A classic corker

EAT OUT : A smart way to test a restaurant is to try its version of a foodie classic – and in Isaac’s, the beetroot and goat…

EAT OUT: A smart way to test a restaurant is to try its version of a foodie classic – and in Isaac's, the beetroot and goat's cheese starter was just perfect

IT’S THE MOST emblematic dish of the mid-range restaurant, to be found on menus worldwide. It’s the beetroot and goat’s cheese starter. Like the BLT, it probably deserves its own initialism, the BGC. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse is widely credited with creating the beast, some time in the 1970s. Its ubiquity probably means at every second of every day someone somewhere on the planet is turning their fingers pink assembling one.

Last year, as a challenge, chef Daniel Patterson put a beet rose on the menu of his San Francisco restaurant, Coi. The “rose” was assembled with tweezers and tiny disks of beetroot thinly sliced to resemble petals. The 60 he required took 15 hours to create. A point painstakingly made and then YouTubed for posterity.

Beets were originally grown for their greens. We children of the 1970s remember, with a shudder, sliced beetroot bleeding its lurid vinegar into the coleslaw after being tipped from a jar. (I’m married to someone who can barely share a room with a beetroot, so deep are the purple-stained memories). After more than three decades as the world’s most generic restaurant dish, it’s a good yardstick of how much hard work is being done in the kitchen. You know you’re in a bad restaurant when you get a plate of purple lumps and limp bagged salad. It’ll be topped off with a grim round of cheap goat’s cheese which has collapsed under the grill into a gelatinous gunge encircled with a wall of papery skin, scorched but still standing.


In Isaac’s Restaurant on Cork’s MacCurtain Street, the classic is several notches better than that. It’s a Saturday lunchtime and the place is a little empty when I arrive after wandering down from the nearby train station. MacCurtain Street has higgledy steep rows of houses behind it and the street seems to be there to stop everything tumbling into the river Lee. Isaac’s is in the ground floor of a handsome old brick building.

Large arched windows look out onto the street and inside is a textbook bistro space – wooden ceiling fans moving slowly, original iron pillars, primary colour tables and lots of exposed brick.

The goat’s cheese hasn’t had far to travel. It’s Ardsallagh, from Carrigtwohill, and it has been moulded into a cake, breaded and fried, leaving it fluffy and light inside. No gloop here. The beetroot has had nothing more elaborate done than a quick slicing, and the rest of the salad ingredients are good. Better than average is a generous helping of sweet and delicious roasted peppers.

My friend gets the tapas plate, which seems pricey as a starter (at €9.50), but there’s enough on the plate to give you a full lunch. The selection includes a paté, a tapenade, “something mushroomy”, black pudding, chorizo, a tail-on prawn and a little pot of lightly curried chick pea, tomato and coriander. There’s more goat’s cheese on toast also. We get two glasses of the house sauvignon blanc, Lawsons Dry Hills (€7 each). So far it’s a great catch-up lunch, nothing on the table demanding too much reverence or effort, and no need to bellow over the noise of a packed venue.

The main courses are equally competent. Rachel’s prawn pasta is a colourful plate of tomato-drenched tiger prawns on well-cooked pasta sprinkled with fresh coriander. I get the burger which has been done to that slightly dryish point guaranteed not to give any food safety inspector the heebie-jeebies. A pleasant mushroom and rosemary sauce on the side balances this out and it comes with excellent chips. We share a panna cotta, which is yellowy and flecked with vanilla seeds, served with poached rhubarb. It’s a good combination and goes down well with two excellent and reasonably-priced coffees (€2.20 each).

By the time we’ve finished lunch the place has filled, but mainly with older diners. The young people of Cork, it seems, don’t do a long Saturday lunch. Or at least not here. Isaac’s has been a restaurant for nearly 20 years but still has the feeling of a place that’s making an effort to do the classics that little bit better. Lunch for two with two glasses of wine and coffees came to €72.40.

Isaac's Restaurant

48 MacCurtain St, Cork, Co Cork

Tel:021-4503805 Facilities: Fine


Wheelchair access:Yes

Food provenance:Good

Use your noodle

If “butter or mayonnaise?” is usually the only question you have to face in the daily lunchtime sandwich queue, then Stir Crazy on Dame Street, Dublin 2, might be worth adding to your repertoire. The small noodle bar has a counter of options like most sandwich bars.

Most of the ingredients look as uninspiring as they do when the plastic-gloved server is sprinkling them on buttered sliced pan, but here there’s a flash in the pan approach.

You order your noodles ranging from udon to rice noodles to whole wheat, add meat, prawn or vegetable extras, and a sauce. The flame is fired up under a wok in the window. A fresh egg goes in first, then some shredded cabbage and carrot and the already-cooked noodles. I added pork (a touch on the grey and chewy side) and a coconut, ginger and lemongrass sauce to my option. It’s all fried up piping hot and tipped into a carton. You can eat-in (there are a few small tables) or take it back to the office and show off your chopstick skills to your workmates. A €6.70 portion was more than enough for a filling lunch. Like all fast-fried food, it’s best eaten immediately.

Stir Crazy, 63 Dame Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6722200

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests