Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland

Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland

We’re home from Ireland and fighting urges to go to the neighborhood pub for a pint. We’re actually lucky enough to have a pretty decent Irish-inspired pub close to our house, but it won’t be the same.

We arrived in Dublin, picked up our car and pointed it south toward County Cork and Kinsale. We had tickets to the 39th Kinsale Gourmet Festival’s kickoff event that night. The Festival is a weekend-long celebration of the culinary wonderland that is County Cork. It is hosted by 11 Kinsale restaurants that make up the Kinsale Good Food Circle.

The kickoff event we attended was the Taste of West Cork Dining Experience, which started with a reception at the Trident Hotel featuring complimentary Laurent Perrier Champagne and canapés from the 11 Good Food Circle Restaurants. Each restaurant proffered up 2-4 hors d’oeuvres to try… so, hmmmm, carry the one… it seems Joel and I had roughly 33 canapés each and several glasses of champagne. This was after the obligatory Guinness and oysters we had upon arriving in Kinsale. Oh, and did I mention we didn’t sleep at all on the flight and then immediately hopped in our rental car and drove halfway across the island? Needless to say, we were in tip-top shape when the Irish Minister of Agriculture, Food and Marine and the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland took the podium. In spite of our fatigue and gluttony, we enjoyed hearing the dignitaries’ thoughts and learned a lot about Ireland’s culinary goals.

The Laurent Perrier Champagne Reception at the Trident Hotel. Part of the 39th Kinsale Gourmet Festival. 

The Laurent Perrier Champagne Reception at the Trident Hotel. Part of the 39th Kinsale Gourmet Festival. 

The Kinsale Marina near the Trident Hotel

The Kinsale Marina near the Trident Hotel

After the reception, our evening of over-indulgence continued with a five-course (yes, 1, 2, 3, 4, FIVE) dinner at one of the Good Food Circle Restaurants. We selected Apertif at Blue Haven. We walked from the Trident, which sits along the marina—its address is literally World’s End—into the heart of downtown Kinsale to Blue Haven. We were welcomed and seated in a cozy booth and presented with our menus. There were two options for courses, 2-4, which there being two of us, means we got to try everything. I’ve listed the items below with some commentary. Sadly, we didn’t take any photos.

*Disclaimer: All gluten and dairy bets were off.

We selected a bottle of 2010 Manfredi Barolo.

Course 1:

Celeriac and Local Pear Soup with Cashel Blue Cheese Cream and Chestnut Crumb

I started salivating over this soup when the restaurant posted its menu a week before we left for Ireland. I love blue cheese, although I don’t eat it much these days. As if blue cheese wasn’t indulgent enough, they opted to make a blue cheese cream. It was the height of hedonism and I blacked out a little when I tasted it. Despite being rich and very creamy indeed, it wasn’t overpowering. The pear and celeriac brought it back down to earth, cutting through the decadence, while the chestnut crumb lent a change in texture and a nutty-smoky companion taste.

Course 2:

Organic Ballinwillin Esate Wild Boar, Blue Haven Scotch Hens Egg, Pancetta Shards, Watercress and Whole Grain Mustard Dressing

Pan Seared Atlantic Scallops and Rosscarbery Black Pudding, Cauliflower Puree, Apple Textures and Pea Shoots

Joel’s blue cheese is wild boar, so he dominated that dish, save the scotch egg, which I happily hogged and devoured. I did get a few forkfuls of the boar and can report that the whole plate was rich, especially the egg, but expertly layered with flavors and textures. As with the soup, this was a true symphony: the wild boar had a hint of gaminess, the pancetta was salty and smoky, the watercress fresh and crisp, and the mustard tied it all together, enhancing each flavor through contrast.

The scallops were served atop a disc of the black pudding, and let me tell you, that was a superb idea. The scallop, sweet in flavor with a silky and firm texture like panacotta, paired with the coarse texture and saltiness of the black pudding, was ecstasy. The garnishes were just that, but did offer some alternate flavor combos. However, I was happy to keep it simple with the black pudding and scallop. The three of us were very content to be left alone.

Course 3:

Pan Roasted Skeaghanore Duck Breast served with Duck Fat Fondant Potato, Roasted Beetroot, Wilted Spinach, Parsnip Puree and Orange Scented Duck Jus

Six-Hour Braised Hereford Beef Rib served with Toasted Oatmeal and Smoked West Cork Garlic Mash, Red Wine Mushroom and Pancetta Jus, and Roasted Organic Roots

Let me take my cheeky hat off for a moment and say this was the best duck I’ve ever had. Hands down. And I ate a lot of duck in Paris. It was succulent, tender—I literally cut it like butter. The vegetables were all drenched in the essence of the jus and the whole dish was magnificently hearty, but still elegant. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

Beef ribs are another Joel favorite. I’m reasonably certain we were served a whole one, but it’s almost like it was never there at all… Kidding, I had plenty and it was fork tender and mouth-watering. The juices from the meat and the mushroom pancetta jus ran into the garlic mash and the result was beautiful—pillowy mashed potatoes loaded with the woody and rich flavor of the mushrooms cooked in wine and the savory, slightly salty flavor of the rib and pancetta… perfection.

Course 4:

Cinnamon Panacotta, Apple Textures, Rose Hip and Raisin Syrup and Smoked Oat and Brown Bread Ice Cream

Preserved Wild Summer Cherry Black Forest Chocolate Plate

This is where it gets X-rated, y’all. Not really. I look at the words above and only one small grouping has a place in my memory—smoked oat and brown bread ice cream. You guys, you have no idea. The panacotta was lovely, as was the chocolate cake, but this ice cream was every happy memory by a campfire or fireplace, burn barrel, etc. mixed in with cream and sugar and put in front of me. Take the best part of a roasted marshmallow—the browned edges—and turn it into ice cream. That’s what this tasted like. We DEVOURED it and then asked for more—and they brought it. It was magical.

Course 5:

Twice-Smoked Gubbeen Cheese with Salt and Pepper Celery Ribbons, Autumn Chutney and Charcoal Biscuits

I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise when I say we took this last course to go. I truly believe ingesting anything more that night would have resulted in the removal of non-essential organs for one or both of us. There simply wasn’t any more room. I did enjoy the cheese the next day and it was everything a smoked cheese should be. Joel, back on the dairy-free wagon, enjoyed the salt and pepper celery ribbons.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Festival goes through the whole weekend. We weren’t able to participate in the other events, but they include a costumed walk through town to sample menus and drinks from the 11 restaurants on Saturday, and a seafood lunch on Sunday.

Sorry not to have recipes to share, but hope this provides a little glimpse of the very grown up food culture of Kinsale.