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It’s a big bravo to Carole Norman on her return to the Kinsale restaurant scene. Three years ago, she closed the doors on the original Crackpots. But couldn’t stay away and you’ll find her now every weekend at Crackpots Encore in Cork Street. You’ll also find a warm welcome, good food based mostly in local produce and, if it’s a Friday evening, you’ll have the bonus of Billy Crosbie on the piano and a guest (or two, perhaps!).
Carole has that hospitality gene in abundance and the trademark warm welcome had us settled even before we are seated and studying the menu. A menu with a twist. Instead of starters, you are offered Platters. Have one for yourself or order a bigger one for sharing. Great variety and good value too. And yes, you may also have soup, oysters perhaps, mussels too.
Those Platters include Spanish Tapas,Patés on Parade and a Seafood Platter with prawns, oysters, mussels, and smoked salmon included. Hard to resist the superb Taste of Ireland (Irish cheese and charcuterie, including spiced beef from the local butcher just up the street) and a helping of Ballymaloe Relish!
The table tops are a decent size here but if you get one of those large platters, it makes for a tight squeeze. A delicious one though as we found out when we shared the Middle Eastern, a board loaded with Falafels, creamy Hummus, pomegranate tabouleh, roasted aubergine, artichoke hearts, olives, toasted pitta breads, stuffed vine-leaves.
There is a long wine list here, quite a few available by the glass as well. All kinds of spirits too and some gorgeous cocktails. I went for the local Black’s beer, always enjoy their superb ale.
Chef John Paul McCarthy comes into his own with the Plat du Jour, which features a short but ever-changing list of main courses with something guaranteed for fish lovers, meat eaters and something too for the vegan/vegetarian. You might find a Rib-eye steak, a pan-seared chicken supreme, a Monkfish red Thai curry, or amixed bean chilli, for example.
Our set of choices included a Baked fillet of Hake with teriyaki glaze on shredded Pak Choi, chilli and garlic and with basmati rice (or fries) and it was perfectly cooked, well presented and a terrific combination. We choose the rice and that also featured in another excellent dish: Chicken Massaman Curry, slow cooked in Thai spices and coconut milk and served with basmati rice and a green salad.
Other mains on offer on the night included Roasted Cauliflower cutlets, with a smoked tomato and red pepper sauce and olive tapenade and a Rib-eye with caramelised red onions, peppercorn sauce and hand-cut chips.
We had made an early start and as we were looking at the dessert menu, the punters were streaming in. It was Friday night and it was obvious that quite a few regulars had booked around this time, knowing that Billy Crosbie would soon be tinkling those ivories. He soon was and the lovely buzz increased. From Abba to Andy Williams, Beatles to Buble – Billy can play “almost” anything!!
We just had to be somewhere else later on but enjoyed our sample of Crackpots craic as we shared a dessert. Like some of Mr Crosbie’s numbers, this was a classic: Poached Pears in mulled red wine. And it was a terrific version. The list is short but also includes an excellent Irish cheese plate. If you’d like something small with your coffee, you can treat yourself to the local Koko chocolates. Pity we had to go. Next time we’ll give yourselves more time at Crackpots Encore.
Frank Keane, owner and producer at Koko of Kinsale, has a website but you won't get much info there. He is a man that prefers to chat rather than write, though he does "chat", sometimes cheeklily, on Facebook - find him @kokokinsale.
Francis makes his handmade artisan chocolate in the heart of Kinsale. Also sells "Delicious coffee, teas and most importantly real hot chocolate and our signature chocolate shots". To find out a bit more about Koko, see the articleI did about him about a year back.
To find out more about his chocolate, just call to his place on the Pier Road in the town and buy. Just like I did for this delicious Taste of the Week. As you can see, the embedded ingredients, the nuts, the raisins, the orange are all classic with chocolate and you may get this bar in milk or dark versions. I really enjoyed this one and the real treat was the pieces with the orange. Magnificent!
Koko on little break at present; will re-open Friday 13th Jan '17
Koko Chocolate Kinsale Frank's Answer to Recession
So there you are, after the recession and wiped out. Not the time for a knee jerk reaction. Count to ten, maybe. Well Frank Keane’s count to ten took him eight months and his decision took him from shock to choc!
For twenty one years before the recession left him high (low, maybe) and dry, Frank had dealt in collectable ceramics in Kinsale, in the same premises where he now makes Koko chocolates. Things were good but, like many another, he got ambushed when the Tiger’s roar died, going backwards before the final “wipe-out”.
What would he do now? What could he do. He looked to the kitchen. Under his mother’s influence he had always loved the kitchen. But, at fifty, he didn't want to start at the bottom with someone half his age telling him what to do.
Giant chilli caramel
Chocolate was the answer that came to him. And so, four years ago, he took a short two day course with Benoit Lorge in Kenmare and has been learning ever since, and enjoying life, even if the commitment is huge - seven days a week.
Citing Mast Brothers of Brooklyn and London as an inspiration, he “learns new stuff every day”. It helps that “chocolate is a very forgiving substance. If something doesn't turn out well, you can melt it down and start again.”
Ireland is a good place to make chocolate but even here the weather can be a problem. “On a wet day, especially with high humidity, the excess moisture can be a problem. And on a hot summer’s day, it is impossible to work."
My favourite. Well, one of many!
“Chocolate should be fun,” he says. “Put a smile on customers faces, adults as well as kids! I am often asked, Can you do this? I say I’ll give it a go and if it works it works”.
He had an unusual request over the recent Bank Holiday weekend. His premises were to be one of the calls on a James Bond theme arranged by a wife as part of her husband's 40th birthday celebrations. The party group were split into fours and at least one group was calling to Koko where they would find a chocolate grenade and hidden inside was 007’s favourite drink, the Martini (shaken, not stirred). I had an envious look.
Milk chocolate ganache
Frank makes the chocolate upstairs. We were sampling as we spoke and one that really caught my attention was the Ginger-Honey-Seaweed combination, a marvellous concentration of flavours and a very long finish indeed. Superb and as Frank pointed out, all three ingredients are good for you!
His own favorite - it changes weekly! - is the Rum Truffle. “You can't go wrong with a Rum Truffle, particularly if you have enough rum!”
Halloween choc and awe!
Kirsch is another liquor that Frank uses. He uses Balkan Cherries, stones out, stalks on, and soaks them for ages in a big bucket of Kirsch. Then they are dipped in dark chocolate and are divine! He also uses the likes of crystallised orange and ginger.
Christmas, fast approaching, is a peak time for Koko. And, as Frank relies on local customers (he doesn't do wholesale), he is always hoping for reasonable weather in the two weeks before the holiday, so that people can comfortably use the roads and get to Kinsale.
And everything here is fresh. “Everything you see here was started in the last two days. You get fresh stock, nothing is old here, it just turns over.” Quite a commitment but he gets great satisfaction from his work and loves having his own business.
By the way, he is right in the heart of the town, opposite the main car park alongside the tourist office. So do call in and take a look and while you are there you may also have a cup of coffee, maybe a hot chocolate? And, buying or looking, you are assured of a hearty welcome from Frank.