Although an avowed Kerry woman, my lovely mom spent many of her formative years in Kilkenny and has always spoken fondly of the medieval city. With that and the fact that it is a mere hour and a half away from Dublin (on a road even I couldn’t get lost navigating), she and I agreed to meet halfway for a leisurely weekend trip.
Kilkenny has certainly earned a reputation for itself as quite the foodie destination, with its annual food festival Savour Kilkenny now in its tenth year and two Michelin starred eateries to its name. As well as this, Kilkenny is a bustling little spot, with an unrivaled night scene and an attractive spot for a lively weekend as well as a great choice for a girlie weekend with plenty of boutiques to put a strain on credit cards!
Pulling up to what was formerly the Rose Hill Hotel, I was surprised to find an expansive, ultra modern property – The Hotel Kilkenny. My first glance at the chic and stylish lounge area ensured that all important first impression was a positive one. From vibrant lime sofas to art deco style vases, careful thought had clearly been given to creating a boutique designer feel which was immediately inviting.
As welcomes go, Hotel Kilkenny’s is particularly warm with a young staff keen to ensure you feel like much more than a room number from the word go. Families, couples and groups of friends arrive and there is a buzzy atmosphere from the moment we arrive – the hotel is clearly a popular choice and we were keen to find out why.
Checking in to room 137 on the ground floor, we settled in to our spacious surroundings, in-keeping with the stylish decor throughout the hotel and tastefully adorned. Double doors led out to a terrace area and flooded the room with plenty of natural light. I was particularly pleased to spot a fabulous rainfall power shower in a well appointed and immaculately clean marble bathroom. Comfy beds, a wall mounted flat screen TV and the fluffiest robes I have come across in a very long time made this room perfect for lounging.
As we had both been on the road from opposite directions, we decided to pop downstairs to partake in a little Afternoon Tea, the ultimate leisurely way to while away a couple of hours. Chats and cake is a hard combination to beat and presented with not one but two towers of delightful treats, we were definitely feeling like the cats that got the cream! Dreamy vanilla cheesecake squares with an irresistible buttery biscuit base and melt in the mouth handmade chocolate chip shortbread cookies were standout features.
Enjoyed over copious pots of piping hot tea, we lingered for hours in the cosy snug dedicated to the ritual, which in the Hotel Kilkenny is an over generous offering, for a steal of €25 for two. Noticing we were struggling with the ample offering, our lovely waitress some containers to take away the excess bounty, without even being asked – a lovely touch considering we would not see that shortbread wasted!
In a bid to work off some of the bold treats ahead of dinner we opted to take advantage of the hotel’s location and strolled into the city centre, just a ten minute walk away. Fabulous boutiques and must-see attractions like Kilkenny Castle mean you could spend all day ambling down cobbled lane ways and breathing in the sights and sounds of the city but were quite happy to head back to take our ease before a relaxed dinner.
After a quick pre-dinner toast in Pure Bar, a popular spot on a Saturday night we were shown to Taste Restaurant for the main event. A minimalist dining room was full when we arrived and it was clear this was a restaurant catering for all with a sixtieth birthday celebration, couples splitting desserts and round tables of ladies kicking off their night. Perusing the menu, we noted it was very keenly priced at €25 for two course and €30 for three, with plenty of tempting options to choose from. Classic dishes of Chicken Liver Pate with Brioche sat alongside a couple of wild cards with an international influence like Duck Leg Confit with Chinese Cabbage and Hoi Sin Dressing.
Opting for Tempura Prawns with Pineapple Salsa, Mom’s started was composed of scampi of sorts, atop crisp spiralised carrot and courgette – a colourful and inviting dish. Plump ,juicy prawns were well executed, fried in oil hot enough to ensure they were crisp and golden not soggy, with a zingy pineapple salsa to cut through the tempura. A tough customer, Mom’s bowl went back clean.
My Trio of Duck included peppercorn crusted paté which was rich and more luxurious than expected, served on a crisp croute with a dollop of sweet plum compote. Smoked duck breast is one of my favourite things, blushing at me from the slate and this example was ever so gently smoked – moist, tender and moreish. I could happily have swapped the spring roll element – which was in fairness perfectly crisp – for more of the paté, which was a high point in this simple but tasty starter.
Lamp Rump with Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables arrived delightfully pink as requested and Mom noted that it was so tender you could cut it with a spoon. While there was perhaps a little too much rich red wine and rosemary jus, a dollop of whipped potatoes was buttery, luxurious and quickly devoured. I was happy to tuck into the pile of delicious roasted peppers, the sweetness of which always make a welcome accompaniment to rich, meaty lamb. Another generous portion, I can’t imagine anyone leaving Taste Restaurant hungry!
Opting not to double up on duck although intrigued by Asian Confit, Pan-Fried Hake with Saffron & Dill Reduction was a stellar choice. A light hand is necessary with sometimes over-powering saffron, and in this instance it was well balanced with the aniseed undertone of dill to accompany a perfectly cooked fillet of hake. Sweet carrot purée offered a counterpoint to the velvety rich reduction – this was a simple but comforting dish I very much enjoyed.
Although we contemplated making utter pigs of ourselves, an afternoon of devouring cheesecake and the like meant dessert, sadly, was not on the menu for us – although we were briefly torn over the interesting sounding Star Anise & Hazelnut Créme Brulée. Calling it an early night, my mind did wander to the fact that the 25 metre pool in Hotel Kilkenny’s leisure centre stays open til 10pm, meaning I could burn off some of the day’s indulgence. Luckily, Mom’s age old caution about post-meal swimming cramps came to my aid, justifying my decision to hop into my PJ’s rather than my swimsuit – mother knows best after all…
A truly restful nights’ sleep as much needed after a hectic week and one thing I must note is just how quiet our room was. I have stayed in Kilkenny city centre on weekends away in the past and as great as it seems to be in the thick of things, your chances of uninterrupted slumber are slim. Hotel Kilkenny’s location a little outside the hustle and bustle cuts out the risk of a hen party being your 3am chorus so you can awake refreshed.
Returning to Taste Restaurant for a late-ish breakfast – served with a smile until 10am on a Sunday – we were greeted by the same lovely waiter who had served us at dinner. We feasted on an ample offering of fresh fruits – not always the case – and simple but perfectly cooked poached eggs, a light start to the day after cheat day! What really stood out at for both of us was being welcomed back like old friends. This cemented the conclusion that Hotel Kilkenny’s hospitality is second to none – which, at the end of the day, is what creates the lasting memory.
Checking out feeling refreshed and well rested, we agreed that great thought, care and expense gone into creating a chic and inviting property we would both happily return to. Hotel Kilkenny has chosen its staff wisely – they exude as much fun and vibrancy as the furnishings. There’s nothing medieval about Hotel Kilkenny, but this stylish and modern retreat strays true to the traditional Irish welcome.
T: +353 (0)56 776 2000
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.