The Black Pig Winebar,
66 Lower O’Connell Street,
Kinsale, Co Cork;
DESPITE Michael McDowell’s — surely you remember him? small glasses? big ego? — best efforts the wine bar’s place in the Irish consciousness is hardly secure. It awaits its parity of esteem moment.
Wine bars are up there with cricket, wild camping or acupuncture — entirely good, admirable, sometimes beautiful ideas but not that compulsive in a culture too often clumsy around organised feyness, a culture too awkward with such a delicate balance between lightness and satisfaction.
Wine bars may not attract the disdain an 18th century bishop of Winchester poured on cricket when he described it as organised loitering, but they are hardly a go-to option, at least in the lives commonly led in Garth Brooks’ ceol-agus-craic Ireland.
But that, like so much else, is changing because of the missionary zeal of brave, skilled and admirable food professionals. Gavin and Siobhan Ryan came to Kinsale via Dublin’s Ely wine bar and what a very good argument they make for the concept.
That argument starts with the room. There are very few restaurants in this part of the world that match its public space and objectives so very well. It is homely, warming, welcoming and like all good constructs almost seamless. It oozes integrity and is the perfect terroir for presenting interesting wines and good food.
Over 50 wines are offered by the glass, many more by the bottle, and if such a selection can be bewildering there is always a welcome sense of unfinished business — when you’ve had your few glasses you can always come again and enjoy very different indulgences.
At the risk of stating the obvious the food was wine bar food and probably not robust enough to make an impact on a Garth Brooks weekend but it was lovely and perfect for a very warm summer’s evening. I was joined by O and E, both young, energetic and curious about food and wine.
E opened with Toonsbridge Buffalo Mozzarella with semi sun-dried tomatoes and basil. It seemed neat and flavoursome, not a speck survived. O chose pickled mid-summer herring. The dish, almost a signature of Scandinavian culture, was far too sharp, too acidic. The vinegar was not foiled by either sweetness, spices or a fleck of subtlety. This was the dud dish of the evening.
In contrast my starter was wonderfully simple and lovely. Organic Ballyhoura mushrooms — there must be a good master’s degree thesis in how bloated adjectives are used in menus — on toast with mature parmesan and local leaves. Apart at all for the foodie political correctness of the description it was a surprisingly lovely dish, a really nice combination of tastes, smells and textures. Simplicity rendered magnificently, really top class.
The main courses — deep breath, lots of adjectives — home cured carpaccio of Ballinspittle beef, local rocket, mature parmesan and horseradish sauce for E, Dingle crab and Toonsbridge ricotta ravioli, tarragon and ginger cream, pea and — yet again — parmesan for O and me. The crab dish was substantial and lovely. It had layered tastes and textures one almost overpowering the other but never crossing the line. A success. E’s plate less so, lovely tastes, colours and textures but, and this is a cultural position as much as a food opinion, hardly enough to satisfy the feeblest, sparrow-sized appetite.
Desserts were a joy as was the wine — Alta Vista malbec — a real dreadnought red that warmed the marrow.
The Black Pig is enjoying great popularity and peer recognition, it has a list of awards as long as its wine list. If this evening was indicative then it is very easy to see why. There is, however, a caveat. Unless you have exceptional hearing then the background music, even if it is the sound track from the wonderful Oh Brother Where Art Thou on a loop, conversation will become a chore. It was far, far too loud. It brought what was a very pleasant evening to a scratchy, almost defeated close. Overly loud background music is after all the tide that raises all voices. Next time I’ll ask to have it turned down.
THE TAB: Food for three with a bottle wine — €42 — and a coffee came to €135.30, tip extra.
HOW TO: Wednesday to Sunday 17.30 to 12.00
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