Isaac's in MacCurtain St, Cork, is in the opinion of many the best restaurant in Ireland. This is ironic, as it started out as a restaurant attached to a student hostel, intended to give tourists on a budget a decent meal for not very much money, and as a training kitchen for the chefs of a far, far grander restaurant, the Arbutus.
Here we arrive and — in Cork, Jaywalking Capital of the World! — wait for the light to change to cross the street to Isaac's.
To start with, we ordered what we always order at Isaac's, a plate of tapas between us, but I didn't get the idea to share this meal with you until we scoffed it all, so I didn't photograph the tapas. Or the bread, baked on the premises, for which Isaac's is famous. Bread and tapas were super, both visually and on the tastebuds. This is the main course arrived. The Cotes de Rhone is a syrah grenache, very smooth and agreeable. I'm partial to a fortified wine made from grenache, Mas Amiel maury, so this wine echoed pleasantly, over and above its own decided virtues.
A closer look at my prawns in a garlic and chili tomato sauce with spring onions and lemon. No way to eat such a dish elegantly, of course, but I can afford a new shirt and jacket, and in Isaac's they provide a finger bowl without having to be asked.
The sea bass looked good too. The cooked vegetables were buttered parsnip, leek apparently cooked in a little oil with some peas, and creamy mashed potatoes.
Saying Grace, not because we're so religious, but because it is the name of the waitress. The third meal was steak with garlic butter and rustic potatoes.
The prawns were to be served with rice but I don't eat rice, so they offered me a choice between the cooked vegetables and fresh salad. Reflections of a healthy salad and a French wine in a stainless steel water jug. It could be the title of an essay by Montaigne.
The locusts have passed. See, I was as good boy, I ate all my salad!
My dessert was Tunisian orange cake with a whole fresh plum cooked in a lightly sweetened sauce with a clove. The recipe has been adapted to Western predilections by removing some of the sugar from it; when I ate this dessert in North Africa the plum was in a thick, sugary syrup.
A superb dessert to round off a super meal. But then, in over thirty years since it first opened, I have never had a bad meal at Isaac's. There are very few restaurants in the world about which that can be said.
All text and illustration Copyright © Andre Jute