Kernel Bar & Kitchen only opened a few months ago but already seems to be gaining a reputation for its simple, contemporary cooking. In many ways this is hardly surprising given the fact that the Chef/Proprietor is Maria Raftery, who many people will know from her 17 years as head chef in Zuni Restaurant, one of Kilkenny’s most popular dining spots and from her appearances on ‘Ireland AM’ on TV3.
Kernel Bar & Kitchen is located on Vicar Street in the Kilkenny Inn Hotel, close to St. Canice’s Cathedral and within easy walking distance of many of the city’s main tourist attractions. The idea for naming the restaurant came from the fact that the hill above the Kilkenny Inn is the kernel from which the city of Kilkenny as we know it today grew.
On-street parking can be tricky to procure in Kilkenny but thankfully there is a small car-park behind the restaurant in which we were lucky to get a spot. After the car was safely tucked away we made our way up to the restaurant, which was thronged with diners enjoying their meals.
Inside, the restaurant is decorated in a stylish manner with faux wood panelling in a range of attractive finishes. Wall tiles reminiscent of those commonly found in Morocco and colourful under-lighting around the bar give the space an eclectic feel which manages to feel bang on-trend without being contrived.
Kernel offers food throughout the day. Breakfast is served until noon followed by casual options which include an all-day brunch and afternoon tea. Dinner is served in the evening and the straightforward, easy-to-navigate menu offers a variety of dishes to tempt even the most jaded palate. Locally sourced, seasonal produce is used extensively throughout and results in food that truly presents Kilkenny and its environs on a plate.
The range of dishes on offer include snack sized ‘Small Plates’ and sharing platters which are in keeping with the convivial atmosphere in the restaurant and bar. A brief but well curated wine list has also been developed to complement the food and – in line with modern tastes – there is also a fine selection of craft beers and ciders available.
There are a couple of dinner menus available and I decided to choose from the very reasonably priced Set Menu (2 courses for €24 or 3 courses for €29) whilst my husband plumped for the á la carte menu.
My Goatsbridge Trout Croquettes, Pickled Fennel & Cucumber starter was a beautiful looking dish comprising three crispy golf-ball sized croquettes that were wonderfully soft and fluffy within. I particularly liked the jewel-like trout roe which topped the croquettes and felt that the accompanying slightly fiery wasabi aioli added interest to the dish.
My husband’s Ham Hock Scotch Egg, Piccalilli strater (€8.50) was equally good and a nice variation on a classic scotch egg where a soft boiled egg is usually enrobed in sausage meat before being breadcrumbed and deep-fried. Here, ham hock replaced the sausage meat to create something that was far more exciting to eat and along with a piquant homemade piccalilli was a great way to start the meal.
My Confit Pork Belly main showcased meat that was as tender as you like, with a lovely meaty flavour. Due to some expert cooking, it literally melted in the mouth. It was paired with a butternut squash purée, sweet buttery carrots and steamed baby potatoes. A rather addictive black pudding and walnut crumb completed this substantial, palate pleasing dish.
Across the table my husband’s 8oz Irish Angus Sirloin Steak (€24.75) was going down a treat. It was served with a pan-fried portobello mushroom, roasted shallots and a fantastic smoked garlic aioli which accentuated the wonderful quality of the meat. The accompanying fries were perfect – large and chunky with crisp exteriors and soft, fluffy centres. I managed to steal a couple before my greedy hand was slapped away and I regretted not ordering an extra side portion all for myself!
The food to this point had been excellent but the meal was about to go stratospheric with some truly memorable desserts.
From the set menu I chose the Apple Trifle – a sophisticated dish made up of a apple jelly, caramel custard and a well-flavoured Calvados cream. These elements of the dish tasted fabulous but the apple flavours were further heightened by a cider granita which created an interesting temperature variation and an apple crisp that actually tasted of apple. As if this wasn’t enough, the trifle which was served in a an individual glass was topped with a cinnamon and sugar-dusted doughnut filled with caramel. I absolutely loved this innovative dessert.
My husband’s Sizzling Chocolate Brownie (€8) was served in a piping hot iron dish with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream onto which molten chocolate sauce was ceremoniously poured by our waiter. As soon as the sauce hit the brownie and hot dish it began to bubble furiously in a dramatic fashion which had both of us and various onlookers giggling with glee. Ultimately however, a dish succeeds or fails on flavour and I am happy to report that in this regard, the brownie was a resounding success.
Every meal should finish on a high and with the desserts at Kernel Bar & Kitchen this was definitely the case. As we wandered out into the night we were still talking about the wonderful food that we had eaten and in particular the unique and delicious desserts.
I would thoroughly recommend Kernel Bar & Kitchen. Service is great, the restaurant has a lively feel to it, the food is competitively priced and the cooking is top-notch.
Kernel Bar & Kitchen
The Kilkenny Inn
15-16 Vicar Street
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.