places we have at home, like Cush. The fish is spectacularly fresh, and if you’re a fan of scallops, to paraphrase what Julia Child once didn’t quite say, these may be the best coquilles you’ll ever put in your mouth.

Lunch for two with a bottle of wine was €146

  • Verdict: Coquilles by the ocean with Michelin skill
  • Facilities: Suitably smart with hand cream and fluffy towels
  • Music: Gladys Knight, Steely Dan, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and Jackson Browne
  • Food provenance: Fish from Ballycotton or Glenmar Seafood, meat from Murphy's Butchers, organic vegetables from Greenfield Farm
  • Vegetarian options: A vegetarian three-course menu is €36, with dishes such as charred white asparagus, pickled black trompette, tempura purple broccoli, and crispy hen's egg. Vegan options with advance notice
  • Wheelchair access: Room is accessible with an accessible toilet
Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column