So this week’s review is going to be an unexpected treasure: the Farmgate Café in the English Market in Cork.
This is the best covered market I’ve come across south of Scandinavia and west of France, selling locally landed fish and the many, many Irish iterations of pig, plus marvellously smoked beef. In the gallery above it there is a long café that uses the market ingredients to furnish a short but bountiful menu. I started with packet and tripe. That’s bleached tripe cooked in milk with onions and dasheen. It’s a fine, almost tasteless blood pudding, most like a blood jelly I once found in Hong Kong. This is a dish so blissfully bland it’s like eating a watercolour: a pale palette of flavours drift over your tongue.
I’m championing bland bleach-blonde food at the moment. It’s such a relief and a gentle pleasure after the punishment of crammed heat and spice in shouty food. My piquant Blonde and the twins had very good plates of smoked fish, then we all ate a heroic beef stew, with mashed potatoes that deserved their own gold medal from the Philosophical Society.
The room has queues at the door and the tables are full of families and couples who have come to shop and to eat and to gossip. It’s truly soft and generous, honest and delicious. A restaurant rooted in good things and fine tastes, all served with pleasure and good nature.
As a waitress gave me the bill, she said: “We’ve always dreaded that one day you might come in, then we dreaded that you never would. Is this business or pleasure?
Well the best thing about this job is that I can make my pleasure my business. And if all that weren’t perfect enough, it is garlanded with handwritten poems from Irish writers — they call it the Great Wall of Cork. I was sitting underneath Seamus Heaney and the poem For Wednesday, which, as so often with him, catches you as if by serendipity to say exactly the right thing: ‘As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways. And catch the heart off guard and blow it open’.