Select: A feast of cuisine and culture at Kilkenny Arts Festival
If there’s one thing Kilkenny does well, it’s food, so you’re in luck if you’re heading to the Marble City for the annual arts festival
Kilkenny Design Centre, which is hosting DruidShakespeare's 6.5-hour long cycle of plays in the yard. You can pop inside for a meal during the interval
If there’s one thing Kilkenny does well, it’s food. Although, if we're counting, a second thing Kilkenny does well it’s the arts. So you're in luck if you’re heading to the Marble City during the annual 10-day Kilkenny Arts Festival, which kicks off on Friday, August 7th.
There are two Michelin stars in Kilkenny: one in the city at Campagne (Gashouse Lane), Garrett Byrne and Brid Hannon’s restaurant serving modern French food using local produce such as meat from Grogan and Brown and organic vegetables from Eamonn Wallace & Nathalie Nouvion. You can expect dishes such as crisp pig’s head and trotter with apple and horseradish chutney, pickled apple and candied walnut (€11) or roast monkfish, cevennes onion, broccoli puree, mussels, clams and seaweed butter sauce (€31).
A 20-minute drive away you’ll find the beautiful Mount Juliet Estate. The Lady Helen Restaurant here also holds a Michelin star, under executive head chef Cormac Rowe. Dinner is a grand affair: there’s a seven-course tasting menu (€85) and table d’hote menu (two courses, €65, three courses €75) that include herbs and salads from the estate, and local suppliers such as Knockdrinna cheese and Goatsbridge Trout farm (both have shops nearby if you fancy bringing some treats home). Dishes include king crab with fennel, tomato, yuzu, cucumber and radish, and squab pigeon with oyster mushroom, sweetcorn, almond milk and liquorice jus.
Back in the city, Zuni on Patrick Street is a great spot for a lazy lunch. The dining room faces on to a bright courtyard and the open kitchen, run by Maria Raftery, serves baked Goatsbridge trout, with potato, wasabi salad with pickled cucumber and citrus dressing (€7.50) or confit pork belly with white pudding, onion gratin, fennel purée, pear and a horseradish dressing (€13.50).
If you prefer to grab and go, The Saltyard, a Spanish tapas restaurant on Friary Street, is providing an express tapas lunch menu (from 12.30pm to 3pm) for a quick bite between events. Or for a slower meal, there’s a large Iberica platter (€22) with cheese (Manchego, Idiazabal, Valdeon and local organic Lavistown) and Spanish meats imported from La Alberca (jamón, salchichón and chorizo), served with Galician bread, membrillo and tomato marmalade. Keep an eye out for artist Sarah Nyhan’s work on the walls during the arts festival.
Another good spot for lunch (and breakfast) is Mug Shot Café on James Street (next to the cathedra). Open from 8.30am/11am on Sundays, it serves Lavazza coffee, great free- range scrambled eggs on toast (€5.95) or daily hot specials such as Crowe’s ham, smoked cheddar and cherry tomato quiche (€8.95) and chilli with steamed rice (€9.95). Wednesdays are vegan and vegetarian day here.
You’ll need some serious sustenance if you plan on attending DruidShakespeare’s epic 6.5-hour showing of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) and Henry V in the Castle Yard. The full cycle begins at 5pm and although it has three short breaks, you’ll be glad of a hearty late lunch beforehand. The restaurant in Kilkenny Design Centre, overlooking the yard, serves lunch from noon and you can get spinach roulade with salads (€11.95) or poached salmon with vegetables and potatoes (€15.95). Or grab the last lunch booking – 3pm – at Rinuccini on the Parade, a Kilkenny institution that serves traditional Italian fare. Lunch costs €23 for two courses, €28 for three – and let’s face it, you’ll need three – including Wexford mussels with garlic, white wine, tomato and chilli, and polpettine con spaghettini (homemade baby meatballs in tomato sauce with garlic and basil spaghettini).
If you’re peckish during the show, you can pre-order a meal from the box office, such as fruity chicken curry, vegetable risotto or seafood chowder (all €10), and it will be waiting for you in the Kilkenny Design Centre restaurant during the main interval. There’s also a prosecco bar on site.
If you have kids in tow, head to Butler Gallery in Kilkenny Castle for an exhibition on the making of the wonderful Song of the Sea, produced by local Oscar nominees Cartoon Saloon. The interactive event will give kids the chance to make their own animations. All that creativity is hungry work, so duck across the road to the Kilkenny Design Foodhall and grab some hot chocolate and enormous chocolate chip cookies (€3). The sugar rush will fuel a run around Mirazozo, an inflatable luminarium in the castle grounds. Full of tunnels, chambers and light effects for exploring, it will help burn off all those treats in no time. Speaking of sugary food, on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th there are shows at noon and 3pm for small chefs, when Paul Curley brings Bake! to Barnstorm Theatre. Aimed at 4- to 6-year-olds, it’s a messy theatre experience set in a royal kitchen. Children can get involved in the mayhem of baking a 9th birthday cake for Prince Fredrik. Tickets €7.
For a quick coffee, pint or just for sheer entertainment, the slightly madcap Hole in the Wall pub is a must visit over the festival. Tucked away in a 400-year-old Elizabethen tavern off 17 High Street (go through the arch and keep going), you can get good coffee from 2.30pm at weekends and a yarn and a drink all week from 8pm.
Finally, for a drink and some fun food, Billy Byrne’s Pub (39 John Street Lower) is home to The Bula Bus, a repurposed double decker bus in a covered yard out back. The bus is open on Tuesdays for taco night (two for €6, three for €8 with battered haddock, avocado, sour cream and pico de guillo, or shredded chicken with Baja sauce, roast peppers and Californiac coleslaw). Wednesdays are movie night, with 10-inch pizzas (€8) from a wood-fired oven, including salami, roast red onion and chilli, or Black Forest ham, onion, sour cream and mozzarella. On weekends the menu changes again, to include Korean chicken wings (€5/€7.50) or pork belly burger on a homemade milk bun with chutney and pickles (€8.50).
For all Arts Festival bookings, see kilkennyarts.ie