Cafe Paradiso, eat your veggies (and drink your wine)
Do you know what my favourite thing about my press trip to Ireland was? It wasn’t the fantastic food, the amazing people (both my travelling companions and the Irish we met), the unbelievable sunny days and beautiful scenery or the fact I got to pick all the wines with most of our dinners (although those were all great!). It was the fact that we also had activities! From swimming to lounging around in a jacuzzi to kayaking down the River Lee in Cork, it was such a refreshing change from: get on the bus, get off the bus, eat, drink, repeat. I know, I may be sounding a bit churlish but anybody who’s ever been on a press trip will know what I’m talking about. We also had free time (!) and no 7am starts. A big thanks to Tourism Ireland and Eat Like A Girl for planning such a great trip. Take note, trip planners.
After all that kayaking, I was ready to continue on with our discovery of Irish cuisine. I wanted to bite into something meaty and hearty. A vegetarian restaurant? My heart sank like a stone to the bottom of the well that was my despair as soon as I discovered we were going to a meatless restaurant. Vegetarian? Ugh, how depressing. I was plotting a room service hamburger upon our return to the hotel before we even arrived at Cafe Paradiso.
A small, modern, clutter-free dining room greeted us and as we sat down to order, I got a bit of the cafe history. Cafe Paradiso wasn’t the first vegetarian restaurant in Cork, but it was the first to take vegetarian cooking out of the lentils and rice brigade and serve original and delicious vegetable based cuisine. The Cafe has won much acclaim for it’s modern approach to vegetarian cooking and they source all of their produce locally, mostly from the Gort-Na-Nain Farm, south of the city. They are so committed to using only locally sourced produce that they create their menus based on what is available from the farm. I wasn’t that excited about ordering so when someone suggested we order one of everything on the menu, (it’s short, only about 6 of each starters and mains and there were 7 of us), I didn’t put up much protest.
I was in charge of picking the wines, so I got to work. A carefully chosen wine list with plenty of smaller European organic and biodynamic producers as well as a smattering of New World wines on offer. The list was also reasonably priced. I chose a 2006 Brett Brothers Pouilly-Fuisse and a 2008 wine from the Toro region of Spain. I thought, I may have to eat my vegetables but at least I can enjoy the wine.
Brett Brothers are one of my favourite Burgundy producers. 2 brothers as the label says, they produce beautiful, mineral wines and the Climat En Carementrant was a hit around the table. I like the fuller whites that this part of Burgundy produces. The red wine I chose for the mains was the 2008 Dehesa Gago from the Toro D.O.C., Spain. A 100% tinto de toro (or tempranillo as it’s known in other parts of Spain) medium bodied, black cherries and ripe red fruits on the nose, a savoury wine, zipping around my palate which went very well with our mains. A definite crowd pleaser.
Oh yeah, the food. Well, I was in for a massive surprise. The food was fantastic! Mine and everyone else’s favourite dish was the feta wrapped in roast eggplant. It was divine,the combination of feta,eggplant and spinach a match made in heaven. Other favourite dishes included risotto of roast beet root, braised cabbage timbale and sweet chili glazed pan fried tofu (yes, tofu!). Have a look at their menu here .
If only all vegetarian restaurants were like this, I might become a vegetarian again. Fabulously prepared dishes, delicious combinations of flavours, I didn’t miss meat at all. And, don’t forget the wines. We might have been in Ireland but wine lovers are not left out and it’s not difficult to find excellent wine selections in finer establishments. What I did find surprising was the relatively low mark up on wines. While wine might be much more expensive in the shops, I found the restaurant wine lists reasonably priced.
What a meal! I was satisfyingly sated, so much so that I didn’t even give a thought to ordering a burger when I got back to the hotel.