Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Two Special Days in West Cork. Bantry a Perfect Base

Two Special Days in West Cork
Bantry a Perfect Base
Bantry Library in the morning sun
Just back after two spectacular days in West Cork, two days when the sun shone non-stop. I drove through picture perfect scene after picture perfect scene: the sensational azure blue of the ocean and inlets, the bright yellow of the furze bushes. Just perfect. Lots of brown too, a relic of the winter, yet even that contained the promise of coiled up green waiting to shoot out to enhance and complete the picture in the weeks and months ahead.


First stop was Ballinascarthy, to take a look at the cross-roads memorial to Henry Ford, a full size model of the car-maker’s famous Model T. The slogan for this car, and for the stout of the same name now being sold by Black's Brewery of Kinsale, is: You may have any colour you like, provided it is black! The nailed-down Ballinascarthy model though is not black but a shiny silver. I suppose not too many would stop it were black.


Dunlough Bay
Next stop was the seaside village of  Schull with its lovely setting between Mount Gabriel and the sea. And just by the car park over the harbour, you'll find a cafe called Cois Cuain, perfect for a snack and, a tip, they have fantastic coffee here, Maher’s of course.

We continued west - we weren't taking the direct route to Bantry! Soon we were passing through Ballydehob and then lovely Goleen, heading for Mizen Head, Ireland’s most south-westerly point. A temporary cloud changed the light just as we arrived but the visit was brilliant. If you go out to the lighthouse - there is a reasonable fee - be sure and take the fenced path (with helpful hand-rails) up to where you can see the spectacular Dunlough Bay, probably even more spectacular on a bad day.
Model T
Time then to head to Bantry, via Durrus. Our base was the Maritime Hotel. And an excellent place it is, with very courteous staff, from reception, to bar to breakfast. Comfortable spacious rooms here, all with a view over the harbour. And breakfast is good. There is a hot buffet but here it is regularly refreshed. And you have the usual juices, meats and cheese too, and breads of course. No shortage at all. The long low rise hotel has its own underground car park and that, with a lift up to reception, is very convenient. Recommended.

There was a still an hour or two left of the afternoon and the regular Friday market was winding down as we strolled up the huge impressive square where statues of St Brendan and Wolfe Tone stand.
Barleycove, on the way to Mizen Head
We were heading for the Evans sweet shop (great photo here by Nicolas O'Donnell), a shop that is one hundred years old. We joined the small queue. The woman just ahead of us was buying hard liquorice sweets for “a suck” that night. Then three young girls were next but they very courteously indicated that we should be take their place in the line. We declined but, seeing the kids were possibly still making up their minds on what sweets to buy, we did take up the option.

After a lovely chat with Jennifer who has been here for many years, we decided to buy some clove rock cubes.  “They are very fresh,” she said. And so we left with  a small bag, nostalgia for just a euro. We should probably have bought more as she had a great choice of old time sweets including Bon Bons, Raspberry and Custard, Pear Drops and more.
Market in the square in Bantry
Dinner, and a good one it was, that evening was in the Fish Kitchen. They are building their craft beer list there and we sampled a few and, later, across the street at Ma Murphy’s Pub - you go through the grocery store to get to the bar - we enjoyed some draft Green Bullet by the Mountain Man. Back in the lovely bar at the hotel, with a singer (Neil Young and JJ Cale songs mainly) on duty, I had a very impressive bottle of Galway Hooker Pale Ale. Great label design on that one.

The morning was cool enough as I strolled out to the pier and had a chat with a guy stacking full fertiliser bags in readiness for the Whiddy Island ferry. Then we drove off up the road to Manning’s Emporium in Ballylickey where Andrew told us of their plans for the season ahead, exciting plans too with an expanded restaurant service (serving local produce) and Culture Kitchen tours on the horizon with Val Manning as guide (should be fun!). We’ll bring you more details shortly when arrangements are further advanced.

Nostalgia for a euro
After the coffee, it was back to the car and on the road west. More of the spectacular blue water as we passed through sunny Glengarriff and headed for Adrigole and the Healy Pass. We stopped halfway up the winding road and immediately a car that had been behind us pulled in and the man got out and asked us if we needed help.

