We are sitting at a table at Café Paradiso. My travel companion and I've just come from the organic farm in Novohal where most of the restaurant's vegetables are born. Traipsing around the farm with farmers Ultan and Lucy, we tasted peas from the pod, poked plump, white eggplants, and nibbled on sweet lemon basil. I am eager to taste how the chefs at Café Paradiso cook up these ingredients in creative ways.
The setting is a whole sensory experience, from the candlelight dancing in blue abalone shells on our table to the fresh flowers in the bathroom. The staff is casually dressed and attentive. The mood is pleasant, inviting us to sit back, relax, and let the food take center stage.
The starters arrive, and we go gaga over them. My tartlet of caramelized red onion, pine nuts and Bluebell Falls fresh goat's cheese with watercress pesto and olive-crushed potato melts in my mouth. The deep red-colored onions are very sweet and tender; the tiny pine nuts a nice textural contrast. The pastry is perfect. The watercress pesto is unusual and goes well with the potato. My travel companion's rice paper parcels of Asian greens and herbs with a chili, lime and coconut dip and spiced cashews (13 euro) are unadorned and refreshing. The mint and satchels of tender, green goodness are a like a fresh garden in my mouth. We both agree that getting as close to the source, especially if the source is fresh and flavorful, elicits the most delicious results. And this dish tastes like it was just picked from the garden.
But I also like complexity, and our entrees are full of intense, sublime flavors. I have the roasted Rosa Bianca aubergine with peperonata, kale and pine nut filling, crisp smoked polenta, chive gnocchi and a basil and goats cheese cream (25 euro). I'm curious about the aubergine I saw growing in the garden. Aubergine was originally grown in the U.S. for decorative purposes only. I've not tasted white aubergine (thus the name "eggplant", as we call it in the U.S), but I do love the dark purple variety. The aubergine has a very sensual texture, contrasting nicely with the red skin of the peperonata, all layered on a bed of polenta. The decadent goats cheese sauce with sweet lemon basil is amazing, and the gooey gnocchi melt in my mouth. My travel companion has the risotto of watercress and fresh peas with Oisin cheese, lemon thyme oil and balsamic roasted baby beetroot with sugar snaps (24 euro). The Oisin cheese's savory flavor and shredded consistency is a perfect contrast to the risotto. The fresh peas pop and release their sweet flavor in the creamy sauce. The beets are roasted and sweet with a magnificent, deep color. The whole dish is formed of wondrous swirls of color, like the tide pools we've seen along the Cork coast.
My belly full of such goodness -- I feel like I'm on cloud nine. My travel partner leans back and twirls his mustache in contentment.
We don't have room left, but we'd like to taste dessert. The chocolate and olive oil mousse cake with pistachio praline and raspberry sorbet (9 euro) is irresistible. The mousse is light and fantastic, topped with a candied, pistachio crust, with a few fresh raspberries scattered on the side. The color palette delights my eye - browns and fuchsia and greens. The sorbet is a cloud of fresh raspberry cream. The praline is paper-thin chocolate, encrusted with raw pralines; it melts fast on the plate. "This thing is gone," my travel partner declares, and eats the last bit. The texture and flavors are superb. This is the dessert I will dream about for days to come.
Now all we need is a chaise lounge, where I can sit back and stroke my travel companion's hair while sipping some fine liquor. Café Paradiso has thought of everything; they opened a new B&B upstairs with three double rooms, for those wanting to enjoy the lingering effects of the food, rather than drive home. Each room has a distinct color theme and mood, with a luxury shower, a mini bar, and deliberately no television, to keep the mind as fresh as the body.
Café Paradiso does not accept American Express, which frustrated the two tables next to us. So come prepared with cash or other major credit cards and let your appetite run wild. Highly recommended.
Open Tuesday - Saturday, Lunch 12:00-3:00, Dinner 6:30-10:30PM. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Price of Main Meal
Roasted Rosa Bianca aubergine with peperonata, kale and pine nut filling, crisp smoked polenta, chive gnocchi and a basil and goats cheese cream (25 euro)
Price of Bottle of House Wine
Musaragno Cabernet Franc 2005 Vento (36 euro)
16 Lancaster Quay
Tel: +353 (0)21 4277939
Please phone to reserve a table - they do not accept bookings via email.
How to get there
From Cork City centre, go on Washington Street/Western Road towards University College Cork. Café Paradiso is located on the right side between Reidy's Wine Vault and The Thirsty Scholar. It is about a ten minute walk from the city centre.
From Limerick, take the N20 to Cork City.
From Skibbereen, take the N71 to Cork City.
See www.buseireann.ie website for all current travel details and restrictions.