What’s not to like about Sensei Cafe?

Grub Spy Alan Kelly dishes the goods on Ireland’s tastiest dining destinations
Some of the delicious sushi

Some of the delicious sushi

Outside the cafe

Outside the cafe

One of the platters

One of the platters

It’s 16.5 degrees! That’s sixteen and a half degrees and the sun is still belting down. It has got to be one of the warmest November weekends ever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I love it. But it does feel kinda weird.

Anyway, we’re happily sitting outside the recently established Sensei Café, a Filipino run bakery, coffee shop and sushi outlet on Dyke Parade in Cork. Regardless of lockdowns and restrictions it’s been fantastically successful with collection & delivery, and now with outside seating. I’ve been banging on about the place to anyone who’ll care to listen ever since our visit. Culinary boundaries are not being pushed here nor are there any cosmic gastronomic experiments taking place.

SENSEI CAFE 1 Mardyke St, Mardyke, Cork Five Star Food: €42.10; Soft drinks: €3.60

But if you’re looking for an interesting and relaxing dining experience this is the place for you.

A full enticing range of sushi is made to order in the tiniest little prep area imaginable. What they manage to turn out is devilishly well constructed, looks fantastic, and best of all it is screamingly gloriously fresh. Prices are also so light on the wallet, it is extremely easy to let these little platters of delight mount up.

For example we devour a sushi mix platter, some scrumptious octopus and salmon maki and vegetarian uramaki. Served with the obligatory pickled pink ginger, a splash of rich soy, a dollop of super-fiery wasabi, and topped off with pickled seaweed, the uramaki in particular is intensely flavoured and so well worth checking out.

I know very little about food in the Philippines. But if their desserts are anything to go by, it must be special indeed. We try some delicious Ensaymada, a sweet feather-light brioche-like bun topped with thick cream and grated cheese – and Halo Halo, a refreshingly chilled dessert made with crushed ice, condensed milk and sweet red mongo beans – exactly what is required on a weirdly warm November afternoon.

Our favourite offering is a multi-layered Matcha Mille Crêpe Cake made with cream plus a strong green tea element and taste. It looks stunning and tastes gorgeous. We have it as a takeaway (too full already) and enjoy it later with wine and some more wine.

Sensei is what I would call a triumphant enterprise. And although essentially just a café, everything about it shines – and not just the food. The service is exemplary and genuinely friendly.

Our visit doesn’t start out well though: we are sitting next to a couple who hate sushi and don’t mind who hears them say it. I mean, who doesn’t like sushi? Gobshites and morons, that’s who. And I almost tell them so – until I remember I hate oysters. And who doesn’t like oysters, I hear you say. The point of that little story is, I am often asked about my favourite restaurant: where is it and what’s so special about it? I think people expect me to describe some fancy-Dan Michelin Star gaff.

Everybody’s taste is different, and what everybody looks forward to is different. And while I do admire and love a bit of posh now and again, its places like Sensei that are always closest to my heart.

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