Healy Pass
Copper mines reminder
We didn't, we were just going to take a few photos. But then quite a chat ensued and question after question followed and I reckon he found out more about us - ages, children, and more - than any internet investigator would. The elderly man, a local sheep farmer, was also volunteering info about himself and we enjoyed the chat. Soon, he was back in his car and speeding up the windy road, leaving us well behind!
At the top, we paused again, this time for quite a while to drink in the amazing views of the mountains, the lakes and the sea inlets beyond. Amazing place. Then we dropped down into Kerry for a while before turning left on the Ring of Beara Road and back into Cork. And one word of advice. Do take that windy, up and down road that hugs the coast and do stop and enjoy the views.

 We passed through Eyeries and Allihies (above) and their colourful houses. Near Allihies, you’ll see remains of the copper mining industry and there is a museum and cafe in the village (it opens from April). And, of course, that amazing blue was out there to our right all the time, the frame changing from bend to bend. Our final stop was in Castletownbere itself and here we walked along the pier where many large fishing boats, not all of them Irish, were docked.

Ring of Beara
 Time now to begin the journey home, retracing our steps back to Ballylickey and then taking the road that takes you through Céim an Fhia, Ballingeary, Inchigeela and its lakes, past Toonsbridge and its famous buffalo and dairy/shop, past the magnificent Gearagh and onto the Macroom-Cork road.
Boats in Bantry
 Hunger was setting in now and we turned left to Macroom and the Church Lane restaurant. We had a lovely early dinner here and saw that they too have craft beer on sale, including one from the local 9 White Deer Brewery. Irish craft beer is certainly on the up.


About forty minutes later, we were back in the city after a brilliant two days in the west!



Our Bantry base
See also: Bantry's Fish Kitchen

Monday, March 30, 2015

Bantry’s Fish Kitchen. Simply Fabulous Fish

Bantry’s Fish Kitchen

Simply Fabulous Fish
Wolfe Tone looks out over a sunny Bantry Bay.
Breaded mussels (left) and Sea-Bass.
Bantry’s Fish Kitchen prides itself “in having a menu that is almost all locally caught fish and shellfish”. But don't worry if you are a meat eater, they also serve steak. And some nice desserts too!

They say: “When talking about our fish we focus on three elements, freshness, simplicity, quality. We do our best not to interfere with the Fish we are serving, simply served with skin side up along with a variety of simple butters or sauces on top or on the side.”  A bit like the winemaker who does most of his work in the vineyard!

And they stick to that rule. The Fish may be emperor here and he or she is not over-dressed with complicated sauces and suchlike. In the case of both our mains during a weekend dinner, the fish was so fresh it might well have been swimming in the bay just a few minutes earlier.

Herb Crusted Cod fillet with Herb Crust and Parsley butter was the perfect illustration, indeed a perfect fish dish. There was just enough of the crust and parsley to enhance the delicate fish but no more.

The Sea Bass fillets on a Caesar salad was a bit unusual, hadn't come across that combination before. But again the perfect fish was enhanced by the salad. Oh, by the way, we did have some vegetables and fries on the side! And also some beer, including Mountain Man Hairy Goat, Eight Degrees Pale Ale and Tom Crean Lager.

The starters were excellent also. The Bantry Bay Breaded Mussels were unexpectedly served in a Scallop Shell and were top class and I certainly enjoyed a warming Fish Kitchen Seafood Chowder.

We were tempted by the dessert list but in the end decided to give it a skip and said our goodbyes to Diarmuid who served us well throughout the evening.The restaurant, open for lunch as well, is upstairs - the family also run a fish shop on the ground floor - and is highly recommended. We certainly enjoyed the fish and the chat.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Amuse Bouche

...that stupendous civic institution which everyone calls the Boqueria.
It is the hub and heart of both Barcelona’s gastronomy and its everyday eating. Its site was originally occupied by the sixteenth-century convent of Sant Josep and the fourteenth-century one of Santa Maria. Hang me for a gluttonous atheist if you will, but compared to the increase of human happiness afforded by this great market, the loss of a couple of convents is nothing.

from Barcelona, the Great Enchantress by Robert Hughes

Friday, March 27, 2015

Your Weekend Wine Suggestions. Ace Organic Boyo! And More.

Weekend Wine Suggestions

Ace Organic, Boyo! And More.

