The English Market in Cork has more than 50 stalls making food or selling it. Here you can buy everything from apples to yams and it's the go-to place to find the very best of what Ireland's land and sea has to offer, all year round. What you pay reflects the market price so you don't need to take out a mortgage to shop here or feel like you've been held-up by Dick Turpin when you leave.
In the heart of the city, this covered food arena has been the meeting and feeding place for locals and visitors since 1788 and it's here many of the restaurants in the area source their produce. Upstairs is the Farmgate Market Cafe.
I meet Kay Harte who founded this foodie gem in 1994. Her daughter, Rebecca looks after the day-to-day running of this popular spot and people have been flocking here to taste some of the wonderful food the chefs prepare for both the cafe and the Dining Room. When I visit, there's a mix of women lunching, men typing on laptops, people having business meetings and families grabbing food-on-the-go.
All the food on the menu is traditional modern Irish, with 99% of it being sourced from the Munster region, 90% is taken from the market downstairs. The concept is very simple in that they buy regional food, in turn, supporting the local producers. It's a family affair, Kay's sister Maróg runs the Farmgate Restaurant in Midleton along with her daughter Sally.
There are two places you can eat within the Cafe on the self-service balcony, overlooking the market and fountain, where you can choose from a table stacked with delicious cakes, sandwiches, quiches, salads along with a daily changing hot menu. It's also here you can grab a coffee and a cake or one of the wonderful desserts.
The Dining Room is a must-book, no exceptions, even the food writer and critic A A Gill had to queue to sample the food for a second time for his Table Talk column in The Sunday Times, written in November 2014. He wasn't put off and gave the Cafe a whopping 5 stars.
Poetry and painting is as important to Farmgate as the food and is a welcome haven for both artists and writers alike. In fact, wherever you look there's a photograph, print, painting or piece of sculpture to feast your eyes on.
Kay commissioned a 'wall of words' known locally as The Poetry Wall, in 2005 to celebrate Cork being awarded the title of European City of Culture, which is displayed in the Dining Room. It's a wonderful collection of framed prints based on handwritten poems which extends the length of the room.
Some of the dishes that customers keep returning for are tripe and drisheen (blood sausage), supplied by Maureen O'Reilly, whose family have been in the market for well over 50 years.
There's also the poached leg of mutton with a caper sauce (so good Rowley Leigh begged Kay for the recipe) and spiced beef.
The menu is always changing and when I visit, the Dining Room is serving Rock Oysters from The Oyster House, just 10km outside Cork, the House Fish Plate which includes Old Millbank Smokehouse Smoked Organic Salmon served with boxty & beetroot pickle, Irish Herrings in the Nordic style from Silver Darlings near Limerick. The Market Charcuterie board includes Air Dried Lamb from artisan butchers Jack McCarthy in Kanturk, Tom Durcan's Spiced Beef, Ox Tongue and a Pork and Plum Terrine. The Catch Of The Day is whatever is the best from Ballycotton Seafoods or O'Connell's.
Can you see the Queen in the picture behind the fishmonger? When she visited the Republic of Ireland in May 2011, she requested a visit to the English Market. The person obscured from the photo is in fact Pat - the stall is run by Pat and Paul who took over the reigns from their mother Kathleen O'Connell. Judging by the photograph, Her Majesty was most definitely amused.
The wine list is small but perfectly formed but a little closer to home there are
locally brewed beers and Longueville House cider is also on the menu.
All the cakes, tarts and salads are made on the premises, as well as the sandwiches and quiches. Kay has been waging a silent war with sugar, salt and butter and seems to be winning.
No complaints so far. She also tells me a wonderful story about changing coffee beans. A customer who'd been a regular customer was in tears after she tasted the new coffee. Guess what? She changed the beans back to what she was using before. I managed to sink three delicious coffees in the short space of time I was there and it's really strange but I felt like I'd met Kay before and I was simply returning to catch up. I probably would have spent the day there talking to Kay about food but I have to rush off to Mahon Point to check out the Farmer's Market, which happens each Thursday from 10am to 3pm. You'll be pleased to hear not before scoffing some spiced beef,
a wholemeal scone
and some of Kay's homemade fennel-studded white soda bread - the only ingredients are flour and buttermilk.
Yes. Not quite sure why I left with apple tart like this on tap.
Pleasing the customer is totally what Farmgate is all about and the staff have been trained to be so hospitable, no wonder people flock back here - it really is just like visiting family who are excellent cooks with an abundant larder.
For more information on fabulous finds in Cork and Ireland, visit Tourism Ireland's website.
The English Market and Farmgate Cafe, Grand Parade, Cork, Ireland.
All photographs by Rebecca Williams.