Tabletalk: A stylish affair
The romance of the shining lights of our tallest tower put Lucinda O'Sullivan in mind of 'Moulin Rouge', but she didn't hanker after Paris for long
In the final act of the romantic movie Moulin Rouge, Toulouse-Lautrec shouts from the rafters to the star-crossed lovers, Satine and Christian, played by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, the words of a haunting song "the greatest thing you'll ever learn/is just to love and be loved in return". I adored the romance and Bollywood colour of Moulin Rouge, played out in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, almost as much as I love Verdi's great opera La Traviata, on which the story is based. Maybe the words of the song are not a bad thought to hold on to this Valentine's Day 2010, and, indeed, I thought of them recently in Cork as I looked across the river at the blue and purple lights on the top of the Elysian Tower, shining like a beacon across the city.
The Elysian Tower is now the tallest building in Ireland: Ali Hewson has abseiled down its shining sides to raise funds for the Chernobyl Children's Project.
When I visited the Elysian my aims were in no way so noble, but rather to have a nice evening of relaxation and fun with another couple, Margaret and Michael, in El Vino, a wine bar and bistro. The vibes felt good on making our booking -- first contact is so important. We didn't phone until 6.30pm on a Saturday evening in the mistaken assumption that these days we would have no problem! Wrong. They were booked solid. "There is no recession here," the girl said when we commented, and kindly recommended other restaurants in the area.
"Take our number," we begged, "and if you get a cancellation . . ." Ten minutes later, we got a call back. We took off.
As one might expect in such a setting, El Vino is ultra modern and features a high-ceilinged, very smart bar, and it opens from breakfast through lunch and dinner. We were seated in a corner on a banquette facing a very nice modern painting, beside an interesting brass-bound armoire.
There was a wide selection of hot and cold tapas (€6.95-€11) plus charcuterie platters and salads, as well as main courses -- Segundos Platos (€16.95-€25.95). To start, we ordered patatas bravas (€6.95), gambas alajillo (€11), Valencian paella (€9.50), and pate de pollo (€8.95). All were excellent: the potatoes were a big, warm bowl of crispy, diced, deep-fried potato with a tomato and chilli sauce; the tiger prawns were chunky, served in garlic with chilli olive oil and sourdough bread; the paella was plentiful and tasty with chunks of chorizo, chicken, mussels and prawns; the chicken liver pate was served with a spicy, apple-y chutney, sourdough toast, and oatmeal crackers to boot.
The friendly, smiling service continued. The food is not pretentious or overly cheffy, but consists of good popular dishes, well executed and generous. My senor had a cracking 8oz fillet steak (€25.95) served with glazed shallots, Portobello mushrooms and a potato gratin. Michael had a fine, crisp tranche of slow-roasted pork belly (€18.95) which came with braised cabbage, chickpeas, potato puree and a Latin-style chermoula dressing. I had sauteed Kenmare Bay scallops (€24.95), seven of them, sitting on rondelles of Clonakilty black pudding, dotted around a central dome of creamed leek risotto and drizzled with a lemon butter -- very nice. Margaret had an El Vino salad (€14.95) which she loved, with warm chicken pieces, cherry tomatoes, red onion, pumpkin seeds and garlic croutons.
To finish up we shared a divine tiramisu (€6.95) and a generous 'half' cheese board (€7.95) -- I had asked for a board for one person. There are 20 wines by the glass, and with two bottles of Bodegas Muriel Rioja Reserva 2004 (€26.95) our bill, with optional service, was €209. It was good, honest comfort food in stylish surroundings, with buzz and charming service. We came out and strolled by 'de banks' back to our hotel as the Elysian lights twinkled above us, thinking, "They can keep Paris".
The Elysian Tower,
Eglinton Street, Cork.
Tel: (021) 431-8530