Kilkenny’s reputation as a culinary destination is growing
The city known for its festivals is adding more and better restaurants and eateries
Garrett Byrne and Brid Hannon of Campagne in Kilkenny: Business has been booming since the Michelin man paid a visit. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.
“Ireland’s gourmet capital” is a notional title that was first applied to the town of Kinsale in Co Cork, which is known for its restaurants and its annual Gourmet Festival, the 38th of which takes place next October. But in recent years, Kilkenny has become a contender for the title, with visitors to the city now just as likely to be those in search of good food as they once were castle explorers and craft collectors.
The international culinary spotlight was focused on Kilkenny last September when the French culinary guide, Michelin, awarded one star each to two Kilkenny restaurants: Campagne in the city centre and the Lady Helen Restaurant at Mount Juliet.
Chef-patron Garrett Byrne opened Campagne with his partner Brid Hannon in August 2008 “just as the recession was taking hold,” he says. “But luckily Kilkenny is busy most weekends and there are a lot of festivals, so there haven’t been as many restaurants closing as in other parts of the country.”
Business has been booming at Campagne since the Michelin man came calling.
“It went a bit mental at the start and it took a while for it to sink in but you get used to the pressure of it and the expectations that come with it,” he says.
Although he describes his style of cooking as “modern French” Byrne is a committed supporter of local producers, with high praise for the chickens and ducks he gets from Mary and Tony Walsh of Kilkenny Free Range, 10 minutes outside the city at Shellumsrath, and the organic vegetables grown by Eamon Wallace and Vincent Grace.
Maria Raftery, the executive chef at Zuni, a restaurant and boutique hotel that opened in 2000 on Patrick Street, also recognises that she has top-quality produce on her doorstep.
“Our local customers like to see the suppliers on the menu, to see where what they’re eating comes from and tourists also enjoy seeing Kilkenny food on the menu,” she says.
A 30-seat conservatory extension is being added to Zuni’s existing 70-seat restaurant space and 30-seat cafe. Raftery is confident the extra capacity will be filled. “We have always been a busy restaurant,” she says. “We need the extra seats, particularly at weekends.”
Langton House Hotel and the Marble City Bar and Tea Rooms are well-known dining options and are notable for their highly stylised interiors by the London-Irish architect and designer David Collins, who died last year.
Mugshot Cafe on James’s Street, which hosted a pop-up by Noma-trained chefs Yannick Van Aeken and Louise Bannon at last year’s Savour Kilkenny food festival, is a popular breakfast and lunch spot.