Restaurant review: Kalbos Cafe, Skibbereen

WHILE many relish the intimacy of the tiny little room on North Street that is the original Kalbos daytime restaurant/cafe, especially in the tumbleweed months of darkest winter, a fine culinary comrade —who adores Kalbos II, a delightful courtyard café at nearby Uillinn Arts Centre — bemoans the lack of privacy when it comes to a sotto voce natter, a space so small even telepathy might be vulnerable to eavesdropping, a crucial consideration in a country town.

Restaurant review: Kalbos Cafe, Skibbereen

By Joe McNamee

WHILE many relish the intimacy of the tiny little room on North Street that is the original Kalbos daytime restaurant/cafe, especially in the tumbleweed months of darkest winter, a fine culinary comrade —who adores Kalbos II, a delightful courtyard café at nearby Uillinn Arts Centre — bemoans the lack of privacy when it comes to a sotto voce natter, a space so small even telepathy might be vulnerable to eavesdropping, a crucial consideration in a country town.

I, on the other hand, a too often shameless eavesdropper, am very firmly in the latter camp even if today we four are in a holding pattern, squeezed around a table for two. Orders taken, a larger table becomes available, we breathe out once more.

A flighty creature at times, I am not one for ‘favourite’ dishes, most certainly not the type to never deviate from that ‘favourite’ dish when dining out. Yet I seem to make an exception for the Kalbos’ Castletownbere Crab Salad. Simple yet elemental, it is an assemblage of premium ingredients allied to some discreet yet vital touches from the kitchen.

The sweet fresh crabmeat wears a gentle marine umami. After a mouthful or two, I like to ‘dress’ it on the salad; today’s exquisite mix of crisp leaves comes courtesy of Mags Riordan’s Bumblebee Farm, in Drimoleague. Additional flavours arrive via an Avocado Mayonnaise, tangy sweet Cucumber Pickle, toasted seeds and a soft springy bolster of excellent Homemade Brown Bread underpinning all. Deserving of a glass, a crisp white, Albarino (Piedra del Mar 2016), serves perfectly.

Warm Champ Potato Cakes are gently carmelised patties of floury mashed spud flecked with dark shreds of cabbage, sublimely seasoned, deeply comforting. They are topped with glistening slivers of Ummera smoked salmon though a small scrape of butter melting over my allotted portion has me Nirvana-bound. More of those green leaves and a lemon and chive crème fraiche complete the dish.

No 2 Son has been flagging for the last hour, keening a plaintive lament for his own belly and its dire state of emptiness. It seems only slow-cooked lamb tagine with rice and a side of garlic bread will remedy the situation. It more than does the trick, meat melts in the mouth as nutty chickpeas offer texture while overall spicing is kept to a low level hum, still very much to No 2 Son’s liking though, he is normally first to hit the nuclear option when it comes to chilli.

La Daughter on the other hand, a girl of infinitely more demure appetites, settles for Parsnip, Leek and Lemon soup, making short work of this sweet earthy broth enlivened with citric tang and so enjoys that aforementioned in-house brown bread, she has to order seconds.

One of the great attractions of Kalbo’s is proprietor Siobhán O’Callaghan’s extensive range of baked confections. The prospect of same has cleared many a main course plate in double jig time and this pair of progeny are no different. No 2 Son opts for the simplicity of a sublime warm nut brownie, declaring its self-anointed status as ‘world famous’ to be entirely deserved.

Meanwhile, LD seeks out the prettiness of white chocolate and raspberry tart, biscuity pastry housing creamy ganache, citric raspberry clipping the wings of any overly soaring sweetness. It’s so good, The Cat’s Pyjamas (no objections last time around, let’s see if this one sticks) orders same but I win out with a divine Ricotta and Lime pie, almost trifle-like, its moist crumb swooning away on the tongue, a nicely bitter Italian macchiato slices through delicious sweet torpor.

The Kalbos’ philosophy is evident on every plate: source finest local produce and, interfering as little as possible, present it as best they know how; Not always original compositions but even the old favourites are sung straight from the heart with a renewed passion.

O’Callaghan and partner/ co-proprietor Anthony Boyle are the class of workers who make Trojans look like slackers (they also operate a popular breakfast/brunch stall at Skibb Farmers’ Market) and are currently expanding into an adjoining premises, on North Street. That will surely provide my aforementioned comrade with a private corner, and, if I’m not party to the conspiracy, I’ll be at the next table listening in.

The tab

€70 (including two each x glass of wine, coffee, lemonade)

How to

Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm; closed Sundays and bank holidays

The Verdict

Food: 8.5

Service: 8.5

Value: 10

Atmosphere: 8

Kalbos Cafe, 26 North Street, Skibbereen, Co Cork.

Tel: 028-21513; kalboscafe.com

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