Eating out: Lucinda O'Sullivan at The Salt Yard, Kilkenny
A buzzy atmosphere, along with a lip-smacking, chunky Iberian sausage, cooked in local Kilkenny cider, left Lucinda O'Sullivan satisfied with her visit to a new tapas restaurant in the Marble City
Kilkenny has been hitting the news on the culinary scene in a big way in recent times, with the awarding of two Michelin stars in the county, one to the Lady Helen Restaurant at Mount Juliet in Thomastown, and one to Campagne in Kilkenny city.
There is also a very active circle of food producers involved in Taste of Kilkenny Food Trail and the annual Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food on the October bank-holiday weekend.
The newest eatery to hit the streets of this historic city is the Salt Yard, a contemporary Spanish-style bar-restaurant on Friary Street, doing tapas, charcuterie, Spanish cheeses and wines.
Located in former bank offices, the decor is a melange of cool, 'urban-distressed meets rustic chic', in a spacious setting, with a rear section that has a very high glass atrium. We were there shortly after it opened, and it already had that sort of buzzy feel that I could see going down well with both locals and visitors to the city.
The menu sported a popular selection of tapas dishes (€7-€14.95) incorporating both Spanish and Irish artisan produce, with nothing to unduly frighten the horses. Many were available also in larger racion sizes for greedy-guts like me, or simply for sharing.
Solomillo de cerdo con pancetta y pure de patatas azul, which is pan-seared loin of pork wrapped in pancetta, served on a bed of blue potato, while escalivada consisted of roast vegetables with extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar and romesco sauce.
The steak man was catered for with an 8oz rib-eye steak at €22, or a 700g T-bone intended for two people at €36, while the fish lover would probably fancy the fresh fish and seafood selection cataplana.
We kicked off with surtido de Ibericos (€12), a good selection of Iberian meats, jamon, salchichon and chorizo, served with lovely bread and olives. With this, we also tried the chorizo Iberico al sidre (€8.50), a robust, chunky chorizo sausage, cooked in local cider from Highbank Farm at Cuffesgrange, resulting in a delicious, sweet, sticky jus.
A toasted sandwich of fresh hake, presented on a slate, was excellent at €10.95, but gambas al ajillo - prawns in garlic, chilli and olive oil - was disappointing. In a small terracotta dish, they were overcooked, too dry and way too expensive at €14.25. I am accustomed to seeing similar dishes under €10 all over the place. Patatas bravas at €7 were aptly named, being a tad expensive for a stubby-sized Kilner jar of deep-fried spuds.
Desserts were stunning. The classic Spanish custard dessert crema Catalana (€8.25) was presented in four ways - frozen, solid, liquid and foam - with a glass of custard, a classic brulee mould and a double glass bowl holding ice-cream and lightly caramelised foam. Idiazabal ice-cream (€9) was equally superb and fun - goat's cheese ice-cream on a stick, which was resting on walnut foam in a glass dish with cubes of membrillo and blobs of coulis.
The chef here is Spanish and the owner lived in Spain for a couple of years, so I would have liked to have seen a greater proliferation of what are popular tapas staples such as pulpo Gallego (octopus), bacalao (salt cod), whole baby squid, fresh sardines, navalles (razor clams) and boquerones (anchovies), to name but a few. It's not like I'm expecting criadillas (bull's testicles), lamb brains, or pig's snout, on an Irish tapas menu, but I would like to see a bit more cojones in the Salt Yard's cooking repertoire.
I didn't notice basic tortillas or paella either, but, don't get me wrong, we did enjoy the place, and hopefully they will get a bit more gutsy when it gets up and running. After all, Kilkenny is a serious tourism and food destination for well-travelled people with seasoned palates.
With a bottle of Hecula Monastrell 2011 (€26.50) and optional service, our bill came to €108.20.
The Salt Yard, Friary Street, Kilkenny, Tel: (056) 770-3644, facebook.com/thesaltyardkk
15 Mill Street,Timoleague, Co Cork. Tel: (023) 884-6348, monkslane.ie
Style: A hip new bar and eatery with a beer garden. The menu ranges from small and large plates to charcuterie boards and smoked duck salad to Spanish fish soup and striploin steaks
Try; West Cork Plate - Gubbeen chorizo cooked in red wine, potted crab, Durrus cheese crostini and Ummera smoked salmon, €11.50
Wine: From €19.50
LAS TAPAS DE LOLA
12 Wexford Street, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 424-4100, lastapasdelola.com
Style: Located on the hot, hot fast-food corridor of Wexford/Camden Street, there's an extensive range of tapas here, including white chorizo, marinated pig's cheeks, octopus, whitebait, and anchovies
Price: €3.75- €11.95
Try: Gambas al ajillo - prawns with garlic, chilli and olive oil, €7.95
Wine: From €22
Unit 1 Middle Street Mews, Middle Street, Galway. Tel: (091) 539-884, cavarestaurant.ie
Style: JP McMahon brought the colour of Spanish food to Galway, with a huge range of adventurous dishes from chicken hearts to wild rabbit, and pig's-head fritter to hay-smoked quail
Try: Turbot with artichoke, clams, celeriac and saffron puree, €13.50
Wine: From €23