087 950 2411; oherlihyskinsale.com
The guns have ceased firing and peace, once again, reigns over the land — or at least that’s how No 2 Son regards the transition from school to summer holidays.
His default setting for the last week has oscillated between dazed post-traumatic stupor and blissed-out demob euphoria.
Today, it is the latter as we wander the streets of a Kinsale basking in a midday straight out of the Mediterranean playbook, brilliant, blinding light and a shimmering indolent heat that has the bone marrow bubbling at a steady simmer, all in all, magical atonement for every miserable rainy day ever endured over a lifetime.
It’s like being in another country, No 2 Son marvels softly, and he’s not wrong. Even Current Wife who usually finds Kinsale a tad too manicured for her tastes, is charmed.
The magic continues as we surf the heat haze into OHK (O’Herlihy’s Kinsale), first established as a tiny pub in 1864 and five generations in the same family.
Sisters Sarah and Carol O’Brien returned to their home town to reopen their grandmother’s former pub as a cafe in 2017 and their art school background is evident throughout, in all the quirky and creative details with which they have lovingly updated this old school bar of panelled wood walls and vinyl-tiled floor.
It is the archetypal coup de foudre, I am instantly and utterly besotted and, in the scant seconds it takes to find a seat, I am already imagining a different life for myself, one that involves becoming a daily communicant in OHK.
Barely out of bed, No 2 Son begins with breakfast, a nutty, chewy granola, topped with sweet blueberries and plump, tart raspberries, yoghurt and a drizzle of honey, a familiar trope but one rendered immaculately.
Breakfast done, he moves on to lunch.
Regulars round these parts will know well of my great grá for the toastie but his order proves especially fine: crisp grilled Arbutus sourdough, succulent, creamy Toonsbridge mozzarella, pesto and tomatoes with a sweet acidity adding lift.
CW’s Spanish tortilla, a luscious, eggy, layered slab of moist waxy potatoes and onions, with sweet peppery harissa mayonnaise is quite sublime.
Served with a choice of grilled halloumi or jamon, it is simple yet delicious, enhanced by fresh green leaves and two salads: Succulent and nutty grains of barley with fennel and delightfully underplayed garam masala; and a slaw of root vegetables and courgette, flavoured with coriander leaves and nigella seeds.
Portuguese sardines preserved in olive oil on Arbutus sourdough toast may not appear the most culinarily challenging of dishes but it happens to be a favourite of mine, especially when sardines are as good as these.
Advertised lemon, parsley and black pepper might have been better incorporated into the roughly mashed fish so I order more of that aforementioned harissa mayonnaise which, along with two poached eggs, completes a champion brunch.
We finish with delicious little bouchons, cakes from Rebecca Mullen’s Flour House in nearby Ballinspittle, and equally superb Golden Bean coffees.
The current menu, a precise and pithy affair, top heavy with sandwiches and salads, is assembled through knowledgeable and canny produce shopping and a very sound nose for tasty combinations.
Were they never again to veer from that formula, I’d still travel the length of the country to eat here.
Neither do the O’Brien sisters make any bones at all about their preference for tentative baby steps in their own culinary evolution, but a little courage and a soupçon more of the creative originality with which they are abundantly blessed, could see them over time build a truly special menu, even more of its place and fit to grace this utterly charming venue.
The palate is most certainly there and, if at times there are traces of the globally ubiquitous millennial's culinary Esperanto (Chia pots? Smashed ‘avo’ on grilled sourdough?), their welding of quality southern European staples (deeply familiar to the sisters after several years working on the olive stalls) to some impeccably sourced, superb hyper-local produce already illustrates the source code of their own unique culinary DNA (which I’d love to see applied to cooking of local seafood, for example).
Then again, I’m not sure if my fluttering little heart could take much more pleasure for as it stands I am already deeply, deeply in love with OHK, one of my new most favourite places in the world to eat.
€63.95 (including drinks and coffees, excluding tip)
Monday to Saturday, 9am to 3.30pm