KINSALE on Cork’s south west coast has been a trenchers’ valhalla for so very long that you’d nearly expect to see, if you stuck your head over the wall of one of the local cemeteries, skillets and engraved roasting trays used as tombstones.
Food is central to the town’s character and commerce. It almost defines the place. Eating in Kinsale has come to mean guaranteeing a positive experience— though disappointment can be found anywhere if you look hard enough.
Jola’s of Lower O’Connell Street adds to that feeling of positive, justified expectation. Run for a number of years by Jola Wojtowicz most of the dining area is in a high-ceiling and subtly-lit space that seems to naturally encourage a hush — though how long that calm would survive if an adventurous party decided to take a tour of the two dozen-plus flavoured vodkas Jola makes available remains to be seen.
We — YW and I — raised our eyebrows almost in unison at the first impressions hurdle. Much like the first scrum of the day, it may not matter a sliver of Parma at conclusions, but it can set the tone. We were given a little basket of bread that seemed as if it came straight from the local petrol station. It was very out of kilter with our surroundings and expectations.
I am very glad to say, though, that it was the only point in the evening that anything approaching disappointment joined our table.
Starters were straightforward, simple and perfectly enjoyable. Mine was potato pancakes with smoked salmon and dill sour cream and even if the cream was very close to mayonnaise, the package worked well. YW opted for sauté tiger prawns with chilli, garlic and coriander and was told that because the portion was too small, the dish was on the house. First impressions proved wrong in a moment.
YW had a main course of chicken breast wrapped in Parma ham, filled with Parmesan, served with rocket mash and pepper sauce. It was certainly tasty and plentiful and the rocket mash was far more impressive than you might imagine.
I chose surprise Irish beef roll stuffed with smoked bacon, onions and gherkins and wild mushroom sauce. This was an interesting and impressive dish. The smoked bacon and gherkins, plus a very nice sauce, came together in a rich and satisfying way. It was one of those lovely, seemingly simple dishes you’d file away to try at home — there’s hardly a better compliment.
The dish had that especially rich and bolstering taste that comes with careful slow cooking, served just at the point before the elements collapse into each other. Synergy was achieved but independence retained. I was told that the cut used was striploin.
A very ample dish of unfettered, crisp and fresh vegetables was served with the main courses.
Desserts continued the theme of simplicity and excellence.
YW chose apple fritters with ice cream. In Irish restaurants fruit fritters can sometimes seem like remoulded tyres boiled in Coca-Cola and then left to harden in the sun, but not here. Clean, firm, crispy and the fruit’s essence was amplified by just the right amount of added sweetness. I was jealous but should not have been.
Duty decreed dark chocolate and walnut cake with some good vanilla ice cream. Chocolate desserts can be the last refuge of the kitchen scoundrel as the description covers a dark multitude but Jola’s was nutty, sweet and good.
The wine list has its feet on the ground and you can get a good bottle without having to fret about excess. However, I chose poorly. The wine — Eylo Verdejo Rueda — was an excellent, light, crispy Spaniard with more bite than you’d imagine but it was wrong for the dishes we chose. A darker, more substantial compatriot of the fine Eylo would have been better.
Jola’s enhances the tradition of good restaurants in the town and is well on the way to becoming a flagship of the Kinsale fleet.
THE TAB: Three courses for two people, a bottle of wine — €24.95 — a pricey gin and tonic at €8 and a glass of kir (kier if you’re non-you) came to €113.20, tip extra.
HOW TO: Wednesday to Saturday, 6pm to 10pm; open bank holidays
Wine list: 4/5
Website accuracy: 5/5
Jola’s, 18/19 Lower O’Connell Street, Kinsale, Co Cork. 021-4773322 www.jolasrestaurant.com
Picture: Cillian Kelly