Disclaimer: Kilkenny Tourism organised and covered the cost of this trip as part of the Taste the Island campaign. I was asked to write this blog post but was not paid to do so, and all opinions are my own.
Kilkenny is a very special place for me. It’s where I was born, raised and now live. It’s a beautiful city to explore and has more than its fair share of historical buildings and ancient stories. There’s always one festival or another taking place, that brings a mix of comedians, musicians, economists, artists and chefs to the city. Kilkenny is a city that eats very well. Award winning producers and a vibrant mix of cafes and restaurants offer both locals and visitors the best of Irish food. As a country we are rediscovering our food heritage and what better way to do so than with a food-filled trip to Kilkenny.
My version of Kilkenny is one where I can hang out with the dogs in the Castle Park, where I can buy fresh produce every Thursday morning at the farmers’ market, where I can find whatever ingredient I can think of in the Little Green Grocer on Parliament Street, and where the coffee shop and restaurant scene far outweighs what you would expect from a city this size. It’s a Kilkenny that enjoys food and celebrates local producers. It’s home to Savour Kilkenny which takes place over this weekend. What’s the plan for Savour I’ve been asked a few times this week? My answer – to eat for the entire weekend.
Kilkenny Tourism team asked me to spend twenty-four hours in Kilkenny and share with you what a short food-fuelled trip to Kilkenny looks like. I was delighted to do so, and my mother was delighted to join me as my plus one. Butler House was our home away from home and we checked in on a rainy and grey Monday lunchtime. The recently revamped House enjoys an unbeatable location. It looks out over beautiful Patrick Street and backs on to the Castle Yard and Parade. The House is part of the Kilkenny Castle Estate and the House, the Kilkenny Design Centre and the Castle are all linked together and within a short stroll of each other. It’s probably the nearest any of us will get to staying in the actual Castle.
We had lunch in the Lady Eleanor Restaurant overlooking the gardens and the ramparts of the Castle. It sounds very grand and the room is beautiful, but it’s also very relaxed and offers great value. It was the first day of their new Autumn/Winer lunch menu. The menu has been created by Executive Chef Gerard Dunne and is packed with seasonal and local ingredients. With light bites, hearty dishes and healthy and wholesome options on offer, you will not be wanting for choice. There were four different autumn inspired salads to choose from, making me the happiest little salad-fan in Kilkenny. I had the Autumn Harvest Salad. This is a proper salad with lots of different ingredients and as filling as any other lunch option. PS: the chips are really good too.
I’m not a big drinker, so it’s very cool to see a well thought out non-alcoholic drinks list. My top choice is the Driver’s Cider from Highbank Orchard. This organic cider is as local as you get. It is made from organic apples from Highbank farm in Kilkenny and has no added sugar or chemicals. For any beer fans, the House offers a good selection of local beer from Costellos Brewing Company in Kilkenny. Costellos has been microbrewing beer in the city for the past couple of years and has recently launched its “It’s Spelt Lager” beer. Its claim to fame is that its Ireland’s lowest calorie beer and supposedly doesn’t give you a hangover. I haven’t put this to the test, but it’s most definitely the word on the street.
The bedrooms in Butler House will not leave you wanting. Ours was the size of a small apartment and beautifully decorated. Two tall Georgian windows overlook Patrick Street. For anyone unfamiliar with the city, Patrick Street is a shopping gem. Folkster and The Wardrobe for clothes, Rudolph Hetzel and Lorimat for beautiful jewellery and my favourite Yesterdays. It’s a treasure trove of all things beautiful.
That afternoon, we strolled through the beautiful gardens at Butler House straight into Kilkenny Design Centre for some window shopping followed by a short walk to Kilkenny Castle. I am a big fan of wandering through historical buildings at my own pace, so we opted for a self-guided tour of the Castle. If you need more information or have any questions, there are tour guides stationed in each room.
Kilkenny Castle was the Irish residence of the Butler family for almost 600 years. Over the centuries, many additions and alterations were made to the building and today it’s a complex structure of various architectural styles. In 1967, the Castle was handed over to the people of Kilkenny for a token payment of £50. Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful turned up at the castle hand over party. For the craic seemingly. My favourite room in the castle is the picture gallery wing. It’s beautiful, calm and the perfect place to pause and take it all in. I also get flashbacks to my teenage years where I did the odd Irish dancing gig there. Think a low budget, much less talented version of River Dance, but I loved it.
The castle and parklands are the pride of Kilkenny. No exaggeration. I call the park my happy place as it’s where I hang out with the dogs and a cup of coffee most days.
For a special night out in Kilkenny there are plenty of places to choose from including two Michelin starred restaurants, but it is the family owned and run Ristorante Rinuccini that remains a favourite choice for both locals and visitors. Celebrating its thirtieth year in business, Rinuccini offers classic Italian dining using the best of Italian ingredients and local fresh produce. I first tasted the Ravioli Gorgonzola e Noci a few years ago and it remains a standout taste memory. I had it for starter and the delicious Rigatoni all’Arabbiatta for my main. This is proper Italian pasta. My Mam had the Homemade Irish Chicken Liver Pate for starter and the Catch of the Day for main course. All the fish comes direct to the restaurant daily from the boats at Kilmore Quay in Wexford.
I’m going to guess that Rinuccini has one of the best Italian wine cellars in Ireland. They have over 12,000 bottles stored in the cellar underneath the dining room and well what more can I say. Actually, there is one more thing I can say. My Mam and I shared chef Antonio Cavaliere’s famous Tiramisu for dessert. It’s as boozy as you would expect and nothing short of spectacular. Finally, when you’ve eaten your fill of delicious food, it’s a quick stroll back to Butler House. You will pass at least four or five watering holes on the way, each with its own appeal.
After an excellent night sleep, we had the total treat of breakfast in Butler House. Served in the dining room, the menu is unreal. Breakfast is always a good way to judge a hotel or guest house. So how about Baked Eggs with Goatsbridge Trout, Cream and Chives and Trout Caviar. Or Buttermilk Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and HighBank Orchard Apple Syrup. After breakfast we checked / rolled out. My Mam to her aqua aerobics class and me to meet my friend for even more coffee. When I’m asked for an overnight recommendation to Kilkenny, I can add Butler House to the top of my list.
Now that I live in Kilkenny, I find it difficult to look at the city’s food offerings objectively, but I’ve learned from many a visiting friend not to take the restaurants for granted. We are spoiled for choice. The people, food, wine, shopping and history are first class. What more could you ask for?!