Showing posts with label Kilkenny. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kilkenny. Show all posts

Thursday, April 13, 2017

48 Hours in Kilkenny. Sweet Start to Sweet End

48 Hours in Kilkenny

Sweet Start to Sweet Finish
Street food: Farmers Market taco from the Bula Bus

Let me take you to Inner Ireland, to Kilkenny in particular, the heart of the Ancient East.

Must say I was more interested in the inner part of me when I arrived, with the sunshine, on a recent Thursday at noon. Parked up and headed to the Weekly Farmers Market. Not as many stalls as I’d been led to believe but no shortage of food.

One of the first spotted was Charly’s Cheesecakes who have been trading in Cork’s English Market recently and who now have a spot in the Coal Quay on Saturdays. 

Close by were the boys from Bula Bus, the bus based restaurant in the back yard of Billy Byrnes’s pub in Kilkenny. Started at their stall with a hearty Smoked Czech Sausage in a baguette and a dollop or two of Californian Pickled Cabbage (a short-cut version of sauerkraut). CL was also well fed, no shortage of either quality or quantity in her Braised Beef Taco.

Muscles and Medals galore.
So we sat on one of the stone benches and indulged and soon over came Derek of Charly's with a couple of his cheesecakes for dessert! Both gorgeous, but that Malteser must be one of his very best. A cup of coffee then from another stand and we were ready to walk!

Our first port to call was the Smithwick’s Experience. The family first started brewing here over 300 years ago (1710) and we had an enjoyable tour and tasting in the old building in the centre of the town.
Inside the Medieval Mile Museum
 Back towards the castle area then to see a modern art show in the Butler Gallery. Across the road, we dallied in the gardens of the Butler Townhouse enjoying the flowers, especially the magnolias.


Time then to check in at Hotel Kilkenny, up past famous St Kieran’s where I was well fed in 1963 after playing a “friendly” against them at Nowlan Park. It is a fine hotel but disappointed at the lack of Irish craft beers and spirits in the bar. We were dining out that night, at the Royal Spice, one of the better Indian restaurants around.
Kilkenny Castle

Up good and early and again the sun was shining for a packed Day Two. The new Medieval Mile Museum is quite an eye-opener, with something for young and old, great views into the past and some good views too over the city.

What I particularly liked about it was that fact that the small folks in history got a mention! Oh yes, the Butlers and other nobles are well covered here. But be sure and go upstairs to the Kilkenny Room for some interesting stories about ordinary life in medieval times.

You'll see the quotes on small blue-ish panels. If you are not on a guided tour, you can open these doors yourself and see the actual letters of the time, all of them hand-written, some of them some of them beautifully so.

One concerns a complaint (about 1700) that "severall idle women doe make and sell unwholesome bread halfe baked in open ovens". Two men, who may have been members of the bakers guild, made the complaint.

There is a document where you learn that Kilkenny employed a "whipsbeggar" whose job was to drive strange or unfamiliar beggars out of town. In 1547, the mayor was given the task of making a dipping stole (stool) for punishing of bawdy hoores, and cnaves (knaves).


We had visited the Castle a good few years back and were delighted to do so again. Some magnificent rooms and furniture here, history in every nook and cranny, lovely views over the Nore River and of the castle grounds. A highlight is a visit to the gallery though you may have a strain in your neck as you take in the very unusual painted ceiling. The high walls are full of paintings, mainly of the Butlers.
Operation transformation at Nicholas Mosse
A pastry and a coffee (the latter good quality, but steep enough at €3.15) in the coffee shop at the Design Centre across the road was enough to keep us going as we headed out to the countryside. We drove to Bennettsbridge, the base of outstanding potter Nicholas Mosse. Here, we added a few bits and pieces to our modest collection.


The Nore flows through Bennettsbridge under a lovely old multi-arch bridge. The next river we would see was the Barrow in Graiguenamamagh on the Kilkenny-Carlow border, a beautiful village, with quite a few river-boats parked for the winter.
Goats graze in Bennettsbridge
 We took a walk past them and past a couple of representations of the monks (one a farmer, another a fisherman) after whom the village was named. By the way, the better boats seemed to be on the Carlow side! Then again, maybe they are ahead with the spring-cleaning!


Our base that night was at the renovated Kilkenny Inn and we enjoyed a lovely meal in their new restaurant, Kernel. Up bright and early - so was the sun - the following morning.
Farming monk in Graiguenamanagh
 St Canice's Cathedral is a few hundred yards away and we spent the best part of an hour there going through the treasures, treasures that include the beautiful east window (and its fascinating story), St Kieran's Chair (used for enthroning the local bishops for over 1500 years), the fascinating effigy tombs and, of course, the Round Tower. I think if I had time for just one visit in Kilkenny, this would be it.


