Grub Spy: Just do it

This coastal eatery has frequently delicious food and charming service in a great location, but it’s not always plain sailing, says Grub Spy Alan Kelly

The scenic café grounds

Pan-fried hake

Strawberry glory

Sunday World

So many restaurants these days appear to have fully embraced a new-ish post-Covid regimen of operating hours that stretch, seemingly without a breather, from early breakfast right through to evening meals — which, let’s be honest, regardless of expertise, can’t be an easy task for any kitchen.

In any busy shift, there will likely come a point, especially when you consider the difficulty of finding enough experienced staff nowadays, where a service could easily totter between clumsy and calamitous.

THE CASTLE CAFÉ Blackrock Castle, Blackrock, Cork Four Star Food: €75.60; Drinks: €38.50

I’m not saying that such a scenario is a definite upshot, but visualizing the potential in my mind’s eye, I would have nothing but admiration and understanding for those mad-busy establishments.

The Castle Café, located on the grounds of the famous Blackrock Castle Observatory on that well-known coastal part of Cork city — the bit regularly used by walkers, cyclists and sightseers — is a casual family-friendly all-day eatery.

As frequent breakfast callers, the Boss and I know how busy it can get, and also how it’s a fantastic spot for a brunch-lunch with a glass of something chilled. Recently, for a change, we decided to sample an evening there. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

The dinner menu, while appealing and uncomplicated, is not hugely different to their lunch menu. My crab brûlée starter, topped with smoked Gubeen, is not good. There is little attention to detail, it is way too runny and lacks anything crab-like in the taste department. The chicken liver pâté is an improvement, but only marginally — taste-wise and presentation-wise it’s right on the money. But unfortunately, it hasn’t set properly, ending up with an almost whipped cream texture.

My main course of cider-cured pan-roasted pork chop could not be more different. It is bursting with whopping great bolshie flavours, encrusted with finger-licking pan juices, festooned with delicious accompaniments like parsnip/scallion mash, velvety carrot purée, a creamy leek sauce and a chunky wedge of braised hispi cabbage — a complete gem of a dish.

Although delicious, the pan-fried hake isn’t quite up there. The herb-roasted Ratte potatoes do not appear to be roasted, and while the fish is fresh, tasty and cooked properly, it’s more than a little on the skimpy side. The roasted golden beetroots and the sauce vierge, however, are especially pleasing.

The desserts are things of simple beauty. An American-inspired Brookie and chocolate ice cream sundae drizzled with salted caramel popcorn is wickedly rich and totally devourable.

Ditto with the luscious Bushby’s strawberry glory filled with mini meringues, custard, cream and scoops of vanilla ice cream. There is no skimping here, which is great since we all know you can never get too much of desserts like these.

Our Castle Café dinner experience might best be described as capably efficient, frequently delicious with the occasional failure. Service (even though our meal was at the tail-end of a mad busy day) was its customary charming best.

Would I call back again? Yes, definitely — not least because we have previously enjoyed so many brunches, lunches and lazy afternoons there. Aside from this less than memorable dining experience, few places have given so much pleasure.

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