Just back from a week staying in town and wanted to report back. A summary might be that we enjoyed it (in spite of the rain) but wouldn’t be in a rush to go back.
Kinsale is very much a tourist town. And particularly popular with American tourists. There were so many that it was, almost, a surprise to walk past someone on the street and hear an Irish accent. As with any tourist place, it isn’t “real”. For real Irish towns, you need to get in the car and drive a few miles north to Macroom or west to Clonakilty. Here you are almost as likely to hear Irish not English being spoken.
It’s also an expensive place. I know it’s always invidious to make comparisons between different countries but by any European reckonings, Kinsale is pricy. Property is pricy. Eating out is pricy. Booze is pricy. And, as with any tourist place, you need to watch out for the tourist traps. The same two drinks (pint of lime & soda and a half of Murphy’s) varied from just over €4 in the non-touristy Armada bar, through just over €6 in the Blue Haven, to an eye-watering €8.20 in the very touristy An Seanachai bar.
Kinsale is also the self-styled “gourmet capital of Ireland”. The important bit to remember here is “self-styled”. It might have a high number of restaurants for a large village. And it may well have been the gourmet capital in the 1980s, when the term was first coined, and indeed it may still be the case (which, unfortunately, would say a lot about food in Ireland). However, it will be very fair to stay that for many of its restaurants, dining in Kinsale has barely progressed in the last 25 years. Chicken liver pate and deep fried Brie still feature as starters on many menus, as do such main courses as steak with pepper, or other “classic, sauce.
But this is not to say that we did not generally eat well. Generally we did. We generally ate good quality ingredients, cooked simply and cooked reasonably well. This is a brief summary of the meals we had (I’ve posted much more detailed reviews at www.menupages.ie):
BLUE HAVEN: A restaurant with pretensions in the town’s “boutique” hotel. It clearly targets the Americans and they would find familiar touches uncommon in most European places – jugs of iced water being brought without being asked, soup available in “cups” as well as bowls – that sort of thing. But it was sloppy uncaring cooking that delivered the two of us very little pleasure for the €108 charged.
FISHY FISHY CAFÉ: Café” is a misnomer. The name and it’s location on the pier road suggested that this was going to be an upmarket chippy like the Magpie in Whitby. Not so. This is a serious seafood restaurant (in the recent past holding a Michelin Bib Gourmand). It’s open at lunch (although on a couple of days of the week it stays open long enough to get an early dinner). Reservations are not taken but there was only a few minutes wait for a table. It wasn’t bad and one main course was excellent. However, it just isn’t as good as it likes to think it is and isn’t going to get its Bib Gourmand back based on our lunch experience.
JIM EDWARDS: A long standing restaurant mainly serving steaks and seafood. And has probably served the same dishes for the last 25 years. Steaks were fine but nothing there with a “wow” factor.
LITTLE SKILLET: Small restaurant on Main Street. And another where almost all the customers were American. And another where their claim to be part of the “gourmet capital” just doesn’t live up to the hype. Nothing was good here. Starters were very poor. One main was a smoked salmon platter which is hard to mess up – but they tried by serving tartare sauce with it! The other main of port and porter casserole was bland and boring.
MAN FRIDAY: At last! A restaurant worthy of “gourmet” claim, even if some of its dishes were in a 1980s timewarp. “Classic” steak in pepper sauce. Fabulous mixed seafood platter. Excellent accompaniments. Good dessert. And under €100 for the two of us. This is the place to come if you can’t get a reservation at the next place mentioned.
MAX’s: Michelin mentioned and rightly so. It’s a “stand out” from the rest offering an interesting menu and several specials (mainly seafood). We hadn’t booked but, arriving at 8pm, got the last remaining table. One starter of chicken livers on potato cake. The other, three scallops each with a different sauce. One main of oxtail pie (on the bone). The other of lobster in garlic cream sauce. Most expensive meal of the week at €109, including drinks,coffee. If you only have chance for one dinner in Kinsale, make it here.
TODDIES: Modern restaurant above the Kinsale Brewery. Good main courses – lobster risotto and chicken. Desserts were just nasty. Not at all good value at €78.
If you’re self-catering or just need good food for a picnic, then the small Farmers’ Market on Tuesday morning is excellent. It’s held on Short Quay – and there’s also a good deli further down the road, with a great selection of local cheeses.
As an aside, probably the best meal we had was lunch down the coast at Castletownshed in a pub called Mary Ann’s. Fabulous fresh local seafood.
I hope this is useful to someone and, as I mentioned, there are full reviews on all the places mentioned on www.menupages.ie