Grub Spy: Farm to Cork

Grub Spy Alan Kelly dishes the goods on Ireland’s tastiest dining destinations

Outdoor dining at the market

Cruffins from Pure Flakery

More of the stalls inside

About two years ago, while out for a walk along a chilly Centre Park Road, around the time Ireland’s food businesses were desperately trying to deal with the ghastly you-know-what, the Boss and I happened across a couple of food stalls. Imagine a burger van, a pink coffee truck, and a baker selling homemade buns, and you’ll pretty much get the picture. It was not a pleasant day, nor was it comfortable, and to say the least it wasn’t the most salubrious of locations. In fact, it was next door to what looked like an abandoned post-apocalyptic missile silo on the old Southern Fruits Distribution warehouse about a mile from the city centre.

MARINA MARKET Centre Park Road, Cork Five Stars Food: €29.50; Drinks: €42.70

And guess what? As we sat shivering on a garden bench sipping our coffee and munching delicious freshly baked cinnamon buns, we didn’t care a jot — we were in heaven. To be honest, much as we revelled in the experience, I didn’t really see this as anything more than a transient once-off. But man was I wrong. From humble beginnings, dreams sure can come true. While outwardly the place continues to (slightly) resemble a derelict wasteland, inside has blossomed into a radical sight for foodie eyes. Now there are over 40 food stalls (with more to come) attracting thousands of hungry visitors every week. And when I say the place is regularly mobbed, I mean mobbed by families, teenagers, dog lovers and pensioners. There’s even plans for wedding expos, trad music festivals, a play about Michael Collins, and God knows what else. But it’s the food that swings it for me. There’s Lebanese, Chinese, Moroccan and Irish, posh noodles, fancy pizzas and deluxe burgers rubbing shoulders with swanky coffee bars and wholesome smoothie joints. There’s bespoke sushi and Nashville fried and rotisserie chickens, a fantastic Asador beef grill and a gourmet sausage hut. Three of our favourite stalls include the baked goodies at Pure Flakery, a couple of custard and blueberry cruffins (€8), and two delectable Alchemy coffees (€6.60) are totally irresistible. Next up is Taylors Deli truck. A taste revelation is how I would describe their New Jersey latke rolls (€7) and that’s before you even get to their amazing sub menu. Prátaí are doing delicious things you could hardly imagine with baked Irish spuds and chips. My own recent discovery had chips loaded with baconnaise, chorizo and Parmesan shavings (€7). A deadly concoction for the arteries I’m sure, but a flavour combo that is out of this world. And of course, there’s also a healthy hut. Young Plant actually grow micro greens on site. Their noodles, boldly flavoured with roast veggies, Cajun nuts and apricots (€7.50) are what all so-called superfoods should taste like. There’s so much about the Marina Market that I find engaging and an absolute pleasure. And yes, I suppose on a superficial level it is slightly reminiscent of a food court in a shopping centre. But in reality, this is a million miles away from any food court I’ve ever been to. Corkonians definitely have a nose for getting set-ups like this so right. Brilliant stuff altogether. The rest of the country should take careful note of this wonderful enterprise.

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