I moved to Ireland 11 years ago and was visiting for many a year before that. Even in those heady days of my earliest culinary adventures I had heard, seen and tasted the proof of Kinsale’s reputation for being the “gourmet capital of Ireland”.
The challenge is this: when you have self-proclaimed yourself the Numero Uno in something as relentlessly creative and merciless as the food world, where do you go from there? And how do you do it to satisfy both locals and tourists alike to keep things growing apace?
Well, Kinsale has looked to its roots: to its history, its connectedness to all things of the sea, the creativity of the people, the town’s own uniqueness and throwing just enough modern spin on the whole lot to keep people interested and not dissuaded; keeping the trad-modern fusion subtle and free from the whiff of hipsterism.
Kinsale is still all things to all men and women: great beer for the rugby heads, excellent cocktails for the hen nights, quality fish and chips for the family day by the sea and wicked plates of exceptional food and creativity for the proud Kinsale foodie. Whatever your reasons for heading to Kinsale, here are my top tips to get the best eats and sups while you are there.
To enter a local farmers’ market is to experience a microcosm of the best of local fare. Kinsale market is no exception to this rule and is, in fact, flourishing thanks to an ebb and flow of seasonal traders mixing with the stalwarts of this lively market every Wednesday on Short Quay in the heart of the town. Here are the stalls I recommend you make a beeline to when you visit.
Do not pass by this unassuming market stall without experiencing the exceptional food on offer here. If you thought vegan food was as unsexy and uninteresting as it got, think again my friend. Vegan is the new rock n’ roll and My Goodness are at the top of their game. If nothing else, please try their (in)famous Gut Shot or indeed any of their fermented drinks. Super tasty morsels.
Family run authentic Italian food stall that has to be tasted to be believed. The food from here is unbelievably good – rich, deep and guaranteed to slap a smile on your face. I believe I would challenge you to a dual if there was just one tiramisu between the two of us. I’d win, of course.
Two businesses in one all stemming from the talented Bushby family of Rosscarbery. As seasonal as it gets, trust me, if you’re not wooed to within an inch of your life by the impossibly beautiful flowers from Lydia Bushby, then the perfect, shiny, heavenly sweet tasting strawberries will do the job.
Sally O’Brien’s Caramelised Nuts
Sally, formally of Café Paradiso and Ballymaloe Cookery School, has perfected her recipe for her sweet, spicy, smoky, salted peanuts and is definitely worth a splurge. Go on, give it some nuts!
Hey, it’s not all about us humans you know! Jacqueline Griffin is hand making tasty treats with all real and natural ingredients for our four-legged fury friends! Expect a warm welcome to you and your pooch, then choose a pic n’ mix of delights from doggie doughnuts to pupcakes.
Nine Market Street, 9 Market Street
Frequently winning the admiration of John & Sally McKenna, Nine Market Street is a great place to head to for delicious house made breads, scones and pastries for breakfast. Fresh and flavourful brunch awaits you and tasty lunch dishes such as watermelon and feta salad and fish tacos. Regular specials keep the menu exciting and food can be purchased to take away for that all important picnic!
The Pantry, Guardwell
Top quality deli serving lunch during the week and brunch on Sundays. A firm favourite with the locals, so make your way there and indulge!
Lemon Leaf Café, 70 Main Street
This café is a wonderfully warm and welcoming place that does the family friendly thing really well but doesn’t neglect providing really tasty plates of food for breakfast and lunch. Offering seating inside and in their courtyard means that there is a safe place for little ones to play as mums catch up over a morning latte.
Poet’s Corner Reading Café & Book Exchange, 44 Main Street
Does exactly what it says on the tin! This quirky little café encourages its patrons to come along, swap a book, buy a book and read a book whilst enjoying a brew and a bite to eat. Perfect for those looking for a little time-out.
The Speckled Door, The Old Head
The place to go in Kinsale for the quintessential Irish pub lunch – a pint of the black stuff and a bowl of creamy hot chowder full to the brim with locally caught seafood.
The Seafood Café, 3/4 Pearse Street
It’s Kinsale so seafood is everywhere, but not all seafood restaurants are created equal. Never ones to rest on their laurels, The Seafood Café is the latest venture from The Blue Haven. So if oysters are on your mind, then this is the place to go to sink a dozen with a glass of something cool and crisp.
Fishy Fishy, Crowley’s Quay
The eating place which almost single handedly launched Kinsale onto the international gourmet food map! Martin Shanahan is still at the helm of this iconic Kinsale restaurant, with the food continually being praised for its devotion for getting the best out of the freshest of the seafood produce it sources locally. Check out the website for exciting pop-up events with guest chefs.
Diva Boutique Deli & Bakery, Ballinspittle
For a village that is most well-known for the moving statue of Mary, Ballinspittle is in fact a little foodie heaven a short drive from Kinsale. To my mind, Diva’s is short-hand for ‘a Reuben Sandwich and a slice of Carrot Cake’. I’m sure everything else on the menu is awesome too, but my love for the Diva Reuben is complete and equal to no other.
After all that food, surely now is the perfect time to walk it off a bit and make some room for later but hang tough with the foodie theme because there is more in store…
Blacks of Kinsale Brewery Tour, Farm Lane
No foodie town is complete unless it has its own successful micro-brewery, said every craft beer enthusiast that ever was! So, toddle on down to Blacks Brewery and take in their fascinating brewery tour and, of course, a tasting of some of their most iconic brews.