I didn't climb the tower this time but, they do say, if you like a place you should always leave something to draw you back! 
Kilkenny side of the Barrow
 But we weren't leaving the pastries of Cakeface behind. We got a late tip to call to the cafe, a very busy one, in Irishtown and helped ourselves to a few of their colourful and unusual cakes and a loaf of crusty sourdough!

Carlow side of the Barrow
 Soon we were on the road home after a lovely (if busy) stay in the Marble City and its surrounds. We’ll be back, if only for the food!  And the Round Tower, of course!


St Canice's Cathedral and Round Tower

Lots of notes and photos taken, so I have individual posts on some of the visits. Hope they help you on your trip to Inner Ireland! 

See also: The Smithwick Experience. Royal Spice Indian Restaurant. From the Bula Bus. CakeFace Pastry The new Kernel Restaurant
Effigies on the tomb of Piers Butler (died 1539) and his wife Margaret Fitzgerald (1542)

Cakeface

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Kernel Kilkenny. Maria’s Up and Running

Kernel Kilkenny

Maria’s Up and Running
Salmon
So here you are in the kitchen with this lot in front of you: Salmon, sugar snaps, mint, new potatoes, Toonsbridge feta, butternut squash, lime dressing. What to do? Well, check with Maria Raftery, the owner-chef at Kernel, Kilkenny’s newest restaurant. She grilled the salmon and put all the other ingredients together in a magical manner to produce one of the best salmon dishes you're likely to come across.

It is one of the main dishes on the new menu at the restaurant which has taken up most of the front of the Kilkenny Inn on Vicar Street. And the dish, and others, amply illustrate that Maria has lost none of her innovative qualities that shone through over 17 years at Zuni, also in Kilkenny.
Goatsbridge trout
 Kernel Restaurant and Bar, to give it its full title, will be running hand in hand with the hotel and is providing the breakfast for the lucky patrons. Brunch and dinner is also available, even afternoon teas for both ladies and gents!


Back to our visit. While CL was finishing off the salmon and singing its praises, I was tucking into something a little less complicated: the Kernel Angus Beef Burger, smoked Gubbeen, burger sauce, pickle-slaw, house fries. Less complicated maybe but still a perfect combination of textures and flavours.
Ham Hock Scotch Egg
CL had started the meal with Goatsbridge Trout Ceviche, Nori Seaweed, Smoked Trout Mousse, Roe Dressing. Hard to beat that. You’ll notice that Kernel has started by supporting local producers and Goatsbridge Trout Farm is one of the best.

I didn't do too badly either with my Ham Hock Scotch Egg, Piccalilli. Lacked nothing in either quantity or quality, full of good flavour and a really satisfying opening to my visit to Kernel.
 The dessert list is short but still left us puzzled, a puzzle we solved by ordering the Assiette of Desserts, a sweet solution.


They’ve got a pretty good wine list, three suppliers contributing to a good balance overall. We made a bit of a compromise, an enjoyable one, on the Cantina Frentana, Montepulciano D’Abbruzo, fruity and smooth, and twenty five euro the bottle.
Dessert - for sharing!
Had noticed a few (quite a few actually) craft beers on the list including Franciscan Well, Costello’s, O’Hara’s, Free Bird and Hop Adventure (both from Carlow) and Falling Apple Cider (also Carlow). The taps on the bar heralded the three variations of Smithwick's (Red Ale, Pale Ale and the Blonde) but I'm sorry I missed out on the tap for O’Sullivan’s Malted Red Ale, a local beer (now revived) that was produced before Smithwick started in 1710. Next time!
See also

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Taste of the Week. CakeFace Pastry

Taste of the Week

CakeFace Pastry
It was love at first sight in a crowded Kilkenny cafe on a Saturday morning. I had eyes only for The Jaffa Orange, one of many sweet sensations created in the shop by CakeFace Pastry in Irishtown under the shadow of the cathedral. Couldn't wait to get her home and demolish that dark choc and orange mousse, with an orange centre on a crunchy base. Was that dark one my Taste of the Week?

Maybe. Because once Jaffa was over, I turned my attentions to the blonde, the Cherries Dark Forrest, a Luxurious White Choc Mousse and Kirsch mousse on a sour cherry jelly and chocolate sponge. Taste of the Week?

And there are many more Tastes of the Week where this delicious duo come from: Raspberry velveteen, Rhubarb Rose, Passionate Tart. Neither you nor I can lose here. Of course, you may eat your choice in the cafe and the coffee is good too. 

