I appeared to have landed in the middle of an episode of ‘Frasier’. A dapper duo of middle-aged gents cut short their dissection of the latest South Australian Shiraz just as the superbly coiffed Vladimir Jablokov took to the stage for an evening of classical music – with a contemporary twist, apparently.

Not my normal bag for a Friday evening but having come to the Half Moon Theatre in the cultural quarter of Cork City, I had an open mind. Worst case scenario, I’d have a bit of a snooze and be fighting fit for the rest of the weekend.

But there was to be no sleeping. In fact, I was mesmerised from start to finish as the small but varied ensemble kept it interesting and entertaining throughout. The group consisted of two violins, a viola, a double bass, a piano and a drummer and it appeared more like a rock concert than a classical music performance. Some of the classical stuff was very familiar with Bach and Mozart mixed in with other obscure (to me) stuff. But the real treat was the arrangements of some classic rock tunes from the Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’ to Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’.

The microphone was only used for a small bit of idle banter, with no singing involved, but the way Jablokov manipulated his instrument for Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ was worth the admission fee alone. The ‘Can Can’ was blasted out for the encore and it was hard to tell who was enjoying it more – the maestro or his minions. A truly great, if unexpected, night out.

If culture was the theme for Friday night, well Saturday was all about gastronomy.

The day started off with a substantial breakfast setting me up for my tour of the town – no open-top bus but a food-based walking tour. It was a mixture of the Cork City Food & Drinks Trail and the very novel Flavours of Cork iWalk, an audio tour that can be downloaded from the Discover Ireland website.

They say, “The smell on Patrick’s Hill is wicked, how does Father Matthew stick it?”, but the only aroma wafting about the lower slopes of the aforementioned gradient was of the coffee bean variety. First stop Cork Coffee Rosters café.

With a pot of breakfast coffee only beginning to kick in, I opted for a hot chocolate and a kind of Bakewell-type cake and took an early time-out to read the papers, as a non-stop trail of tourists and locals popped in for their morning fix.

There won’t be many cats swung in this quaint little coffee shop but an hour will fly by as you flick through your purchases from the neighbouring book shop or indulge in a spot of people watching from behind the safety of your mocha mug.

The Firkin Crane So with my caffeine and sugar quotas already reached, I bounced uphill in search of the Butter Exchange in the old market area. It was all closed up for the weekend but it wasn’t a wasted journey as I stumbled across the Firkin Crane and the Shandon Craft Centre.

The stonework has been ‘cleaned’ in parts by some very creative stencilling, which seems to add character to the already old buildings.

Down Shandon Street to Pope’s Quay and the next stop was the Franciscan Well Brewery – a micro brewery serving decent homemade beer.

There were several locations on the map that weren’t that interesting and more than a few were closed on weekends, but it was a very enjoyable way of finding my bearings – a feat never accomplished on any of my previous trips to the ‘Real Capital’.

The English MarketThe last stop was the English Market, which specialises in Cork’s local produce and dates back to 1788 – just in case you were looking for a bit of tripe, drisheen or black pudding to bring home with you.

Sunday was a lazier day by comparison, strolling up around St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, in and around the pretty campus of University College Cork and down the river to Fitzgerald’s Park.

The weekend finished as it had begun, with a bit of culture. The Cork Opera House was the venue for the screening of the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s best-selling novel, ‘Never Let Me Go’, which was part of the Cork Film Festival.

It was a disturbing but thought-provoking film, which gave me plenty to ponder on the road back to Dublin. Thankfully, the new motorway got me home that bit quicker.

Cork at night – eating out in Cork

An Crúibín – Located above the pub of the same name, An Crúibín hits the mark for both food and atmosphere. The menu is concise but varied and most of the ingredients are sourced locally. The genial hosts are on hand to talk you through the house specialities and their enthusiasm shines through in the presentation, service and quality of dish. After dinner, pop downstairs for a pint and you are likely to stumble in on a traditional music session.

Cornstore – Located close to the Opera House, the Cornstore has a very tasty menu and a lovely ambience. Flanked by the ever popular Bodega and The Roundy, you’ll have a great night out without having to budge too far.

The Woodford – There are certain places that when you look in the window as you pass, you know you have to go in. The Woodford was that place on a very cold Saturday afternoon after traipsing the city. A bowl of soup and a very hearty sandwich hit the spot ensuring the visit was prolonged.

Gambienis – This Italian hits the spot if you’re looking for a late feed in the city. Terrific atmosphere, lovely staff and a classic Italian menu, you’ll be well fed and watered here.

Café Paradiso – Don’t be turned off by the fact that it’s a vegetarian restaurant. The menu is very creative, with tasty dishes prepared by renowned chef Denis Cotter.

Things to Do in Cork

Kayak Cork – Explore the city from the River Lee with the Cork City kayaking tour. The tour departs from Lapp’s Quay in the city centre and brings you on a two-hour trip along the River Lee. The evening excursion also lets you get a look at the illuminated city by night.

Crawford Art Gallery – Located in the city centre, the gallery’s permanent collection comprises over 2,000 works, ranging from 18th century Irish and European painting and sculpture, through to contemporary video installations.

Cork Opera House – Take in a performance at the Cork Opera House or at the Half Moon Theatre where it’s not all high pitch voices and soprano singing. The upcoming season is wide-ranging and diverse with acts including The Celtic Tenors, comedian Jason Byrne and ‘Man in the Mirror, the music of Michael Jackson’.

Inchydoney BeachInchydoney Island – Add a couple of extra nights to your city break and hit West Cork for a relaxing break at the Inchydoney Resort & Spa. The hotel overlooks one of the most dramatic beaches in Ireland and with fine food and a great spa, you’re guaranteed a great time. And don’t forget to stop off in Clonakilty en route for a black pudding breakfast.

Sporting Cork – Cork is a sports mad city and you’ll enjoy a great night out at Musgrave Park to watch the Munster men in action, or pop across to Turner’s Cross to catch a Cork City FC match. If you’re more the indoor type, there’s always a spot of basketball taking place at the Mardyke Arena in the city centre. Oh, the county’s hurlers and Gaelic footballers aren’t half bad either, but I’m sure the locals will fill you in on all that.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the very reasonable Clarion Hotel, which won’t be beaten for location as it sits on the quays, no more than a five-minute walk from all the action. The four-star hotel is a big step up from generic three-star city break hotels with stylish, spacious rooms overlooking the River Lee. A spa, gym and indoor swimming pool are available for guests and good food is served in Augustine’s and in the hotel’s Kudos Bar. WiFi is free throughout the hotel. For more, visit: www.clarionhotelcorkcity.com.

For more information on Cork City, visit: www.discoverireland.ie/cork