Wine bars are something of a little pet fear of mine. Just a tiny one. I see them, look at their menus, might be very interested in what they’re actually serving but ultimately hesitate to step through the door if I do actually decide I want to go in. The reason behind this is, of course, that I still amn’t the world’s biggest fan of wine. When I do order it, Rebecca tends to come home with me on the wrong side of tipsy (she’s very much dedicated to the cause!). As such, plenty of questions dog me as I think about having food in a wine bar: will I have to drink any; will I be frowned upon if I don’t? And given I’d probably intend to write about what I’m eating, is there as much of a point in doing so if I’m missing out on a large part of the philosophy at hand: flavour pairing what is cooked with carefully selected wines?
When I do decide to eat in one, I normally end up ordering a single glass either in hope that I have some kind of epiphany and walk out a born again wine lover, or simply to just feel like I belong. Then of course I have to drink something I don’t necessarily like, and it all goes downhill from there. Thankfully, I amn’t put in that kind of position very often unless I do it to myself. Invites will happen though and, as you might have guessed, last weekend was one such instance. The location: Ashbourne; the company: my two good friends Áine and Jess, plus Rebecca. The restaurant: Corks Café and Wine Bar.
A good half a year ago, Áine gushed to me about the fantastic cheese and wine she and our mutual friend Katrina had been served in Corks, which was subsequently pointed out to me on a walk during the summer. The ‘wine bar’ affixed to the end of its name, combined with the fact that I hadn’t started writing about food was immediately enough to make me forget about it. Roll on the best part of a year and we had a choice between Corks, two unnamed Indians and a Chinese. There was only going to be one winner, even if I was ever so slightly apprehensive. I mean who could blame me? My last hesitant wine bar expedition had ended with me looking at the menu not knowing how the food should be ordered, if ordered at all! At the end of the day I got away with some miniature crostinis and a bowl of very al dente pasta, but it never at any stage felt like I knew how things were meant work, or that the staff knew that it was food I was after.
Of course, that was then and this was now. Thankfully, Corks put us in the hands of David and Lisa Sheir who have gone to great lengths in crafting a restaurant that appeals to all castes. It hits much closer to home, barely suggesting (at least to me anyway) it had anything to do with wine beyond its title! Yes, the walls behind the bar counter were lined to the ceiling with bottles of red, white and everything in-between, but never did I get the feeling that our lack of corkage was being scrutinised. Rather, the whole restaurant oozes a very relaxed and casual atmosphere, with the emphasis definitely leaning more in the direction of local chef John Moore’s food once you get in and sit down. A quick glance at the menu will reaffirm this; it’s chock full of various options and extremely well balanced to cater for different meals and wine pairing without straying too far from your traditional menu setup. To summarise the whole thing’d require a dedicated paragraph in itself, so instead let me take a moment to sound like a Corks representative and say that you’re covered for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a great range of salads available, two good value set price deals (ten euro for lunch, twenty-five for dinner) and a couple of kids menus to boot. Phew! The restaurant’s website describes the food as European, but there was definitely more of a world feel to it with quesadillas, an oriental stir fry and nachos all jumping out at you. On paper, it hits both the foodie and wine lover mark with options aplenty regardless of what you’re getting.
Áine, Rebecca and myself all went for the twenty-five euro set menu option with two quesadillas and one soup for the starters, bangers and mash for myself and Áine whilst Rebecca chose the pot pie of the day in mains country.
Jess stuck with the soup on its own, which it has to be said was a good choice since it ended up being the overall star of the show; creamy, just right in thickness and full of all the flavours – tomato, apple and goats cheese – described. All too often soup can end up being a bit of a disappointment where what you get is a thin, watery liquid instead of the thick and wholesome broth you were expecting. They didn’t hold back with the serving either with a massive bowl and two hunks of soda bread on the side!
My and Rebecca’s quesadillas in the meantime were a little plain, the individual ingredients tasting fine but the overall combination lacking much bang. In keeping with the large portion trend, the mains didn’t let up: Lincolnshire sausage and mash with onion gravy challenges you to eat three whole spicy bangers, yet alone the potato underneath.
They came presented simply as described with a handful of rocket on top. If I had one criticism, it’d be that a little more gravy wouldn’t go amiss but beyond that it was a perfectly wholesome dish. The sausages in particular got Rebecca’s approval, who isn’t quite from Lincolnshire but it was about the closest we could manage on the night! On her side of the table it was a lamb and mint pot pie, served with vegetables and a parsley butter.
Desserts featured the usual cheesecake and apple pie for Rebecca and Áine, both of which were delicious. I chose the fruit plate fondue, which was a selection of diced strawberries, apple and grapes with a sumptuous dark chocolate dip.
The proportion of apple to everything else may have been a little off, but it was a simple and pleasant dessert that would’ve been perfect for sharing if I wasn’t so greedy! A free house wine or beer to accompany the food and easygoing service rounded off an altogether enjoyable meal.
(Thereafter the food kept on flowing into the night, with tasty fruit crumbles at a party we spontaneously ended up in and Áine’s rich, delicious cheesecake in the wee hours afterwards!)
It’s easy to see why this little restaurant is popular with the Ashbourne locals and, for the soup alone, I’d definitely return. As for the wine lovers amongst you, I’m sorry I couldn’t cover more of that side of things! But given the smart and thoughtful menu, it’d be pretty safe to say that as much care has gone into the wine list. If that doesn’t grab your attention, then Corks also offers a subscription wine club that details offers, wine tasting evenings and even the chance to win a monthly competition. At the end of the day, Corks did a lot to dispel my fears about wine bars and what’ll happen to me if I eat in them. I don’t think I’ll ever look at one with complete confidence, but certainly a good bit more after being shown that you can get through a meal that they serve to you without feeling any pressure to order a bottle of the vino.
Corks Café and Wine Bar
1 Hunter’s Court,