16 Irishtown
Kilkenny City

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Taste of the Week. From the Bula Bus

Taste of the Week

From the Bula Bus
Smoked sausage and pickled cabbage

The Bula Bus is a restaurant, in a bus, a double decker. They cook downstairs, serve you upstairs. It is an old bus from Manchester that doesn't go anywhere anymore. It is parked up, permanently, in the backyard of Billy Byrnes pub in Kilkenny.

But they do have a stall at the local Farmers Market every Thursday and it was there that I got fed last week and found my Taste of the Week in their Czech style Smoked Sausage.

Six euro bought me street food at its best. A big choice of sauces and condiments and the large sausage was served with Californian style pickled cabbage, a faster version of Sauerkraut. 

The sun was shining as I sat down on a public seat nearby and tucked into my substantial and very tasty lunch. I could have been in California or Prague but Kilkenny’s Parade was cosmopolitan enough for me.

It is easy enough to catch the Bula Bus crew and their out of the ordinary food - they are open most days behind the pub. More info here.


A brief account of a 2014 visit to the bus: it was time for lunch so the group (about 14 strong) headed off to the Podge Meade’s Bula Bus, a former unit of the fleet in Manchester city but now parked up at the back of Billy Byrne’s pub. The kitchen is downstairs and the upper deck is laid out as a restaurant, serving wild and foraged street food. Venison, mushroom and rabbit (which I enjoyed) featured on the menu.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Good Food is no Illusion at Royal Spice


Good Food is no Illusion at Royal Spice 

Murg Tikka

There is music playing, the pleasant hum of people talking close by. Soft lights and, over your table, hangs one of many similar big red shades guiding illumination down to where you want it. It is a colourful place - you spot garlands hanging and balloons in a row. 

You begin to think that this, the Royal Spice in Kilkenny, must be a big place. But it is not - mirrors make it appear that way. It is something of an illusion. 
Samosas
 But nothing illusionary about the food on your plate. A bit of oriental magic maybe, worked on splendid local produce, but no illusion whatsoever. Just excellent Indian dishes for you and the twenty plus around you (yes, this room doesn't take much more than thirty) to enjoy.


This is one of the better Indian restaurants and one suspects that it is their desire, a desire they daily put into practice, to support local producers that helps it stand out from the crowd. As well as their own expertise in the kitchen. Not everything is Irish, of course; black tiger prawns, for instance, are imported.

Chicken Shashlik
 After the customary poppadoms and dips, the starters arrive. There is a terrific choice here. My selection is Murg Tikka, fresh Irish chicken marinated overnight with mixed ground spices, yoghurt, garlic and ginger, delicately grilled in their tandoori oven served with their authentic dohi chutney. Top quality and absolutely delicious.


Good reports too from the other side of the table where the superb crispy Samosas filled with mixed vegetables and served with their homemade beetroot chutney is going down well.

 Lassai Gosht

I take a few sips of my local beer, the lovely Costello’s Red, as we sit back and await the mains. Soon my Lassai Gosht, fresh Irish lamb pan-cooked with sliced garlic, onion, coriander seed, peppercorn and yoghurt served with the chef’s own special sauce and garnished with chilli arrives. Something that little bit lighter about the Indian dishes here and this is another delight.

Not quite as spectacular though as CL’s Chicken Shashlik. This consists of fresh chunks of marinated chicken with pieces of onion, peppers, tomatoes, cooked in a clay oven with tandoori mixed spices, served sizzling on cast iron. It makes a hissing smoking entrance and the substance lives up to the showy part. Another brilliant dish.
We are very happy with the meal, with the friendly welcome and service and the immaculate cooking. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Royal Spice
Watergate Street
Kilkenny
056 7786010
Facebook: @royalspice
Twitter @royalspice
Opening Times: Monday - Thursday 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Friday & Saturday 5:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Sunday 2:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Sunday, March 26, 2017

At the home of Ireland’s Oldest Beer. The Smithwick’s Experience, Kilkenny.

At the home of Ireland’s Oldest Beer.

The Smithwick’s Experience, Kilkenny
 Smithwick’s, our guide tells us at the start of our tour in its Kilkenny home, is the oldest beer in Ireland, first produced here in 1710. The 307 years impress our group, which includes a few Americans. But we are told it is entirely possible that beer was made here by Franciscan monks as far back as 1231. 


