Something to satisfy all tastes on a foodie trip to Kilkenny
From vintage tea rooms to Michelin tasting menus, the city has a lot to offer
Flower lined riverside view of Kilkenny castle town and bridge
As a Galway hurling supporter, most of my visits to Kilkenny have been day trips to Nowlan Park, and other than a coffee to go, or a bag of overpriced chips, I had never eaten there. So it was lovely to discover that Kilkenny is a fantastic destination to eat your way around for a weekend, or longer.
Start your visit with afternoon tea in the historic setting of Butler House on Patrick Street. With views of Kilkenny Castle and the gardens from the beautiful bay windows, and art from the Basil Goulding collection – including some incredible Jack Yeats’ paintings – on the walls, this is an easy place to spend a few hours. Head chef Gerard Dunne and his team serve up a really enjoyable menu, paired with a selection of 16 teas and coffees. The strawberry jam, made from berries grown in the garden, is not to be missed. Take a stroll in the gardens afterwards, or if you’re lucky enough to be there on a sunny day, bring your drinks outside.
Kilkenny is a lovely city to wander around; clean, compact and friendly, with fabulous flowers hanging from the lampposts on every street. Unlike some cities, which have been taken over by high street stores, there are lots of small local shops, including some great antique ones to browse. So it’s easy to while away a pleasant afternoon while you get ready for your next meal.
Truffles restaurant on William Street caters especially well for vegans and vegetarians, with some of the most interesting offerings I have seen anywhere, including a cauliflower steak cooked in the pan, finished in the oven and served on a bed of cabbage and garlic beetroot aioli and roasted cashew nuts. As a pescatarian married to a confirmed carnivore, it was great to be in a restaurant that catered so well for both.
The Pembroke Hotel is right in the centre of the city and is a perfect place to stay if you are only there for a weekend, with everything on your doorstep and views of Kilkenny Castle from many of the rooms. Get a good start to your day with their breakfast. All the local suppliers are listed on the menu. Organic eggs, freshly cooked breads, fruit and bircher muesli and their homemade hand-tied sausages, made each morning, are all served on local Nicholas Mosse pottery.
Another option for a really enjoyable breakfast, brunch or just a drink is the Mocha Vintage Tea Rooms on Gas House Lane. Mismatched china tea cups, French vintage décor and homemade scones and breads, along with a really interesting loose tea menu which includes Turkish delight and pink grapefruit infusion, are on offer. For a place that doesn’t open in the evening, its stock of champagne and Chateauneuf du Pape would suggest it does a very good lunch trade.
There is no shortage of coffee shops, cafes and ice cream parlours to tempt you in as you walk around the city, each offering an array of homemade food.
The jewel in the crown of Kilkenny’s food offerings however, is undoubtedly the Lady Helen restaurant in Mount Juliet. Go early, stay late and take your time over the amazing nine-course tasting menu. A glass of bubbles either sitting outside in the gorgeous gardens, or, depending on the weather, overlooking the grounds from the cosy Major’s Bar, is a nice way to build an appetite for this Michelin Star dinner.
But the most important thing is to pace yourself so you can really enjoy each of the courses served up under the watchful eye of head chef John Kelly. The portions are generous for a tasting menu, and we were glad we had changed our original booking to the earlier time of 6.30pm. Even with that we had to take a break between courses six and seven and go for a walk in the gardens.
The staff are friendly and professional, and make this fine dining experience a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxed one. This is Irish cooking at its best, showcasing the freshest local ingredients. Every course was a taste sensation, from the choice of butters (the smoked one was amazing) through to the milk sorbet and strawberry desert. The presentation of each dish was beautiful and we had to resist the urge to take photos. Special mention must go to the scallops, a dish I am always drawn to, which were cooked perfectly, and without doubt the best I have ever had, even drawing compliments from the carnivore.
The Lady Helen restaurant in Mount Juliet Estate is 20 minutes from Kilkenny and just over one hour from Dublin.
If you are leaving the car at home and want to make your journey to or around Kilkenny extra enjoyable, book a car with Kavanagh’s Chauffeur Service. Pat Kavanagh can offer an entertaining and in-depth local knowledge of the area that will make you wish your journey was longer.