Kinsale is a pretty fishing town, just thirty minutes west of Cork. Even in the winter months when the weather is miserable, it still has a certain amount of charm and there’s always some hostelry with a roaring fire on the go. It’s not until the summer when this place truly comes to life, when the tourists and sailing boats arrive to take full advantage of everything this tiny town has to offer. Many visitors come to explore The Wild Atlantic Way which starts it’s journey here and ends in County Donegal.
Kinsale’s known as ‘the Gourmet Capital of Ireland’ and celebrates the title when it throws a Festival every October, now in its 39th year.
It was the first place in Ireland to have a gourmet circle, a place where like-minded restaurateurs promoted themselves as places devoted to serving great, local food. It’s still going strong today and the Kinsale Good Food Circle is in the capable charge of Maria O’Mahony who not only keeps the restaurants in check but organises the town’s food events.
There are 11 in total, and whilst I didn’t eat in every one, I did get to have a look at the restaurants and the menus on offer.
The Blue Haven Hotel is on the site of the town’s former fish market and boasts a cafe with a menu serving breakfast, light snacks and lunch alongside homemade cakes and coffee. The Aperitif Wine & Tapas Bar bar serves seafood, as well as traditional Spanish plates.
Finns’ Table takes the surname of owners John and Julie and you can’t miss this main street restaurant, painted turquoise and orange.
On the day I visit, the menu is bursting full of delicious food – some simple, some technically tricky – there was local lobster, steak and kidney pie with a cider sorbet and a rather wonderful sounding Rosscarbery black pudding croquettes with apple jelly, Parsley panacotta and braised apple salsa and that’s just for starters. The mains included a West Cork surf and turf which included pan-fried West Cork scallops with Kale, roast squash, coconut and cardamom puree and grilled chorizo. For a change, a brilliant choice for vegetarians in the fried Cooleeney Cheese ginger and beetroot wontons with wilted baby spinach cream, crispy egg and red pepper escabeche. All the beef, lamb, venison and pork supplied by John’s Dad who is the owner of Finn’s Butchers in Mitchelstown. All their fish is from West Cork Trawlers.
Fishy Fishy is an award-winning restaurant owned by the celebrity chef Martin Shanahan (RTE’s Martin’s Mad About Fish) and his wife Marie. Located a stone’s throw from the harbour, the fish really is as fresh as it gets. Only the best of what’s landed or picked will make it onto the menu. The restaurant boasts floors with an outside area to soak up that summer sun. Seriously some of the best fish I’ve ever tasted, you couldn’t get fresher unless you scooped it out of the water yourself.
Offering both accommodation and a restaurant and bistro, The White House is a Georgian inn and guest house run by the Frawley family. The Restaurant d’Antibes & Bistro has a menu that has plenty of seafood, locally sourced meat and some traditional Irish dishes.
Or, the Bistro
There’s live music here every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. I was a guest at the Trident Hotel, part of the Select Hotels of Ireland group at the far end of the Harbour and very close to the water. My room had a massive picture window where I just sat and watched the world go by.
They have two restaurants, Pier One which has fabulous sea views and serves food from an a la carte menu, but if you want something less formal, there’s the Wharf Tavern serving light bites to full dinner. I’m told the mussels and seafood chowder are worth a try. On Sunday, there’s a very popular carvery lunch served between 12.30pm and 2.30pm.
Just around the corner from the Trident, is the White Lady, Hotel, restaurant, live music venue and club. There’s plenty of food choices from seafood to local meat and some foreign influences including oriental, Italian and Indian dishes.
With its own tank, you can handpick your lobster at Jim Edwards Restaurant, notable for its nautical theme which runs throughout, it also offers B&B accommodation. They have an extensive seafood choice on offer, including the catch of the day.
Kinsale was prominent in the wine trade and designated as a Wine Port as far back as 1412. Desmond Castle at the top of the hill was once a Customs House. These days, it houses the International Museum of Wine, no sampling here, but an exhibition showing the town’s links with the wine trade.
Down the hill from the Castle you’ll find The Giant’s Cottage, on Chairmans Lane, lived in by The Giant of Kinsale, Patrick O’Connor O’Brien. He was a whopping 2.51 metres tall and lived in the cottage in his early years.
For those who fancy a glass of something after a visit to the Wine Museum, then a visit to Crackpots is a must. It’s a hidden gem of a restaurant and wine bar, close to the Castle, so-called because the owner is a ceramicist.
Carole only uses Irish products, sourced locally. By day she takes ceramic classes and at night she runs this popular haunt. Her works are all around the restaurant, including the plates you’ll eat off. In the summer months you can eat al-fresco in the pretty garden. The wine selection by the glass is impressive for such a small establishment and the menu is the impressive work of an enthusiastic chef. If you’re looking for accommodation, there’s a rental above the restaurant or this 300 year-old converted tower in the town of Kilbrittai, just 20 minutes from Kinsale. Actons Hotel is the oldest here and set up by two sisters, Sidney and Sheila Acton in 1946. The two restaurants inside this 4* are Sidney’s Bar and Brasserie and the Fisher Street Restaurant both offering something quite different.
Around the bay is Summer Cover and what a view you get, tucking into a plate of fresh lobster or cracked crab claws and oysters at Toddies Restaurant at The Bulman Bar.
This bar and upstairs restaurant is on the outskirts of Kinsale, looking across the harbour back into the town. Expect plenty of fish but with the Atlantic just ten metres away, what would you expect? Walk to the nearby Charles Fort for a dose of history and some fantastic views of the coastline. The Scilly Walk, known locally as The Salmon Walk takes in the beautiful views of Kinsale and the harbour.
I didn’t manage to see the 11th Restaurant in the Circle, sorry Man Friday your menu looks fantastic online, lots of fish choices and Bord Bia approved beef. I would definitely have chosen the Black Cod Colbert if I had visited and anyone with a great cheese plate is any friend of mine and I will be back. For more details on offers and the latest from the Circle, visit their Facebook page.
There are other restaurants in the town who aren’t part of the Circle and so plenty of variety. I passed a Spanish tapas bar, Italian restaurant, steak house and pizza restaurant. I ate lunch in a rather nice cafe and had a delicious homemade soup and half a sandwich.
If I’ve whet your appetite to visit this coastal larder then here are a couple of excuses to return.
Each year, the Circle organises the ‘All Ireland Chowder Cook Off‘ in the town, on Saturday 18th April between 1pm and 4pm, the town becomes an open-air street market as The Wild Atlantic Way Street Food Fest takes over. Visitors can sample some of the food on offer in the restaurants and food outlets in Kinsale as well as enjoying street entertainment and music. On Sunday from 2pm to 4pm Actons is the place to visit as the cook off starts and your chance to sample seafood chowder from 32 Irish chefs with a chance to vote for the winner, for just 10 Euros.
For more details on Kinsale and other places to visit in Ireland, go to the website Discover Ireland.