In 2012, the Kilkenny People headlined: Profitable brewery closed. The tradition ended in 2014 when the brewery closed and the beer is now brewed in Dublin, at Guinness.
Smithwick family was first to have running water in Kilkenny, 
hence the bath-tubs as seats for tour visitors.
 We were introduced to the family behind the name, eight generations of them, including John Smithwick who originally leased the building. John was a budding entrepreneur and the twenty year old soon started the brewing business. 


But then the penal laws hit - Catholics weren't allowed own businesses. The crafty Smithwick found a loophole and Protestant Richard Cole became his frontman, an early example of eucenmism. 
 That block on Catholic ownership lasted for an incredible 117 years. And the fact that the Smithwicks weren't the legal owners meant they could only operate locally so the business was hindered - going outside of the locality would put the “arrangement” at risk. 


Finally, it was John's great-grandson Edmund who got the legal right to run the brewery in his own name and celebrated by putting the name over the the gate (that we had entered a few minutes earlier). At this stage too, the family were very close with Daniel O’Connell, the Great Liberator.
Smell the hops
 Roads weren't great at the time so Edmund started using the rivers to distribute Smithwick’s. Expansion followed and soon it became a national brand. We would meet all the key family members, or at least their talking portraits, as we made our way through the house. And the centuries.


In the 1930s, Walter brought a more modern outlook. He introduced their first logo, the No.1, and also started a commission scheme for the salesmen. By 1950, the brand was becoming known outside of Ireland and in January of that year, they attempted their first export to Boston. It landed in Boston - that much is known - but then it appears that every bottle was stolen! Nowadays, Smithwicks is exported to the US, Canada, France and South Korea.
 The guide went on to introduce us to the ingredients and the process. We had a good sniff of the various hops used in the beer, now made in three versions: the traditional red ale, the pale ale and the blonde. Hops sniffed included the American pair of Amarillo and Cascade.


By the way, if you ask for a Smithwick anywhere in Ireland, especially in Kilkenny, you’ll almost certainly get the traditional red. Our final call was to the bar to sample the wares. The basic tour entitles you to a pint of the red ale. A few euro more and you can have a paddle with half-pints of the three different beers. 
Waiting for the missing blonde! The red in middle, pale ale on right.
My paddle and few others, including that of a couple of Californians, didn't work out too well. We got the red and the excellent pale ale but the blonde tap ran out. 

We were told we’d have our blonde in a few minutes but the guide was called away (presumably to lead another group), there was no other employee left at the bar and we never got the blonde. Ourselves and the Californians and a few more left without tasting it and that put a bit of a downer on an otherwise interesting tour.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Brooklodge Hotel. Excellent Base for Wicklow.

The Brooklodge Hotel at Macreddin Village
Excellent Base for Wicklow Attractions
The saints of Ireland invariably seemed to end up in the most beautiful locations. St Kevin of Glendalough fame found another beauty spot not too far away in Macreddin, the present day location of the gorgeous Brooklodge Hotel.

Macreddin was important in the history of the area for a long time afterwards but then fell into decline, revived only by a band of brothers, the Doyles, who reimagined it and rebuilt the little village. Here, in the heart of the Wicklow countryside, they have everything you need to get away from it all in the 21st century.

Then again, there are not too many hermits nowadays and you may need a little company, maybe a lot of it!. So, you can have birthday party here. Or indeed a full scale wedding - they even have their own village church! Kevin may have come for the food, wild and organic, and that was why I visited a few weeks back. More precisely, I was there to try out their splendid Wild and Organic Tasting Menu.
That menu was served up in the Strawberry Tree, the premium restaurant in the village. But there is another one called the La Taverna Armento, which features a full Southern Italian menu. There is a bar in the hotel and another in the village. Oh, there’s lots more including a spa, conference  suites, an equestrian centre, a food store, and a golf club. Reckon if Kevin came back, he'd stay around for a long while. Might even buy his food at the very popular Macreddin monthly farmers market.

I was there for just the one night and was very impressed. Took a walk around - there are quite a series of rambles, some long, some short. Mine was just around the green, saying hello to the hens of course, glad of the organic message their presence indicates. And I was friendly towards them. After all, they were supplying the eggs for breakfast.

And that breakfast, served in a beautiful room (you may also have it in your bedroom), was indeed a delicious affair. No shortage of juices and also the Macreddin Village Smoothie. All the cereals, also fresh fruit, yogurts and my pick which was the Porridge with Honey and Cream.
The main event was Poached Eggs on Irish Potato Cake and I could also have had had their version of the full Irish, also pancakes with Highbank Apple Syrup or Grilled Wild Fish. No shortage of lovely breads, their own of course, and organic tea and coffee to wash it all down.

