The Farmgate Café. A Market Star

The Farmgate Café
A Market Star
I was in the Farmgate Café in the English Market for lunch on Saturday, found the whole experience fabulous, and was thinking of a few lines for this blog post. And then, on Twitter on Sunday, I find Mr Gill of the Sunday Times had been in, dishing out stars by the constellation. Pity he couldn't have waited another week!

The twenty year old Cork classic, on the mezzanine above the market, is a magnet for tourists and there were quite a few there on Saturday. But it is also very much appreciated by locals as well and rightly so.

It may be too easy to say that the tourists come for the local dishes. But, in truth, it is all local. Some of suppliers (oysters, the traditional tripe and drisheen, Cork’s own spiced beef) are just downstairs while many others are found within the county bounds. Local, fresh and fair!

The fair refers to the price. I got a fantastic cod dish on Saturday, priced in the mid teens. It would cost up to ten euro more in the city by night and, in a Paris bistro a week earlier, an over-cooked version (though with a gorgeous “piperade” sauce) cost €19.80.

Local. And loyal too. Quite a few suppliers have been with the Farmgate since it was set up in 1994* by Kay Harte (who still puts in a shift here, though nowadays you are more likely to see daughter Rebecca working the mezzanine, all the while keeping an eye on both the dining room and the balcony). And the loyalty is not just between restaurateur and suppliers but also between the Hartes and their customers.
Lucky customers indeed, enjoying top class produce, handled and cooked well and presented well by a friendly and efficient staff. And always that buzz. A little bit different here though as much of the sound is coming from the multi-cultural market stalls downstairs.

Our Saturday call was on the spur of the moment  and we did have to wait a few minutes for a table. That few minutes was put to good use, studying the menu. My starter was the Chowder. This was the real thing: fish galore with a few crunchy slices of veg and greens mixed in. One of the best I’ve had.

CL picked the Market Charcuterie Plate, also available as a main dish. The starter portion though was large with spiced beef and salami prominent and even more prominent was a large slice of country terrine (pork, black-pudding, bacon, chickpea ….) and all served with a spot-on matching chutney.

Before I go any further, I just have to say that the breads were delicious. They always are. So much so that you have to discipline yourself. Some lovely craft beers and ciders are also available and a small selection of European wines. My glass though was filled with a terrific Wild Elderflower drink from the Connolly family in County Laois.

And then it was on to the main course. They have various dishes of the day - catch, tart and meat - and sometimes more than one in each category. Some tempting offers on Saturday but we both went for the Cod, served with a caper and sun-dried tomato butter. Five out of five for everything here (by the way, I have yet to see the AA Gill review!), the produce, the cooking, the presentation.
The main dish included a superb stack of gratin potato and the root vegetables in the side dish, carrot and parsnip, with outstanding colour and texture, were a temptation in  themselves. The cod may well have been a good-looking dish but that didn't save it from the usual fate at the Farmgate, meaning not a scrap was left.

Not a scrap of room either for dessert but time and inclination for a cup of excellent coffee and a relaxing few minutes before heading downstairs to On the Pig’s Back  to buy some St Tola for the evening’s Goat’s Cheese and Beetroot Salad from Karen Austin’s recipe in her recently published Lettercollum Cookbook. All local, fresh and fair. All top class.

The Farmgate in Midleton, the big sister restaurant, was founded by Kay’s sister Margot in 1984.

The Farmgate Cafe, English Market, Cork.
021) 427 8134
Open: 9.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Sundays.