Clodagh McKenna’s Insider Guide to Cork, Ireland

Wed, 11 March 2020

The chef and Cork native couldn’t be a better guide to take on a tour of Ireland’s gastro county. Woollies and wellies packed, we’re following her every step, from food market to café to pub to restaurant to the best place for a walk and a picnic.

Ireland’s “rebel county” has a flair for food; some even consider this southern settlement a gastro haven. Among those singing its praises is Irish chef and food writer, Clodagh McKenna.

Starting her career in food in her home county of Cork, Clodagh trained and worked at world-renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School and House – owned and run by the first family of the Irish food scene, the Allens – before moving to London and later Hampshire.

While cooking enthusiasts are encouraged to make the trip to rural East Cork for a cooking workshop or to indulge in a weekend of quintessential Irishness at Ballymaloe House, limiting yourself to just one pit stop or day trip beyond the county’s capital is a mistake made by many – but not by you.

There’s a coastline’s worth of quaint seaside villages to explore, snug pubs with live-music sessions to happen upon and A-grade restaurants dishing up top-quality local produce. So, do like Clodagh and don your best woollies and wellies and head south – starring this Insider Guide on your phone or building out your own itinerary on our travel planner.

What’s your connection to the city of Cork?

I was born in Cork and went to school there.

The best day to arrive is…

I think a Thursday is always a great day to arrive in any destination – a day to find your feet before the weekend kicks off!

What’s the best way to explore?

You’ll need a car to explore Cork; there are so many fabulous places outside of the city that you won’t want to miss.

What’s the city’s dress code?

Cork is chilled, so pack comfy clothes – shoes for walking and big woolly jumpers to keep warm. Oh, and a rain jacket, rain is par for the course in Ireland.

Best hotel in the city?

I love staying at The Imperial Hotel. It’s a buzzy hotel, right smack in the centre of the city. It has an air of old-style grandeur about it; it’s been around for over 200 years. The rooms are quite spacious, plus it has a spa and a beautiful brasserie (which was inspired by Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel).

Where should we head on a Saturday morning?

To Midleton Farmers Market, which is just a 25-minute drive east of the city. Many years ago, I used to have a stall there selling fresh pasta and pâtés that I made. There are some really fantastic local farmers and artisan producers – look out for Belvelly Smokehouse, Ballymaloe Cookery School and Ardsallagh cheese. You can also have a late breakfast there. It runs from 9am-1pm.

Where’s good for lunch?

My favourite place for lunch in Cork city is Farmgate Café in the English Market on Princes Street. Everything on the menu is sourced from the market, so it’s a fabulous way to taste the local produce. It’s set on the balcony of an 18th-century covered market – get a seat on the edge and take in all the bustle below.

For a group dinner book a table at…

Greene’s Restaurant on MacCurtain Street – head to the Cask next door beforehand for a drink.

Other food spots to try…

Three of the best pubs in Cork are…

The Mutton Lane Inn is my favourite pub in the city. It’s a cosy and friendly, beautifully lit by candlelight and serves a fantastic pint of Murphy’s – a local stout that you must try! It’s located down an alley by the English Market.

Hackett’s Bar in Schull is a traditional Irish pub serving delicious, locally produced food. Like a lot of pubs in Ireland, it’s been there since the 1920s and hasn’t changed that much since. The crab salad with aioli and soda bread is not to be missed and there’s also great live music in the evenings.

O’Sullivans Bar in Crookhaven is the best place to enjoy a creamy pint of Guinness and a quart of fresh prawns with a beautiful view of the sea and harbour. Depending on the weather, you can sit inside next to the cosy fire or at one of the outdoor tables by the water.

For a taste of history head to…

Great day trips from the city include…

A drive down to West Cork to see all the beautiful seaside villages – Schull, Kinsale and Crookhaven are my favourites. Every village has fabulous pubs and live music.

Worthwhile walks include…

Around Lough Hyne in West Cork, the most spectacular walk in the county – lots of people don’t know about it. Bring a packed picnic from the market.

One misconception about Cork is…

I don’t think there are any misconceptions about Cork; it is known as the food capital of Ireland and it really is.

A book to read before we go?

Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy and Daniel Breen.

A souvenir to bring back…

Smoked salmon from any of the many smokers in Cork and Gubbeen farmhouse cheese.

And finally, what’s in your SUITCASE?

Woolly jumpers, a rain jacket, comfy walking shoes, a hat and a camera.

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