Forage & Find, Ballinspittle
Get back to nature with Kevin O’Connell, proprietor, chef and expert forager with one of his guided seashore or hedgerow foraging walks in the nearby village of Ballinspittle. Events are announced on the F&F Facebook page or you can book a private tour for a group. Walks include tastings and can include a picnic or cooking demonstration. Well worth the effort!
Quay Food Company, Market Quay
Head to this great deli and pick up a few nibbly-bits and strike out on one of Kinsale’s beautiful walks. The Scilly Walk is particularly beautiful, but my personal favourite walk is out to James Fort – the less preserved and often overlooked cousin of the magnificent Charles Fort. Visited infrequently even by locals, this is one of my favourite spots to take in the ruins, sit on the rocks beside the lapping water and looking out over Kinsale Bay.
KoKo Kinsale, Pier Road
For a choco-lovers paradise, head to this boutique chocolatier to admire the beautiful handmade chocolates on display, and indulge in a wee purchase to take away with you. Better still, stay a while and enjoy your chocolates with a tea or coffee. Better again, one of the hot chocolate shots. Pure indulgence!
Perryville Garden Tearoom, Perryville House
This quaint guesthouse also houses a traditional tea room serving delicious lunches and the best Afternoon Tea in town. Transport yourself back in time when “taking tea” was the fashionable pastime of elegant ladies of leisure.
The Supper Club, 3 Cork Street
Recently opened to much aplomb, The Supper Club is a great little evening eating joint that just also happens to be creating some of the best cocktails in Kinsale right now. Firm favourites are their Old Fashioned and Jimbo’s Revenge. You’re welcome…
Hamlets, The Glen
A funky little bar that is well known for its party atmosphere and serving decent cocktails. Well worth a swing by if you’re looking for a fluorescent cocktail with an overtly sexual name.
The Black Pig, 66B Lower O’Connell Street
Fantastic wine bar that really pushes the boat out to serve a truly interesting array of wines from across the world. Choose from 200 wines by the glass or 100 wines by the bottle. Thankfully, with so much choice on offer, you can easily find an excuse to try them all… eventually!
Drink Like a Local
Hit these spots for an early evening or post dinner pint and become one with the locals: Tap Tavern, The Greyhound and The Spaniard (retreat here on rainy days for a hot port and nestle beside the fire).
By now, you’re probably the size of a small manor house in Sussex, but look smart… there’s still evening dinner to enjoy! Whether it’s casual dining or fine dining, Kinsale has got you covered.
Twisted, 5 Main Street
One of the new wave of dining experiences in Kinsale, Twisted is mixing up Spanish Tapas with Japanese inspired flavours and French patisseries, from Jámon Íberico to Seaweed Rolls, Cod Croquestas to Canelé de Bordeaux. Winning recognition from many a food writer, not just for their food but also for their exceptional wine list, this is a must-eat destination.
Max’s Seafood Restaurant & Wine Bar, 48 Main Street
More restaurant than wine bar, this long established restaurant is a firm favourite among the locals serving up great seafood dishes with French flair and showcasing great local produce. The wine list is vast offering something to suit every taste and pocket. A warm welcome awaits you here.
Finn’s Table, 6 Main Street
Regularly receiving recommendations from the Michelin Guide, Finn’s Table is the best fine dining to be found in Kinsale. Care is taken over sourcing the very best of local ingredients, including the meat from Chef/Patron John Finn’s parents’ farm in Mitchelstown, fresh fish locally landed and seasonal vegetables from local organic farms. Patrons are kindly asked to turn off their mobile phones or discreetly take your call outside – no place for Facebook scrolling or food selfies here. It’s all about the food. And the twice cooked home cut fries with truffle aioli, of course.
Bastion, Market St. & Main St.
Bastion is a Michelin Bib Gourmand awarded restaurant that has burst on to the scene, unapologetic in its indulgent menu which comes at a seriously reasonable price, especially if you can take advantage of the Prix Fixe menu (2 to 4 courses ranging from €35 to €45.50 pp). If imbibing a glass of one of their more than 60 wines at the bar tickles your fancy, then pair it with a range of bar bites instead. The provenance of Bastion’s chef is as remarkable as his plates of food are beautiful. This is exceptional food worth celebrating every day.
Kinsale Yacht Club, Lower O’Connell Street
If you are fortunate enough to be a member, or know one who is open to bribery, head for dinner at the historic Kinsale Yacht Club for a delicious menu prepared by their own in house chef. Open for Sunday lunches too and also for that essential yachting picnic. Members only which only adds to the appeal and mystery!
Dino’s Fish & Chips, 4 Pier Road
Around since the 1970s, this family eatery and takeaway is pretty much a Kinsale institution. Join the ranks of fish and chip lovers as you eat from the paper package on the wall overlooking the marina. Great for kids, even big ones!
Bruno’s Pizza, 36 Main Street
Top local’s tip: the place to go for superb service, excellent wood fire pizza, creative salads and stunning pasta dishes – and child friendly too. What are you waiting for?
Kate Ryan is a food writer, blogger and founder of Flavour.ie a website that is dedicated to promoting West Cork Food through writing, events and tours. Kate writes regularly for The Opinion Magazine and The Southern Star newspaper and has been featured in the Irish Examiner and Irish Times. Her blog is recipe driven showcasing the best of West Cork produce and encouraging everyday cooking with it at home as well as the best places to eat in the region. Kate hosts a very popular social dining “Supper Club” as well as organising a variety of food-related events getting people to enjoy great local food together. In the summer season, Kate also runs the only guided Walking Food Tour of Clonakilty which takes place every Friday June to August and is accredited by Fáilte Ireland for the Wild Atlantic Way. Kate is also a judge with Blas na hEireann and the Irish Quality Food Awards.
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