Like many a city-dwelling Corkonian, I have sometimes been guilty of overlooking Kinsale, even as travellers from further afield rightly gush over the charms of this seaside tourism Mecca, writes Joe McNamee.
Perhaps it is a failure to see clearly what is right under the nose; perhaps, a case of growing jaded with the overly familiar; perhaps, it is even excessively parochial Leeside zeal frowning on attempts by near-neighbours to dare shine with anything approaching the luminescence of the Real Capital?
Who cares, it is a sin for which I gladly atone, particularly, on fine evenings such as this, in a rare summer, full of them.
As most keepers of small children will confirm, any brief furlough is an essential defibrillator for the parenting partnership and, what’s more, it is fast dawning on us that an overnighter in Kinsale commences a mere 30 minutes after leaving home.
Within the hour, we are striding lovely Scilly Walk in glorious sunshine, before returning to the splendid balcony perch of our ‘berth’ in the Trident Hotel, gazing out over harbour, cool drink in hand, faintest breeze whispering sweet nothings in the lughole, recalling a time when children and any possibility of their existence were no more than putative discussions for the future.
By the time we set out at sultry dusk, past rows of clinking, twinkling quayside yachts, past equally-clinking, twinkling bars, siren song of people at pleasure leaking out through open windows and doors, our transition to San Tropez is complete.
Bastion is a wine bar to the fore, dining area proper to the rear. Serenely underplayed décor, muted greys, wooden floors, open brickwork, is deceptively casual. Fixtures and fittings are shorn of silver service fripperies but chosen with an unerring eye.
Eating good Guinness sourdough with addictive treacle butter, we pore over a wondrous wine list, settling on an excellent Forrest Pinot Noir (New Zealand, €40), crisp, savoury, luscious raspberry notes and languid finish.
Amuse bouches herald the start of My Heart’s Delight’s tasting menu: tasty beef croquette and a divine monkfish carpaccio.
Chilled pea, preserved lemon, mint & basil is myriad ways with the tiny green globe, including a refreshing soup, all deeply imbued with elemental essence of pea.
Fennel & Rhubarb is a good reminder that the latter is a vegetable, not a fruit, though accompanying white beans are a tad bland.
My starter arrives: exquisite John Dory, beautifully poached in lemon oil, with a sublime fennel barigoule as counterpoint, sheep’s yoghurt trailing a whiff of Pan. It is superb.
MHD’s tasting plates continue. Even sea bass — with broccoli and brandade beignet — tastes as if locally landed. Crispy parmesan polenta, truffle and egg yolk, includes charred, blackened asparagus stems housing a bright green punchy crunch.
Again, I take one for the readers, ordering lamb shoulder to gauge the menu’s breadth, as MHD doesn’t eat red meat.
But, though well-cooked and served with summer veg, it is the wrong choice entirely for a close night where an open but airless window struggles to keep diners at room temperature. It is also out of step with delicate, more nuanced flavours on the tasting menu, a hearty plate for a colder season, perhaps a token dish to satisfy old school diners requiring a ‘good feed’.
I resume raiding MHD’s plates. Eventually, blissfully sated, we merely toy with desserts, even a wonderful, wincingly sweet-sharp classic lemon tart.
Service deserves special mention. Too often in recent times I have dined in establishments where every effort has been made with interiors, almost none with training staff. Here an impeccably attired squadron of young waiters operates with precision and unobtrusive courtesy; a single minor error is swiftly rectified with accompanying and fulsome apology.
Noonan’s partner/co-proprietor, chef Paul McDonald, delivers meticulously crafted, balanced dishes, full of flavour, most to Michelin standard, yet there’s a sense that if he could throw off some of the constraints and an attachment to certain canonical staples (foie gras, truffle, classical desserts) then he could become a truly original, national star (for example, serving imported sea bass, no matter how tasty, in the fishing port of Kinsale is a travesty starkly emphasised by his note-perfect delivery of infinitely superior, locally landed John Dory).
So, to subsequently learn such a tack is the Bastion route for the future, proves a perfect digestif — a voyage I have no intention of missing!
€150 (including tip)
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