Go Fork Yourself: Market Lane, Oliver Plunkett St. Cork
Pros:So much to choose from; beautiful hearty food; great service.
Cons:This review is tainted by a horrific hangover.
This review comes from a hungover place, but really a clear head and empty stomach is the respectful preparation this Cork-city gem deserves.
In every review I write, I resist comparing restaurants to New York-style eateries, but Market Lane has a handsome dark wood bar to nestle at while waiting on a table (sipping on sparkling water on this occasion), and both floors are decorated in a way that comes across as casual and contemporary, bright and rich, its style seemingly effortless, but at the same time clearly thought through to make diners feel at ease. It’s all a bit Nora Ephron. On this, a Saturday before Christmas, there was near bedlam, both levels were heaving with hungry shoppers escaping from rain outside, and there couldn’t have been a better escape from everything.
All said, Market Lane could have barefoot children serving the food on cow pats and it would still be a draw because its aim is to use produce from the English Market, that wonderful haven, not of foodies, but of honest, decent eaters just a short walk away on Grand Parade. There is probably a sub-set of the populace that does their weekly shop in the English Market; the rest of us can only wish, and Market Lane offers us a quick route to see the great raw materials come to life on a plate.
The menu is full of possibilities, treatments of a variety of fish, slow-cooked meats and considered vegetarian dishes. Unable to process too much, I followed the steady advice of one of my other drink-dispelling companions and went for the game pie. We were kept waiting for what seemed to be forever, but then sitting upright, talking and being patient are not hungover calling-cards and really a mere 15 minutes later we had bubbling, generously sized gratin dishes in front of us.
The potato top approach was a bubble shaped one, and herein should be included as the proper way to top a game pie in the miscellany of meat and mash dishes. Said game was pheasant, boar and venison. It consisted of melting meat in an unctuous sauce, topped with mash, slightly grattinated from some minutes under the grill. Nestled on top were some green beans and a perfect foil in the shape of an almost saukraut-style pickled cabbage.
The meat elements are not distinguishable from each other. That may not sound attractive, but the components are blurred beneath the mash so there is no new-nosh experience in having to get to know each of distinct flavour. But if you want to eat food that pre-dates every fusion fad intolerance (culinaryly speaking, not in terms of expiration) then tuck into this, enjoy and know what is meant by ‘gamey’. It hardly seems necessary to mention, it’s so obvious, but we also got chips. They were salty.
Sitting diagonally to me and having chosen wisely was a mate happily munching on properly crunchy, fleshy and moreish fish and chips. Opposite me, our fourth person got a chicken sandwich. A chicken sandwich. All good, and fine. Probably more than fine. But look at the menu here and tell me you’d choose the chicken sandwich when confronted with the options. Staff were on hand, importantly with sparking water to keep us conscious, but also importantly for everyone they were pleasant, attentive and good-looking. The lovely staff could have served us something sweet, but hungover people do not care for sugar.