Last week was my mum’s birthday and to celebrate we hopped on the train to Cork to see what the Rebel County’s eponymous city had to offer. Here’s how it went…..
Where we Stayed: The Imperial Hotel
The Imperial Hotel‘s trump card is definitely its location and if you are tight on time it is always a good idea to make proximity to the city centre a priority. 24 hours is too short to waste valuable minutes waiting for cabs or buses and there is no need for any of that with this hotel located on Cork’s South Mall, right in the heart of the action.
This historic hotel has a stunning Parisian style café, a comfortable bar with a dedicated afternoon tea, cocktail and food menus, and a beautiful foyer to welcome you in from the cold. The rooms apparently vary considerably due to ongoing renovations, but even a small and yet to be revamped twin room was warm and comfortable, with Orla Kiely cosmetics, a Nespresso machine and complimentary mineral water and newspapers.
For us breakfast was included, if it isn’t I would give it a miss. Unless carvery bacon and eggs is your particular food fetish there are far better options close by. But if you can snag a room at The Imperial for a good price, it is the perfect spot for some city centre shopping and exploring.
Where we Ate: Electric Bar, Market Lane & Perry St Market Café
In 24 hours we squeezed in two lunches and a dinner and all dining experiences were positive. First off, lunch in the bar of the quirky Electric came with a river view and some very pretty crockery. What can I say, aesthetics impress me. The coffee may not taste any different from a beautiful mug but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it more. We didn’t really give the menu a fair test, as we were just in the market for a quick sandwich after a train journey, but it was quick, tasty and fairly priced. An advert for craft beer afternoon tea also caught my eye and it might warrant a return visit with my husband – an anti-hipster, who always wears socks that keep his ankles warm, but who does appreciate a good IPA.
For dinner I finally got to visit Market Lane….. third time lucky as its popularity comes generally with a long wait for a table (they don’t take reservations). But lessons were learnt from my last disappointment and we went just before the real rush, were seated immediately (pause for happy dance) and agreed that it was fully worth the hype. We enjoyed two good quality fillet steaks – one with a Cafe de Paris butter (remember when we just called it garlic butter – how provincial!!!!) and one with a moreish Bearnaise (I may have dipped my finger in and licked the last of this… oops!) – both with hand-cut chips and mushrooms. It was delicious, proving how hard it is to beat good quality Irish beef cooked to perfection. For dessert we shared a “strawberry glory with crushed meringue, custard, and vanilla ice cream” – yes, that is Eton Mess to you and I – and a mini chocolate cup, which was an espresso cup of dark, bittersweet chocolate mousse. This was so rich we needed to use the vanilla ice-cream from the other dessert to cut through it, but it was real quality. Market Lane is a great spot with a vibrant city centre vibe, excellent service, fair prices and delicious food. If you only have 24 hours in Cork, try to fit a meal in here.
Finally we had a next day lunch at Perry Street Market Cafe and a week later I still find the fluffy white bread with perfectly crunchy crust popping into my food dreams. Yes I have foodie daydreams! Well a girl has to while away the hours somehow, and where some dream of Manolos or Jimmy Choos, I conjure up images of the perfect slice of fresh white batch loaf. So yes, I was impressed. A sandwich and rustic potatoes is hard to get wrong, but easy to make simply mediocre. This was nothing of the sort – fresh ingredients, well-seasoned and served with style. The cafe itself is fab too with an abundance of greenery and a real buzz. If I were to have any quibble it was that the service was a little slow and it seemed a few extra staff would not be left idly polishing spoons, but I was on my holiday, so I didn’t really mind the wait.
So three good strikes on the food – all enjoyed, all recommended.
Where we Drank: Cask, Sin É and Mutton Lane
You are in an Irish city so you can take your pick really but I have a couple of great finds to share for those with a penchant for a little tipple.
Firstly, I would recommend splashing out on a cocktail at Cask. Think funky design, beautiful vintage glassware, excellent mixologists who are happy to put on a show and a unique, seasonal cocktail menu. It is not a cheap pick-me-up, even if you opt for the libation with a Buckfast base, but it is very much worth a trip to the far side of the river to check this place out. Imagine a little Manhattan style mingled with a little Cork personality and you will get an inkling of the atmosphere of Cask.
Having got our fix of urban chic we sought out a completely different vibe in neighbouring Sin É. Here we are talking pints of Murphys and acoustic music sessions in a dark pub that you imagine has changed little in years. It is busy every night, there is always some sort of session on the go and it has exactly what Irish pub franchises try so hard to manufacture all over the world. You can sing along, talk to a stranger or dance with a barman and no-one will really take any notice. Drinks are flowing and the “gift of the gab” is making strangers into friends, all to the accompaniment of Tom Waits, Prince and Paul Brady. Really, what is not to like?
Finally, we sought out Mutton Lane, Cork’s oldest pub (possibly). Hidden down a little alleyway close to the English Market, you just know if the walls could talk they would tell some epic stories of Cork through the ages. But the walls don’t talk, the music doesn’t dominate and the adjectives that spring to mind are intimate and cosy. Where once this would have been a market traders’ bar, it is now the perfect place to bring a date, relax with the paper or quietly catch up with some friends. If you are a fan of a candle lit, softly bustling traditional watering hole then this is the pub for you.
What we Did: Window-shopping, The Crawford Gallery & Cork Gaol
Ok mostly we ate and drank but we did do some more “touristy” stuff too….
Mum and daughter trip, city centre location, January sales…. clearly some shopping was on the cards. And shopping is easy in Cork, as the city centre is quite small and extremely walkable. Patrick St and the roads off it in the direction of Paul St. have all the big high street stores – River Island, H&M, New Look, Gap, etc. The Paul St. area itself has some wonderful little boutiques and lifestyle shops and the pedestrian Oliver Plunkett St is always busy with people happy to part with some cash. Something I like about Cork is the way big multinationals and the independent retailers exist side by side, a trait far too many urban centres have lost. For example, we bought some vinyl from the charming John Coffey in Uneeda where the till is older than I am, before perusing the skincare products of neighbouring L’Occitane and trying on sneakers in Elverys. This eclectic mix is evident in other areas too with Starbucks and Topshop located in close proximity to the family run, whimsical toy shop Pinocchio’s and the fashion focused Paper Dolls. And if all of that isn’t enough you can tip in to The English Market for some tripe and drisheen to take home to the family.
Now I am not really an art aficionado, or even an enthusiast but I do like the peaceful vibe of a nice gallery. And right in the heart of Cork the Crawford offers a lovely escape from the busy streets around it. It houses both temporary and permanent visual art exhibits that include sculpture, painting and photography. And if stained glass is your thing, there is also some Harry Clarke designs on permanent display.
I really don’t want to oversell this one, but I LOVED it. I acknowledge that my macabre fascination with prisons and the life inside their walls may not be universally shared but even so I think most people would see the Gaol as being worth the uphill stroll out of town. As a historical attraction, it is steeped more in the personal story rather than the cold, hard facts and yet it still captures the cruel history of the penal building clearly and objectively. Despite the horrific conditions of the cells that lurk behind the thick stone walls, there is a weird beauty to the structure both internally and externally. Men, women and children lived and died here, their crimes relating to survival or political leanings as often as real malice and deviance. Cork Gaol is a historical building presented to the visitor with empathy and humanity. Trust me, it is worth every cent of the €8 entry fee.
So that was it – our 24 hrs in Cork City. We travelled by train, walked everywhere and packed a fair bit into our time but it was thoroughly enjoyable and I would definitely recommend a night or weekend in Ireland’s second city.