Cantina Orsogna Coste dí Moro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (DIOC) 2011, 14%, €15.99, reduced from 19.99, at Curious Wines

This splendid “biodinamica” wine, hidden behind its brown paper labels, is made from the Montepulciano grape grown in the Abruzzo area of Italy.
Pour this super organic gem and you’ll see the colour is a dense ruby and that it has amazingly pleasant fruity aromas. On the palate, it is warm and intense, the tannins are soft. Overall, an easy drinking wine that, in its freshness, is reminiscent of a Loire Cabernet Franc, and one, with its almost sweet flavours, that will please many. Very Highly Recommended.

Velenosi Rosso Novello 2014 (IGT Marche, Italy), 13%, €15.50 Karwigs
Montepulciano is the main grape (90%) in this blend, another wine earning a Very Highly Recommended tag.
It is a young and bright wine, ruby the colour. There are intense red fruits on the nose, some spice too. On the palate, it is full of fruit, so smooth and yet is so well balanced as the acidity is not shy either. Light and pleasing to drink but take your time; you’ll enjoy a sip as much as a slug. Hints of blood orange on the finish.

 Falvo Li Veli Orion Primitivo 2013, Salento (IGT), 14%,, €17.25 Karwigs

Ruby, a dense one, is also the colour here and it boasts rich ripe fruit aromas; note also a little spice. This is rich and fruity, quite powerful, yet elegantly smooth and long. The acidity though doesn't let go and so you have a fresh and pleasing wine, really beautifully balanced and you’ll love that long finalé. Very Highly Recommended.
Vigneti del Salento Primitivo 2012, Puglia, 14%, €12.39 reduced from 15.49 at Curious Wines
Pleasant aromas from this one as well and hints of spice too. Fruity, for sure, but balanced, overall soft and generous with fine tannins. Another easy drinking wine with lots of ripe and luscious fruit flavours. Highly Recommended.

Etienne Barret Crozes Hermitage blanc 2012, 12.5%, SuperValu.

This was my St Patrick’s Night wine and I wasn't all that keen on taking notes. But I have to say this blend of Marsanne and Roussanne is a beauty and Very Highly Recommended. Attractive aromas, full of flavour, almost creamy mouthfeel, plus a generous finish. One to note for sure.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Twenty Four Hours in Kinsale

Twenty Four Hours in Kinsale
Forts, Food, Craft Beer!
It was Friday the 13th but we weren't staying at home. We were on the road to Kinsale for an overnight stay.


First call was to Charlesfort, this time, not to visit the early 17th century fort but to take the harbourside walk that begins with a stroll down the left hand side of the sprawling complex.  There are good views of Charlesfort and the town as you start off and later the Old Head comes into view.
Charlesfort (above) and James Fort
The path, with the waters of the harbour on your right, is not the smoothest and, at one point, you have to make a short walk across a stony beach. You pass through a boatyard on your way to Lower Cove. This was where we turned back. The way forward is not clear but apparently you can reach the point with views across to the Old Head and out to sea where the Sovereign Islands lie.

We had a date with Sam and Maudeline Black at their brewery in Farm Lane. They were working their way through a busy afternoon but found time to give us a tour and tasting. After that, we checked into our hotel, the Old Bank. Though this is right smack bang in the middle of the town, I must admit I'd never heard of it.

Kinsale evening
It is part of the Blue Haven holdings here and it proved a very good base indeed. It has no parking but the public car park is quite close. We got a warm welcome and indeed spent a pleasant night here and the breakfast was very good indeed. They had some decent choices and the toast was cut from a proper loaf (Cuthbert’s), not your usual sliced pan. Good value too.

Time now for a walk down the Pier Road as the sun began to set. Got a few photos in before heading back to the hotel. Our next port of call was the relatively new restaurant, Bastion (they have Prosecco on tap!), where we enjoyed an excellent meal.
Evening in Kinsale
 Afterwards, just a few yards away, I sampled some craft beers, Black’s (of course) and Metalman, in the Malt Lane. They had quite a selection here and an even bigger selection of whiskeys.

Old Bank

We visited another fort in the morning. This is James Fort, across the water from Charlesfort which it pre-dates. Nowadays, it is stoutly defended by the OPW (no interior access) but there are fine views and also some excellent walks in the surrounding fields.


Back down to the car then and away to Garretstown where we expected to find the surfers. But they were outnumbered by canoeists from a city club who were getting some much needed practice in. Needless to say, the camera was out of the bag again.

