Exploring the food capital of Ireland
Farmgate closes at 5 pm, but English Market produce is also on the dinner menu at Market Lane, a few blocks to the east. Lively, informal and crammed with locals, this restaurant operates a walk-in policy (reservations only taken for parties of six or more), but waiting for a table is a pleasure. Order a Cork Dry Gin and tonic (distilled in the city since 1793 and possessing a distinctive citrusy nose) or a bottle of locally brewed Angel Stout, and strike up a conversation at the convivial bar. When it is time to take a seat, choose from a menu of honest Irish cuisine such as smoked haddock with bacon and cabbage potato cakes, or ham hock with cauliflower cheese.
Cork's restaurant scene is not all surf and turf though; the city's Cafe Paradiso is one of Ireland's top restaurants and is 100% vegetarian – something of a rarity in Ireland. Chef Denis Cotter was ahead of the curve when he opened this place back in 1993; since then, the rest of Ireland has caught up with his dedication to top quality, locally-sourced produce. Most of the vegetables on the menu come from a farm just 16km outside Cork, and are lovingly incorporated into dishes such as parsnip ravioli with roast portobello mushroom and ginger butter, and salsify and shallot risotto with braised fennel and sheep's milk cheese.
Cork's independent turn of mind extends to its choice of drink. Dubliners love their Guinness, but when it comes to stout, Corkonians prefer Murphy's or Beamish, both brewed in the city since 1792 and 1856 respectively (though both brands are now owned by Heineken).
The takeover of beloved Cork brands by multinational megabrewers has seen the emergence of local craft breweries, such as the Franciscan Well, which has a cracking pub and beer garden a short walk northwest of the city centre; order a pint of their mellow, toasty Shandon Stout and Guinness will never taste as good again. Newer microbrewing ventures include Cork's Elbow Lane Brewhouse, an offshoot of the Market Lane restaurant that opened in 2012 (try their refreshingly light and hoppy Elbow Lager); and Eight Degrees Brewing at Mitchelstown in north County Cork, which launched in 2011 and is famed for its dark and chocolatey Knockmealdown Porter. There is also Stonewell Cider founded at nearby Kinsale in 2010, which produces a delightfully dry craft apple cider with no added sugar.
If Cork is the food capital of Ireland, the pretty yachting and fishing harbour of Kinsale is its seafood capital. Just 28km south of Cork, Kinsale's cute cobbled streets are lined with art galleries, craft shops, artisan bakeries and cafes, and a small square that hosts a weekly farmers market (10 am to 2:30 pm Wednesday, except January).
There are a dozen or so seafood restaurants here, of which Fishy Fishy Café is the undisputed king. Again the emphasis is on local produce – much of the restaurant's fish is landed at the jetty just along the road. Typical dishes include local oysters, pan-roasted cod, and seared scallops with Clonakilty black pudding and parsnip puree.