- Food & Drink
Last Friday (day 40) was Exam Day. This caused a lot of fear and perspiration among the students in the 4 weeks before, when the rumours of mid-term exams began to circulate. At first, there was only the suspicion of exams. Then, after a few bold students approached the office, came the confirmation of exams. But what kind? The rumour mill ground out tales of 30 salad leaves to be recognised and recipes that had to be cooked from memory.
2 weeks before the exams, the lists went up: a herb and salad leaf recognition test (10 of each to recognise) and a technique exam that covered 30+ techniques. We’d have to lay a table, pour a glass of wine, make a paper piping bag and chop and sweat an onion plus 2 other techniques.
In the week before the exams, I rediscovered cramming – and it’s not easy to last-minute cram jointing a chicken – as well as the benefits of tonelessly repeating information over and over until it gets inside my head and stays there.
I was leaping with nerves on the day and managed to only foul up a few tiny things: I mistook the very woody tarragon for savoury; laid the table 3 inches from the counter edge rather than the requisite 1 inch; and, to no one’s surprise, I poured far too much wine into the glass.
In the technique room I was given peeling and dicing vegetables and making shortcrust pastry and lining a tin as my extra techniques. Happy days! I’d developed a morbid fear of slicing and sautéing mushrooms and would probably have cried if I’d had to make caramel. So far I’ve only been able to make burnt caramel sauce, which I’m assured is a real thing but I’ve a feeling it’s more of a cover-up than an achievement.
An easy ride and a lot of relief later, I met up with friends and we decided to sneak off to Cork for genteel celebration, while the majority of the school was at The Blackbird licking sambuca cocktails off the bar counter.
A 1/2 pint Beamish in a pub was followed by a nice glass of Shiraz at Meade’s Wine Bar and took us to 10.15pm, when we began to think about dinner. We didn’t want to miss service. T and C had seen An Crúibín the weekend before. A pub with a determinedly simple black and white frontage, it serves tapas downstairs, has a restaurant upstairs and a music venue next door.
We got there at about 10.35pm and wandered around upstairs trying to find out if we could still eat in the restaurant, The Silk Purse. There were still a few people sat in the sub-Camden gothic dining room and menus on the tables, so we were optimistic. But at 10.40pm the chef came in and said: “Lads, lads, you’re too late for dinner. We stop serving at 10.30pm and we’re the latest place serving in Cork.”
We looked sad.
“If you go back out there now, it’ll be a burger or nothing for you.”
We looked sadder.
“But you sound like you’re from out of town, so I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll put a plate of a things together for you. It’ll be better than you wandering around trying to find a kebab. Will that do you?”
We were ecstatic. 3 more glasses of Shiraz and a Club Lemon for the designated driver were followed by a plate of good bread with a chewy, sugar and salt crust, a bowl of olives mixed with almonds and seeds and a cheeseboard.
The cheeseboard was our joy. Slices of Manchego with cubes and slithery, sweet membrillo, bites of fresh, delicate goat’s cheese from Bluebell Falls; blue cheese so eye-meltingly strong it had to be Cashel Blue; and an unidentified hard cheese that was typical of many of the farmhouse cheese I’ve been trying, but no one could tell us what it was.
Happy with our food, we looked up in surprise when the chef reappeared with a plate of chickpea and chorizo stew each. Warmly spiced and just tender to the teeth, it was delicious and a complete surprise – we’d assumed our chances of hot food were nil, given that the kitchen was officially closed.
We sat there for an hour. No one pressured us to get a move on or order more wine. They left us to our own devices, only popping their heads in to make sure we were OK. The bill came to €83, with €25 of that being drink, and no automatic service charge added. It was a perfect meal, grasped from the jaws of disappointment and our own meandering foolishness and shared in high spirits and a warm glow supplied by the hospitality of a good restaurateur.