Cork city is a great place to be, particularly during the summer, but anytime if you’re a food lover.
On the day I'm visiting Izz, I'm in Cork to do a final preview of my new show before making the annual month-long pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the whole of August. Myself and my fellow comedic colleague have just driven down from Dublin and are hungry after the drive and wanting some healthy fare to energize us for the shows ahead.
I’d heard good things about Izz Cafe from some Corkonian friends. We park up nearby and walk across the mighty River Lee to where Cafe Izz is situated opposite the towering and architecturally impressive Russian Orthodox Parish. The cafe is a small hole-in-the-wall-type place, and seats about 25-30 people at a push. The counter is at the back where you can see two women preparing food. Palestinian instrumental music plays through the speakers and the walls are adorned with some eclectic and colourful decorations. There’s a very homely vibe in here and you can instantly tell it’s family-run.
We are given some complimentary Palestinian white coffee upon arrival (I think they saw the tiredness in our eyes). We enjoy its subtle flavours of cardamom and spices while eye-balling a seriously impressive dessert display on the left-hand side of the room.
After our friendly waiter explains a couple of dishes and gives us some recommendations, we grab our cutlery and water from the dessert tray area (and pretend we are not already agonising over the choice that will soon be facing us). They know exactly what they are doing to our emotions with that tray, draping incredible fresh Palestinian favourites such as ‘Warbat’, ‘Cinnamon Rolls’ and ‘Basbooseh’ across it.
We order the ‘Tasters Mix’ appetiser platter to begin, which consists of some delightful and creamy homemade hummus, some zingy and outrageously moreish avocado hummus (that's the most ‘notions’ sentence I’ve typed this year but I’m keeping it in), fresh tabbouleh that almost acts as a palette-cleanser and the best damn baba ganoush I have ever eaten.
A spoon of any of these on anything would instantly make it taste better. The mixed platter also comes with fresh olives and crunchy pickles as well as some stuffed Magda squash (aka globe eggplant) which was something I’ve never eaten before but certainly will be ordering again. The Magda squash is the good side of tart with a sweet, slightly nutty flavour. It’s stuffed with perfectly cooked plump rice and spices.
It also comes with some expertly rolled and steamed vine leaves that have the same filling. It comes with a ramekin of fiery-as-hell chili paste that I love but it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. Also served is flatbread straight out of the oven that is so fresh it resembles an inflated whoopie cushion (arguably the greatest prank of my early childhood) before it has settled down. It’s the perfect vessel to dip, pinch and scoop all of the above into our faces. This starter alone would probably have done us and is serious value for money at less than €6 each.
However, we have serious hanger so it’s on to mains. I order the ‘Manooshet Musakhan’ which consists of local fresh Irish boneless chicken, cooked with sweet caramelized red onions, virgin olive oil, Palestinian sumac, salt, and black pepper. It’s almost akin to slow-cooked pulled subtle barbeque chicken. The traditional dough is so fresh and tasty that you would happily eat it on its own. It’s garnished with some fresh pomegranate seeds and parsley.
My friend orders the ‘Manooshet Zaatar & Cheese’. A mixture of Palestinian oregano with sesame and olive oil, the zaatar is almost like a punchy oregano pesto topped with a blend of white traditional cheese melted on top of that once again spectacular dough and topped with fresh peppery rocket. This can be ordered as a vegan option with just the Zaatar should you be that way inclined.
Everything on the menu looks seriously delicious and is displayed and described in perfect detail (especially the baked spinach moussaka which I think is going to be my choice on my next visit here) but we opted for the ‘Manooshets’ this time because carbs are actual life. We had a couple of slices of our mains left that they kindly put in a pizza box for us to take home. I’d be seeing these again later most def.
We are very full so it is only the sheer visual lure of the dessert table and our own greed that forces a ‘Cinnamon Roll’ upon us. I had been off refined sugar for a couple of months until this point so I can only describe the first bite as pure sugar-high euphoria. Soft, warm, cinnamon deliciousness that has been handmade with love, it is very, very sweet so one between us is more than enough. It’s gloriously drizzled with caramel and a white icing glaze and topped with a toasted pecan. A baked piece of art in itself. We have it with some freshly brewed mint tea which is the perfect end to this Palestinian feast.
This meal was stunning from start to finish and for it to come in at under €40 for two people nearly seemed criminal (we left a good tip to alleviate our guilt). Café Izz was worth the drive to Cork alone and I will be back there in the future. This was simply delicious, lovingly prepared, homemade Palestinian food that was fresh and cooked to order, all at a very reasonable price and generously portioned. I don’t know many places in the country where you’d get such good value and quality for the same price. It's another great reason to come to the Rebel County.
This review is based on one person's experience on one day. If you'd like to try Izz café for yourself, book here.
Starters: €4.90 - €11.50
Mains: €7.90 - €9.70
Dessert: €3.50 - €4.20
Tea/Coffees: €1.80- €5.90
14 George's Quay