Review: Crawford Gallery Cafe in Cork city

The cafe takes time over its homely, hearty food – and so should you

This article is over 7 years old

The Crawford Gallery Cafe

  • Emmet Place Cork
  • 021 274415
  • Irish

It’s disconcerting to see the drops of clear liquid harden and cloud like candlewax when they hit the glass table top. Is this what’s happening in my arteries? But that thought doesn’t stop me fishing for another hot wobble of marrowbone to slather on a corner of toasted sourdough.

I’m horsing into the roasted marrowbone starter in Cork’s Crawford Gallery Cafe. It’s food that makes you grin. As art on a plate goes this one’s from the school of English chef Fergus Henderson. But it’s a loving rendition rather than a copy.

The marrowbone is served in three sections of a calf’s leg bone. Each one is crisp on top like a meaty creme brulee. They’re volcano hot to the touch so you have to wrap a napkin around the outside to hold it steady as you spoon the dribbly lava onto toast. There are flakes of salt at the base of the bones to be added, or not, as you wish. The grass green parsley tastes like it has never met a plastic bag and the capers speckled through it are tiny pings rather than leathery pouches of vinegar.

The rain is lashing the windows outside and I’m sitting with retired cheesemaker Bill Hogan in what he has just described as a “lingery” room and linger we will. The cafe is on the ground floor of this genteel gallery. There are sky blue painted walls and a stone fireplace in which you could park a small car. Instead they’ve filled it with glass vases of faded blue and purple hydrangeas. There are dahlias on the tables.

There is a school of thinking that once you have a lovely room all you need to do is throw in a few mismatched plates, knock out a couple of half-decent sponge cakes and the job is Oxo. But they’ve gone the extra mile here. “It’s the best lunch in the city,” Bill says. And so far I have to agree. The cafe is part of the Ballymaloe empire and Sinead Doran is doing the cooking. As far as I can see it’s an all-woman team, including Jackie, our waitress who is a delight.

She’s delivering bad news about the stew though. It’s been on since this morning but the kitchen doesn’t think it’s done yet. “It’s still a bit tough.” I’d be happy to wait for a slow-cooked stew that this kitchen deems done but I’ll take the plate of Cork stuff, or the market platter as it’s actually called, as consolation.

The batter on Bill’s hake has been speckled with sesame seeds and they add another layer to an already delicious dish. There is a bowl of mayonnaise made orange with a generous helping of smoked paprika. My market platter has artichoke hearts that look house pickled. They’re still yellow and silky rather than grey and mushy. There are soft perfect slices of salami, salty olives and milky Toonesbridge mozzarella.

It’s the humble garden salad that makes us both smile. There’s a picture on the cafe’s Facebook page of a cardboard box into which greens have been picked from the polytunnel where they grow in neat rows surrounded by rigorous coverings of weed barrier. You can taste the difference between these leaves and the zombie greens that get chlorine washed and then packed into gas-flushed plastic bags. They don’t even look, never mind taste, alike.

We finish with good coffee and I get a slice of the orange zest cake which has marmalade-thick chunks of peel in its squidgy insides. The rain is still stair-rodding outside while inside the kitchen a beef and red wine stew is blipping away slowly, the meat softening till it’s done. Things done as they should be. That’s what’s happening here.

Lunch for two with two glasses of Reisling and two coffees came to €55.70

THE VERDICT: 8/10. Star ingredients combined with kitchen talent make the city’s best lunch venue The Crawford Gallery Cafe, Emmet Place, Cork Tel: 021- 4274415 Facilities Up two flights of stairs (there is a lift) Music lovely Food provenance Excellent. In a word? Cork (mostly) Vegetarian options Good Wheelchair access Yes