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William Barry gets stuck into chef Bryan McCarthy’s inspired Bao Boi, and its gorgeous steamed buns.

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Bryan McCarthy is a chef’s chef, a cook who has earned his stripes through a long career of doing the right thing, working hard and constantly learning. His career started as teenager in his native Glandore, in West Cork, where he was front of house at much missed The Rectory restaurant, followed by spells at Barberstown Castle, Killashee House Hotel and Leixlip House, before returning to Cork to head up the kitchen in Springfort Hall near Mallow. He is best known for his current roles of Executive Chef at the well regarded Greene’s restaurant in Cork city along with its little sister, the cocktail bar Cask. Most recently he has opened a small “CorkAsian” restaurant and takeaway at the city end of the increasingly energized Barrack Street called Bao Boi, which specialises in Korean-style steamed bao buns.

What exactly is a streamed bao bun? Quite simply it’s the best sandwich you are ever likely to get your mouth around. Warm white soft fluffy pillows of carbohydrates are stuffed with different meats, greens and sauces, the roll is steamed rather than baked, and they are absorbent so they lend themselves to braised meats such as pulled beef and crispy juicy pork belly.

The different fillings include pulled blade of beef; crispy chicken; pork belly; fish; halloumi; and my own favorite was the black pudding and egg bao: the combination of carbs and pig was always going to be a winner for this writer.

A consistent theme in McCarthy’s career is his championing of suppliers of quality Irish foods, and featured on the Bao Boi menu is black pudding from McCarthys of Kanturk, Ballyhoura mushrooms in a vegan bun, while the excellent Skeaghnore Duck makes an appearance in a spicebag.

The room is functional – a few stools and a bar counter – and the Deliveroo rider is a regular visitor. If you are in the Cork city centre, then Barrack Street is but a short walk.  

Keeping standards up over several locations is a challenge for any chef, but McCarthy can do it because he has built up a team of loyal colleagues, some of whom have worked with him for many years. Head chef at Cask is Rafael Ciba, who has spent 12 years alongside Bryan, whilst bar manager Andy Ferreria, one of the city’s foremost mixologists, leads the award-winning drinks program in Cask.

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