Stayed with the coast roads until we came to another beach, this Harbour View near Kilbrittain. This looks safer, certainly calmer, than Garretstown but not as well equipped with parking facilities. Still, a lovely place to stroll around in the sun and we weren't the only ones taking advantage of the beach and the dunes.
Harbour View
 We had a late lunch pencilled in at another relatively new restaurant, this the Monk’s Lane in the middle of the village of Timoleague, famous for its ruined abbey. But before all that the camera, with fast lens attached, was put into action again in an attempt to get a few shots of cars taking part on the West Cork Rally. They were driving (though not racing at this point) along the road by the abbey.

 The meal in Monk’s Lane was superb and great to see local craft beer on sale there as well. The rally cars had vanished at that stage and we headed up towards Bandon on the way home after a lovely twenty four hours, well maybe 26, in the area.


See also: My Kinsale Guide



Part of a walk-on circle of plaques depicting local people and
connections in the grounds of Timoleague church

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Taste of the Week

Taste of the Week
Instead of the Easter Egg?
Glenstal Abbey’s Monastic Liqueurs Dessert Truffles


This delicious 16-piece pack, a big brother of an earlier Taste of the Week, is filled with absolute deliciousness. Some top class liqueurs are used, spread among five of the eight pairs of truffles.


Of the five pairs containing alcohol, I found it very hard to choose between the Chartreuse and the Liqueur de Mandarine. Both liqueurs are French, both splendid in the chocolate. And not far behind, on my palate at least (I’m sure you'll have your own preferences) are the Irish Coffee, the Nocina di Valserena and the Benedictine.


The three pairs not containing alcohol were given very serious consideration indeed and my “winner” was the Milk Praline: caramelised hazelnuts ground and delicately blended with chocolate. Next position went to the Almond (Turkish almonds caramelised) and the Whole Hazelnut covered with smooth praline.

Over to you now to see what you think of our latest Taste of the Week, available at Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Taking a look at Cork City cuisine!


Fresh from the farm and sea in Ireland’s largest county
Hederman Smoked Salmon
Cork city, capital of Ireland’s largest county (County Cork), has more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline to the south and productive farmland to the east, north and west. Big or small, farmers and fishermen play an important role in the area’s  cuisine.
Here, on a slide show by Chowzter, the international food APP, are some of the finest examples of Cork cuisine. Click here for a tasty treat!

Schull’s Café Cois Cuan. Good View, Good Food

Schull’s Café Cois Cuan.
Good View, Good Food


Roast Mediterranean Vegetable salad
 Many visitors will arrive in Schull around lunch-time. You park the car in the car-park above the fishing boats and wonder where will you get lunch. Just look up towards the street and there you’ll see Café Cois Cuan, serving breakfast, lunch, teas and coffee.


It wasn't there last year, you might say. And you'd be right. The bright and tidy café, run by Kevin Rochford (chef) and Brittany Ingram, opened at the start of 2015 and, during a lunch-time visit last week, Brittany told me that each week so far has been better than the previous one.

And we hope that trend continues. For here you will find good food at a fair price. And, by the way, you'll find excellent coffee. They prefer the “classic” and so they went for a Maher’s blend and the cup I enjoyed was one of the very best I’ve had in a long while.


There is quite an extensive menu at this family run place and be sure to check the board for their daily specials. Indeed, we went for two of the specials. CL picked the Roast Mediterranean Vegetable salad, a very impressive plateful indeed in which the aubergine played the starring role. It was available in two sizes, one for €6.95, the larger for €9.95.

I had been thinking of going for the De Roiste Black Pudding and Cashel Blue Cheese salad but instead picked the Tune special, basically a Tuna Wrap Special with salad and chips. Quite a meal, I must say, and the salad, just like CL’s, was superb.

There were lots of sandwiches available as well, including a Ploughman’s Lunch for just €5.95. You could also start with a bowl of soup and if you were feeling the chill, they were offering a Beef and Murphy’s Stew!
And if you enjoy something sweet, well they have you covered as well. They have Baked Apple cake, Chocolate Fudge cake and Maple Banana Slice (in nibble and full size!). No alcohol here but they have lots of soft drinks and teas and that superb coffee. Service is efficient and friendly and yes the view from the window seats is excellent.


Café Cois Cuan http://www.cafecoiscuan.ie
East End, An Scoil, Cork, Ireland
Tue - Sat:
8:30 am - 5:00pm.
028 27005

kevin@cafecoiscuan.ie