Our room was excellent, very well heated and that is another story. Comfort was top class and no shortage of space either. The bedroom was on a spacious glass-walled mezzanine with its own bath. The main TV was downstairs but there was also a mini-one above. Shower and toilets were downstairs.

Staff were excellent throughout, at reception, in the restaurant, in the bar, everywhere, and helped make it a stay to remember in a place to remember.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Highbank Organic Orchards. Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of Microbes

Highbank Organic Orchards

Hundreds of Apple Trees. Billions of Microbes
I’m walking through long rows of apple trees, all in blossom, pink and white abound. The grass between is ankle height, lush and liberally populated with white daisies. Lush, but recently topped. Had I been there a week earlier, I would have seen battalions of dandelions.

I am in Kilkenny, in the healthy heart of Highbank Orchards, an organic farm owned and managed by Rod and Julie Calder-Potts.  This is excellent land for farming, recognised as such for many centuries - even the Normans had their eyes on it.  The farm-yard is 17th century, the house is 19th, and the distillery (which I've come to see) is 21st.  

Rod in the new distillery
Now though, on a lovely May evening, all is calm as Rod takes us through the orchard, though not through all its twenty acres. Fourteen of these are mature, planted with quite a few varieties, including Dabinett, Blusher, Bramley and, scattered in among the others, that lovely juicy Katy. Katy is an early apple and has lost its blossoms.

Nothing has been sprayed here for twenty years. It is not that nothing ever threatens the apple trees but they are essentially healthy and can look after themselves. And Rod reckons much of that is down to the microbes in the soil, billions of them, all "working", not necessarily together - some eat one another - but combining to preserve the habitat. They are not disturbed, not traumatized by chemicals, and so the orchards live on and thrive. “Soil health depends on a thriving population of organisms”, says Dan Barber in The Third Plate.
Orchard spirit!
The next big occasion for the orchard is, of course, the harvest. The Calder-Potts keep the apples on the trees for as long as possible, indeed they allow them fall off naturally when fully ripe. Then they are swept up and taken to the nearby yard.

They are transferred then to the apple press, an expensive piece of kit, and the juice is extracted to be used in the delicious products that Highbank now produces: Apple Juice, Apple Juice with Organic Mulled Spices, their famous Orchard Syrup (Ireland's answer to maple syrup and launched in 2010), Highbank Drivers Cider (a delicious, sparkling refreshing non-alcoholic drink), Highbank Proper Cider, and a honeyed Medieval Cider.
Proper cider!
Recently they have moved up the ABV scale with the installation of their little distillery and are making Gins, Pink Flamingo Gin and the premium Crystal Gin. And there’ll be more! We enjoyed the tour of the bright new distillery. It is small. The operation is small-scale, bottling is done by hand. Small yes, but these are top class products.


Highbank is the setting for many events but most notably, from a food point of view, they have hosted the Keith Bohanna Bia Beag series with subjects such as artisan bread, locally roasted coffee, bean to bar chocolate. And, of course, there is the Highbank Christmas Food and Craft Fair.
They are a busy couple and you’ll see them at markets and food festivals all over the country, including most recently, Sheridan’s and Ballymaloe LitFest. Besides, they are involved in promoting good food generally. Kilkenny too is naturally close to their hearts and so we couldn't have had a better guide on a quick Saturday morning run through the marble city than Julie.

She showed us, with pride, restaurants such as Zuni and the Salt Yard, Slice of Heaven and its newly opened cookery school, the food hall at the Kilkenny Design Centre. Then you need something to serve your food in so off we went to Nicholas Mosse in Bennettsbridge, you need some nice lighting while dining and we got that at nearby Moth to a Flame (Larry Kinsella’s hand-made candles) and you also need something nice to look at on your walls and shelves and we found plenty of that at the Bridge Pottery.
Needless to say, the credit card took a bit of a hammering. On the previous afternoon, left to my own devices, I was on the drinks trail! Called to Billy Byrne’s Pub (the Bula Bus and its excellent onboard restaurant is parked in the back) and sipped some nice local beer by Ger Costello and a pale ale from 12 acres.

Of course, I couldn't leave Kilkenny without calling to Le Caveau. Pascal himself was busy on the road but we did take advantage of the reductions for Real Wine Month and went off happy with a couple of his organic wines.

And it was the drink that brought us to Kilkenny in the first place! In Highbank's internet competition earlier in the year, I won a meal at The Strawberry Tree and, in addition, I also won a bottle of Highbank's new Crystal Gin and that was in the car with us as we said au revoir to the Marble City and to two of its outstanding citizens, the Calder-Potts.
Le Caveau (left) and Bennettsbridge (from the Nicholas Mosse pottery)