YOU would never think that in the space above the rather beautifully appointed Kilkenny Design Centre is a restaurant that has quite likely one of the longest floor plans in Ireland (it was, centuries ago, a series of grain stores for horses belonging to the Earl of Ormonde, which accounts for the length of the building).
Anocht Restaurant, Kilkenny Design Centre, Castle Yard, Kilkenny; tel: 056-7722118; kilkennydesign.com
Yet there it is — as we make our way past the Barbour jackets, the jars of cottage industry sauces, the crafts and arts of a local community, we stand at the entrance point to Anocht, and wait to be shown to our table. Walking what seems like half a mile, past groups and pairs of happy people, we are finally seated. Of course, it’s nowhere near so long, but the entire length of the Design Centre’s first floor is given over to the restaurant, and while by necessity it’s narrower than other restaurant areas, its dimensions dictate its sensibilities. Here, then, is a space as busy as you can imagine, and which is not only an efficiently run operation but also a becalming experience. Depending on which part of the room you’re seated in, the views will be of either the Design Centre courtyard (pretty) or Kilkenny Castle (beautiful). Either way, it’s top dollar.
Last year’s winner of ‘Best Casual Dining Restaurant’ of the Gold Medal Award at the Hotel & Catering Review, on a good night Anocht could be all things to all people. In other words, it’s casual in the sense that you can rock up to it in jeans and t-shirt, but it’s clearly classy enough to go the whole hog and turn up at the door suited and booted.
In short, this place is fine dining with scuff marks on your patent leather shoes.
The good aspect about this variance in style is that there are neither airs nor graces, merely an acceptance that the bottom line is, no more and no less, customer requirements. In truth, Kilkenny is a tourist attraction in itself, and so you’re always going to get people turning up without a reservation. This rightly detracts from a certain stuffiness that often makes eating out socially uncomfortable.
Such an easygoing approach applies only to the overall atmosphere of the room, however; the food here is under somewhat more stringent control. We settle in smoothly; speciality house breads (Guinness and treacle soda; herb/garlic/Irish cheddar yeast — each is delicious) and water immediately land on the table, and we choose a glass each of Merlot house wine, Benovie Roc Rouge. We share a starter: Prawn and crabmeat, garnished with a really tangy lime, apple, and pecan salad, sourdough bread, and Highbank Orchard syrup — a wholly organic apple syrup made locally at nearby Cuffsgrange (and which, incidentally, comes highly recommended by Irish foodie maven, Sally McKenna).
Mains are chosen, delivered with a sensible time delay, and tucked into with enthusiasm; the mystery diner selects Surf & Turf (glazed beef short rib, scallop and prawn, sea asparagus, crispy onion rings, and Béarnaise sauce). Not one of these items is a dud — the beef is as succulent as it gets, the fish combo is the right side of crunchy, the onion rings snap gently under teeth, and the sea asparagus (also known as sea pickle or samphire) acts as a suitable accompaniment. I select sirloin steak, cooked rare-medium (with duck fat chips, cherry tomato, roast shallots, garlic butter), and, as Desperate Dan might have said in the pages of The Dandy, it’s a belter.
Everything is absolutely fine with this meal. As we all know, there are times when the culinary stars align perfectly, and much as restaurant critics like to probe beneath the surface of what’s laid in front of us, there are times when we just don’t need to be picky. We look at the dessert menu, but decide not to spoil a superb meal (although if we had succumbed, we would have opted for the ridiculously appealing Chocolate Fondant — mint ice cream and crème de menthe caviar, no less).
As we say goodnight to Anocht (see what I did there?) there is a lightness of touch in our steps. It’s fairly obvious that the fare is — as it states on the menu — ‘inspired’ by local suppliers and artisan producers, but it takes a team of chefs to translate and transform what is community-generated food into something that is equal parts world-class and home comfort.
Dinner for two, with wine, came to €72.40, €10 tip.
Thurs-Sun, 6pm-9.45pm. Closed Mon- Wed.
Food: 8/10 Service: 8/10 Ambience: 8/10 Drink: 7/10 Value: 8/10
IN A SENTENCE: A classy top floor restaurant space with oodles of atmosphere and attention to detail.
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