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Saturday 18 November 2017

Serving up food, glorious food and gourmet dining since 1976

Kinsale's Gourmet Festival celebrates its 35th birthday this week, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

Today sees the culmination of the 35th Kinsale Gourmet Festival -- an idea that was started out way back in 1976 by a group of enterprising restaurateurs and hoteliers and which has become one of the longest running food festivals in the country

Ireland in 1976 was not exactly famous for its fine dining and there was something very exotic and exciting about the whole idea of a gourmet food festival.

Kinsale in Co Cork had always attracted an eclectic bunch of restaurateurs and residents but then it is a rather special small Irish town, with its narrow winding Spanish-style streets that lend themselves to just strolling around and taking in the various craft shops, galleries, restaurants and wine bars.

Back in the Seventies and Eighties, Brian and Ann Cronin owned the Blue Haven Hotel; while Wendy Tisdell ran the very sleek Max's Wine Bar, with her two Doberman dogs, Max and Kelly, in residence to greet guests. There was also an Italian restaurant, Gino's, and The Bistro that was run by Heidi Roche. There was a Swedish restaurant above a supermarket, while Gerry Galvin -- whose first novel, Killer A La Carte, about a restaurant critic serial murderer will be launched later this week -- was at the stove in his upmarket Vintage Restaurant.

Hedli MacNeice, widow of poet Louis MacNeice, ran The Spinnaker Restaurant -- but it was restaurateur and bar owner Peter Barry who really got the whole thing moving.

The Kinsale Gourmet Festival quickly acquired a great reputation and attracted people from all over the world, and particularly a contingent of McGill University old boys from Canada led by Gavin Ross, who sadly passed away last year.

But times change, people move on and other great people take over at the helm.

Ciaran Fitzgerald of the Blue Haven Collection is a tireless and enthusiastic worker, producing his Blue Haven Foods, as well as being a hotelier and restaurateur with Aperitif, The Shanakee, the Old Bank House among his portfolio.

Martin Shanahan, about whom I first wrote in 1996, is now probably best known as the face of Kinsale right now with his Fishy Fishy restaurant and his Martin's Mad About Fish show on RTE.

Pearse and Mary O'Sullivan run a tight ship at The Bulman Pub across the bay at Summercove, serving delicious food in the bar and in Toddy's restaurant upstairs. Man Friday restaurant is still manned, if you will forgive the pun, by Philip Horgan; while Max's Wine Bar is much more than just a wine bar, with its delicious food from French chef Olivier Queva and his Irish wife Anne Marie.

Jean Marc Tsai's Shanghai Express serves exceptional South East Asian food, while along the street Roman Minihane and Anthony Collins at the White Lady provide great food and accommodation -- and you can also dance your heart away in the hotel's nightclub.

Jim Edwards' eponymous pub at Market Quay does excellent seafood, while the Frawley family's White House provides excellent food in its bar and its Restaurant d'Antibes. The rooms at the White House are also excellent, as is the accommodation at the Trident Hotel which overlooks the water at the end of Pier Road.

The food at the Trident's Pier One Restaurant is also highly recommended.

This year's festival, sponsored by Bollinger Champagne, kicked off with a black-tie launch on Friday at The White Lady after which revellers boarded the little Kinsale Road Train to different restaurants around the town.

And the evening ended at the Bolly Ball, with the Strauss Orchestra playing.

The Saturday event in recent years has been The Mad Hatter's Taste of Kinsale -- which you might say is a mad day too with Alice, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse leading four groups of foodies around the town on foot to various venues where three Good Food Circle restaurants display wonderful dishes for the enjoyment of merry revellers -- who get merrier as the day wears on.

As you read this we will all be sitting down to the Fruits de Mer Luncheon at Acton's Hotel where lobster, crab, prawns, and all the freshest seafood Kinsale has to offer will be on the menu, with wines sponsored by Torres Mas Rabell.

Here's to another 35 years.

Sunday Independent

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