It isn’t often a Dublin blow in is welcomed warmly to Kerry, but Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder appears to be the exception to this. Opening just one year ago in the middle of bustling Killarney town, no doubt the little sister of Ally Alpine’s Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street was strategically located in Ireland’s foremost tourist attracting town.
As I settle in on a Sunday afternoon for a bite to eat, it is clear this forethought has paid dividends, as tourists come and go, tasting the ample amber bounty behind one of the best equipped bars I have ever seen. As they collectively drop a couple of hundred euro on bags filled with bottles of Yellow Spot, Cill Airne Cask and the like, I wonder if Celtic Whiskey Bar’s Larder side of things will be a mere after thought. Disney land for whiskey lovers, this surely is, but hunger had overtaken thirst on this occasion, so we eagerly got stuck into the wooden board bound menu.
My skepticism was dispelled as quickly as my cocktail choice – a Killarney Auld Fashioned (€8.95) – was made. Amazing artisan produce is the order of the day – the menu reads like a who’s who of fantastic Irish producers. Cocoa Atelier Chocolate to Moinéir Irish Fruit Wine to Gubeen cheese and bacon. Sheelin fillet steak and Thornhill duck, both from Cavan make appearances, as does one of my favourite Kerry delights, Quinlan’s salmon. If the chefs at Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder did little or nothing to these outstandingly sourced ingredients, they were already on to a winner.
We laboured for quite some time over our aperitifs and I can confirm Killarney’s answer to the classic Old Fashioned is as noteworthy as it’s scenery, Town Branch Rye mingled with whiskey barrel aged bitters, orange blossom water and interestingly – ale syrup which added a unique depth and sweetness, matching beautifully with rye.
The people of Killarney know an awful lot about all Irelands, and as a fiend in the face of Irish cheese my eyes lit up at the prospect of an all Ireland cheese selection composed of Crozier Blue, Smoked Gubbeen, Fivemiletown Goat’s Cheese and Mossfield Gouda. I promised myself it would be dessert, fearing it would defeat my tasting mission if indulged in the opening half.
Instead, a light starter style cheese fix came in the form of my beloved St.Tola Goat’s Cheese Salad (€7.50), a safe but satisfying combination of quality ingredients which was a pleasure to eat. Sweetly tender roasted beetroot with the toasty nuttiness of flaked almonds and irresistible tang of crumbled St.Tola – simple showcasing of wonderful produce.
Steamed Mussels (€10.95) from 20 minutes over the road in Cromane were paired with nduja and this was a match made in heaven. The fiery Calabrian sausage melted it’s spicy kick into a rich white wine broth, mopped up with crisp sourdough. This was a mammoth portion Tríona struggled to finish as a starter, much to my delight in appropriating more than a few for myself. This would easily have made a main course, despite being classed as a small plate – Celtic Whiskey Shop does Irish generosity as well as it does Irish whiskey.
Across the table, a main course of Seared Cod with Gubbeen Bacon and Cabbage (€15.95) was more than mildly interfered with by my wandering fork. Incredible depth of flavour oozed from the bed of creamed cabbage, spiked with smokey gubbeen bacon, the kind of bacon and cabbage you wish your mother had made. A generous and plump portion of cod was fork tender with a pleasingly crisp skin.
Carnivorous tendencies overtook on my side and I happily welcomed Thornhill Duck Breast with Caramelized Plums(€21.50). I asked for very rare and got it, not always the case, and though I may have sacrificed cracklingly crisp skin for it, butter tender blushing slices more than made up for this. Sweetness of plum was all that was needed here to counteract the rich, gamey duck, along with a side of al-dente green beans and sweet roasted carrots. Simple dishes with a focus on executing each element well rather than re-inventing the wheel can be imminently satisfying.
So satisfying, in fact, that conquering the aforementioned dreamy cheeseboard had to be postponed until a later date. Instead, a parting sip of the first whiskey from Sliabh Liag distillery in Donegal, Silkie (€4.95). Inspired by the sirens of the deep, a lithe bottle evocative of the slender neck of a sea maiden poured a blended whiskey with delectable vanilla and caramel notes. This wee dram was a knockout paired with handmade Cocoa Atelier Chocolates (3 for €5)- vanilla, salted caramel milk chocolate and of course a devilishly dark Irish pot still whiskey scented square – the perfect mini-dessert to end an ample meal.
Celtic Whiskey Larder’s sourcing policy goes beyond the exceptional produce dotted all over the menu, they have clearly gone to great lengths to source great people, who know their whiskey and know how to delve out Irish hospitality with service as warming as a tumblerful of Teeling single malt. This place is doing something very right indeed and I love that you can come in for a three course feast, just charcuterie and nibbles, the delectable duo of chocolate and whiskey or indeed not a drop of whiskey at all.
While the menu reads like poetry for lover of uisce beatha, with four pages of Irish, followed by Scottish, American, Japanese and interestingly Taiwanese whiskey, the breadth of selection of Irish craft beers, liquers and wines is just as painstakingly curated. More so than that, the menu of delectable dishes would woo the most ardent Pioneer – Celtic Whiskey Larder is so much more than a bar, as a passer by would be forgiven for thinking.
Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder is everything that is good about Ireland, we have so much to be proud of this place screams that from the rooftops. It is a time to be excited about Irish food as well as Irish drink and it is every Irish person’s duty to support this revolution. Here, they celebrate and showcase the best of both, with almost bewildering choice and respect for every ingredient. You know when you meet someone and know ten minutes in that you can’t wait to see them again? Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder, I eagerly await our second date.
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! 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.