On Valentine's eve last, totally forgetting the significance of the date, a pal and I decided to sample a new tapas menu at Cooke's of Caragh.
It was in the Fox and Hare restaurant we sampled the Spanish nibbles and dishes available on Thursday night's tapas menu.
The Fox and Hare restaurant was introduced by Eamon Cooke about five to six years ago, and the refurbishments of the restaurant and gastro bar are hugely sympathetic with the original premises.
Formerly Coffey's, this licensed premises has been the central social hub of the village for as long as I can remember, and the new decor with raw stone walls, industrial light fittings, quality pottery, stone flooring and bric-a-brac creates the perfect ambience of old and new.
A regular visitor to Spain, I love tapas and I wish to God, Irish celebrations were marked in similar fashion to our European colleagues, that is, instead of four and five course meals, that all the guests engage in smaller portions and leave more space between the courses!
In Spain, you see families of all ages sitting out late at night, taking their time over a meal, conversation and wine being as important to a good get together as the food.
I started with a nice Spanish rioja in The Fox and Hare as we sampled crispy potatas bravas, with clams and serrano ham and gambos pil pil.
The gambos, prawns to you and me, were simply delicious and this is one of my all time favourite tapas dishes. Good quality prawns (not the shrinkable ones) pan fried in hot oil, with garlic, herbs and of course, chilli!
The prawns were served with a crostini coated in salsa and olive pieces – absolutely loved this.
The clams and serano ham (€9) - whilst the 'meat' of clams is small enough, this was such a tasty dish. Clams and serrano ham cooked in white wine, garlic, cream, herbs and infused with a hint of coriander – it reminded me of a superb mussels dish I had once experienced in Bruges.
With the delicious patatas bravas served was a sweet and smokey paprika dish on the side, we had a gorgeous mix of flavours – hot and spicy, but not too hot and lots of herbs and garlic infusions, delicious!
Next up we tried chicken chorizo paella, paella being a traditional Spanish dish. Let me say firstly, I like paella but don't love it as often, it is served to tourists with too much curry infusion and I often find it too salty.
Cooke's take on the traditional Spanish favourite was gorgeous, not as salty I'm happy to say, and I do love chorizo!
Spanish meatballs at Cooke's was another winner for me, meat balls deliciously cooked in red wine tomato sauce, and served with garlic bread and parmesan – price €8.50.
We had also ordered the 12 hour slow cooked pork belly bites, served with teriyaki sauce, sesame seeds, chilli and spring onions. At €9, this is great value but alas, we were so full already, we couldn't finish it!
We skipped the option of deep fried brie served with apple cranberry sauce and also the deep fried pea fritter, that's a new dish to me and it's served with alioli and lemon (I could live on alioli alone).
Manager Shane McGibbon talked us through the wines and explained some of the dishes. Shane joined Cooke's about six months ago, having been formerly with the Maple Tree in Saggart and The Angler's Rest in Dublin, both renowned for their food.
Typically in Spanish style, we were served complimentary olives and sundried tomatoes and I have to say, it was my regular visits to Spain which converted me to olives, pickled being my preference.
The tapas dishes vary from €6.50 to €9 in price and seriously, just order them two at a time, and allow for time between courses. Have your driver organised and sample the great wines at Cooke's to match the tapas food.
Tapas nights are Thursdays at Cooke's, in the Fox and Hare restaurant, book now!
COOKE'S GASTRO PUB
Cooke's Fox and Hare restaurant is open Fridays to Sunday with Sunday lunches being in great demand. But Cooke's gastro bar serve a delicious bill of fayre seven days a week and include Irish and European dishes such as (starters) garlic and lime prawns, Clonakilty black pudding, brie, chicken wings, chowder, etc.
For main courses, there's a great selection of meat dishes from pork belly, to salmon, chicken, Thai curry, 28 day mature Hereford steak, and their renowned battered fish in batter with chips.
Cooke's home made burger is a house-speciality with chicken burgers, pasta dishes and risotto on the menu, vegetarian and vegan options.
There's a brilliant selection of sides and all menus have detailed ingredients. There's a great vibrant 'buzz' at Cooke's. Eamon himself was a musician who had traveled the world with a band and had experienced international cuisine and observed the way many other nationalities like to dine.
And that, readers, is how Cooke's of Caragh emerged. Delightful, delicious food and now serving tapas – here in the heart of Co Kildare. Private parties and business lunches catered for, in a wonderful ambience where the decor is as meticulous as the food you're served.
Cooke's of Caragh, contact 045 871 098 between 12pm-9pm, Monday to Sunday or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation.
-Rose B O'Donoghue