Grub Spy: Into the Wild

With bucketloads of charm and a superb menu to match, this local bistro in Co Cork is well worth the journey to Ballinspittle, writes Grub Spy Alan Kelly

The charming exterior

The pan-roasted hake

Exquisite cheesecake

Sunday World

Given that West Cork has an abundance of swoon-worthy dining destinations, I was especially keen to visit Wild Restaurant in Ballinspittle, a small local bistro I’d been meaning to check out since it opened a couple of years ago. We almost didn’t make it though, due to fog, rain and darkness and a seriously wrong turn outside Innishannon. Happily, it was all worth it — Wild is everything I was hoping it would be.

WILD RESTAURANT

Main Street, Ballinspittle, Co Cork

4.5 Stars

Food: €78.50; Drinks: €24

The restaurant, located in what was once a home, is achingly pretty in a shabby-chic pub kind of way. The menu too is attractive, tempting and thoughtfully sourced, much like you could find in a big-city gaff with far heftier prices. Starters include a baked Camembert with toppings like smoked baby tomato, roasted red pepper and crushed black olives; and some crispy squid calamaritos with salad leaves and a lemony/herby dip. We elect to try halloumi and courgette fritters and a prosecco poached pear salad with blue cheese, candied walnuts and a minty dressing. The pear salad works because the juiciness of the pears and the crunch of the sweetened walnuts deliciously come together with the salty sourness of the blue cheese.

The pan-roasted hake

Three generous golden-brown crispy fried fritters, accompanied by a pleasant side salad and a classic lightly-spiced Romesco sauce are surprisingly light and creamy. Equally surprising is how well smashed halloumi works with courgette. We move onto a wonderful pan-roasted fillet of hake with a mound of crushed baby spuds (skins included) a side of sauteed stem broccoli and sugar snaps, and a vibrant mussel velouté. Our other main course includes perfectly executed slow-cooked beef cheeks sitting on a buttery splodge of lightly smoked mash, garnished with honey-roasted root veggies and a gloriously rich splash of red wine gravy. Portions are large but not overly so, and the cooking on both dishes is focused and painstaking, and delivers on every level.

Exquisite cheesecake

Whenever I see cheesecake on a menu I immediately think boring, and a lazy kitchen. Not here. Think of a gingerbread base and a bourbon-cinnamon-vanilla filling, a Christmas-y punch topping and a drizzle of mulled-wine syrup with a ramekin of vanilla ice cream on the side. They call it a Wild Christmas Cheesecake, and although quite ordinary looking, it could easily be rechristened the Virtuoso Cheesecake. A similar ruse is happening with the ineffably light wedge of warm chocolate cake. Turbo-charged with a blast of 70pc Belgian chocolate, decorated with an arty trickle of vanilla chocolate sauce and assisted with a ramekin of vanilla ice cream, it too tastes out of this world. After a grim trading period over the last couple of years, what with lockdowns and take-outs and all the rest of it, the establishments that won through have to be congratulated. It helps, of course, if your restaurant happens to cook superb food and is blessed with bucketloads of charm and the warm ambience so many places aim for but never quite reach. Wild has it in spades. And while it wasn’t entirely easy to get there, I’m glad to have made it.

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