Gilbert’s Restaurant and Townhouse, Cobh, Co Cork
Driving into Cobh with visiting friends Trevor and Badger (they chose their own nicknames), I immediately felt at home. The stubborn row of palm trees, the waterfront promenade with railings you can hang on to when the sea breezes come howling in, the string of picturesque houses overlooking an industrial vista – for a Portsmouth girl, it’s all very familiar (apart from the picturesque bit).
We were beside the seaside, the sun was shining and Trevor was in the first stages of a viral throat infection. So we shuffled along the water’s edge, scanning the shop fronts for a likely lunch destination.
Given the blue skies and the general lack of air conditioning, we wanted to lunch al fresco. Plenty of the cafes had tables outside, but very had few shades over the top of them. There’s obviously an assumption that although the weather may be warm enough for you to eat outside occasionally, possibly even with your coat off, the danger of heatstroke will always be nil.
We were about to concede defeat and face up to a sweltering indoors meal when I spied some tables and chairs under flimsy trees a few metres off the main drag. True, they were on a hill and the table tops sloped alarmingly, but with vigilance and velcro we might make it through.
I wasn’t optimistic about the food at Gilbert’s. Sun blush tomatoes, pine nuts, goat’s cheese, pesto and red onion were scattered all over the menu, making it read like an hommage to mid-1990s Delia Smith. There was a Europuddle mix of soups, salads, sandwiches and paninis with some larger dishes of the fish cakes/lasagne/beef burger variety to choose from. I opted for an open smoked salmon sandwich on brown bread with red onion, salad and lemon and dill cheese.
I expected a square of sliced loaf, sheets of oily salmon, curling shreds of cos, sharp red onion and Philadelphia. I got a huge slab of home-made brown bread topped with mixed green leaves, sweet red onion slithers, capers and layers of meaty organic smoked salmon with a scoop of creamy, tangy curd on the side.
I was astonished. This was an amazing sandwich. It was a leap forward in sandwich technology. A collection of complimentary flavours and textures, all piled up onto a piece of good, old-fashioned bread. Why aren’t more sandwiches like this?
Beside me, Trevor was tucking into a chicken caesar salad and Badger was revelling in a roasted red pepper stuffed with ratatouille – and that’s not normally the sort of thing you revel in.
We’d hit holiday pay dirt. We’d found the little local restaurant in a quiet, charming square that served delicious food at reasonable/bargain prices. Sitting in the sunshine, gripping hold of my plate in case gravity decided to drag it off our tilting table and sipping a glass of white wine, I was smug in the way a holidaymaker who’s got lucky with their restaurant choice can only be.
Smugness must be punished and local beliefs about the pointlessness of sunshades proved correct. The weather turned and while we tried to stay outside like proper Britishers, we had to concede defeat and retreated to the warmth of the beautiful dining room for dessert.
Both Badger and I had the home-made ice creams. Scoops of smooth chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream sat triumphantly on a crisp cinnamon wafer. It was fabulous. Trevor ordered the Eton mess (which the waiter kindly began explaining to us, then remembered that we were English and said: “But of course, you know all about this”). A glitch produced a beautifully plated cheesecake, which was swiftly replaced with a glass filled with meringues, cream and summer fruits when we looked surprised.
We all had coffees and the bill, which included 2 glasses of crisp house chardonnay but not service, came to approximately €20 a head (I lost the receipt and am calculating from memory and their website). The service was friendly and relaxed, the restaurant gorgeous and the food delicious. I came very close to booking myself into 1 of their guest rooms and refusing to leave.