No 5 Fenn’s Quay: A corker of a lunch

Chef Kate Lawlor’s restaurant is one Corkonians can be genuinely proud of

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No5 Fenn's Quay Restaurant

  • Proprietor: Kate Lawlor
  • No 5 Fenns Quay , Sheares Street
  • 021 4279527
  • Irish

Somewhere under the River Lee in a secret spur off the Jack Lynch tunnel lies a velvet-lined sound-proofed room. After DNA testing, fingerprint and accent-screening, genuine Cork people can descend the dripping stone stairs into the chamber. The door closes with a loud sucking sound behind them. Safely inside they shout out all the things they hate about Cork. Finally they pull a red and gold tassel to be released and emerge blinking and smiling into daylight, refreshed and ready to resume their lifelong vocation as PR people for the city.

Corkonians are so relentlessly cheerful about their city they can be like newly ordained ministers determined to convert a crowd of heathens to the cult of Cork. Our lovely taxi driver has persuaded us that the weather, actually even the air, is better here after news of storms in Dublin.

Yet even the staunchest Be-Lee-ver (sorry) would have difficulty telling anyone that Cork city’s restaurant scene is in rude health. There are bright pockets but no blanket of good mid-range restaurants like the one that has spread over parts of Dublin. Despite the mothership that is the English Market, Cork is a city where restaurants seem to be surviving rather than thriving.

Chef Kate Lawlor cooks at Fenn’s Quay, a restaurant that’s a small walk from the main shopping streets of Cork. It’s in a building that feels like it’s had several additions grafted on. We get a table for lunch in the glass-roofed bit that connects the original front to the extension at the back. The walls are painted in a magnolia colour that’s verging on bedsit-chic. There’s purple upholstery on the chairs. In truth the place could do with a good makeover. But grumbles about the tired decor melt away when the food comes.

We’ve chosen mainly from the specials which are handwritten on paper which comes on a clipboard. This is usually a good sign, a chef who’s cooking the good stuff that has come through the delivery door rather than sticking to a year-round menu based on an unchanging supply of ingredients.

It’s a simple side dish that persuades me that Cork can lay legitimate claim to a large dollop of betterness. Take hot mashed potatoes and stir in plenty of grated smoked Gubbeen. The result is a bowl of fluffy stringy chewy warmth that is a little bit of happiness in a bowl. It’s served alongside my fish platter of expertly cooked elements, a meaty piece of seared tuna, still soft and dark in the middle, battered monkfish that tastes spankingly fresh, a breaded plaice and a lone and lovely scallop.

The cheesy mash is also a good companion to the other dish, some luscious grilled chicken livers with cubes of sweet butternut squash and a syrupy onion confit to give the necessary sweetness to the liverish lumps. A few parmesan shavings add a nutty element to this wonderful lunch dish.

We get two wines by the glass, a white rioja and a glass of a house-blended red that’s new on the menu, our friendly waiter explains. Desserts continue the excellence with a slice of flourless chocolate pie that manages the parlour trick of being densely flavoursome but light in texture. There’s an eye-rolling white chocolate ice cream alongside. I get a pot of vanilla carrageen moss. The dessert is the same colour as the walls, thick and perfectly set smooth. The seasonal fruit on top is in the form of chunks of softly poached pear. On the side some house-made oatmeal biscuits are great, big and not too sweet.

Actions speak louder than even the most lavish words of praise. So Kate Lawlor’s cooking is a good reason to visit Cork and a genuine reason to be pleased to be a native.

Lunch for two with wine, coffee and desserts came to €54.85

The verdict: 7.5/10
Facilities: Small and up winding stairs
Music: Pop
Food provenance: A commitment to “local Irish produce where possible, sourcing from the English Market and beyond”.
Vegetarian options: Good and the menu also lists coeliac friendly dishes.
Wheelchair access: Yes

My memories of student food are a sea of dismal stodge. But a new student cafe, Luncheonette, is breaking that mould. It’s in the vaulted basement of the National College of Art and Design on Dublin’s Thomas Street. The cafe only opens during college hours so there’s no weekend service but the food makes it worth a weekday visit. I had a Pastel de Nata warm out of the oven one morning. It’s a small splodge of custard baked in puff pastry, a little bit of heaven for €1.70. The “complicated flapjacks” come with creme fraiche and pomegranate seeds on top. It’s all served on paper plates and in takeaway cups with funky (well what else would you expect) decor. The range of €3 sandwiches sound a cut above with red pepper hummous, roast tomatoes and flat bread one option and a baby spinach dahl with rice also €3. Luncheonette is serving posh ingredients at student prices.
Luncheonette, NCAD, Thomas Streeet, Dublin 8;