“It’s the Sausalito of Ireland!” he tells me.
My friend, referring to the posh community full of sailboats and stunning views north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is right.
The charming town that sits where the San Francisco bay meets the Pacific Ocean indeed looks and feels a lot like the charming town in County Cork where the Kinsale harbor meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Kinsale, or “head of sea,” is where you will come for fresh seafood.
It is a foodie town, which is a rare find in Ireland. Attention to technique, interesting menus and promotion of local ingredients can be found here.
“Would you like the usual Bob?”
“A flat white and a piece of white toast?”
“Yes, I’m training for the Olympics now that I have my magic shoes,” Bob says pointing down to his new kicks.
Bob has a full grey beard, thinning snow white hair and by the way he plops down at his table looks like walking down to the cafe was compatible to training for the Olympics.
The chef comes out to greet him. They chat while the owner, a German woman who knows all of her regulars by first name, prepares Bob’s coffee.
I came to this cafe based on the name alone––Poet’s Corner.
The walls are lined with books and there’s WIFI! This is the exact scene I need in order to get some work done for the next few hours.
The lattes are lovely and they also have a selection of herbal teas that are handcrafted in Germany by a company called Teekanne (Tea Pot).
I order one called “Body Defense.” It comprises botanicals like anise, lemon balm, lemon myrtle, nettles, lime blossom and echinacea. I’m feeling rejuvenated already.
We are ready for an afternoon stroll.
Kinsale is conducive to that. It’s walking paths hug the bay and lead you to cozy bars like The Spaniard––the former living quarters for a castle built during Spanish rule.
I order a Murphy’s here.
Outside of Dublin, Murphy’s and Beamish––both made in Cork–– are the local stouts of choice. Bartenders will respectfully pour you a Guinness if you order one, but they won’t recommend it.
Guinness is on the sweeter side. Murphy’s and Beamis taste more coffee-like. Each one of them delicious in their own right.
The Bulman Bar
If you keep walking up the hill you will eventually reach The Bulman––a fantastic pub and restaurant with a stunning view of the bay.
We get there just before 12:30 p.m., when they open, and there is already a line forming.
Patrons shove their way in once the doors open hustling for a table.
The specials haven’t even been written on the board yet and we are already ordering drinks.
I recommend ordering seafood here.
Again, especially oysters.
I’m allergic, but my mom and brother slurp back a half dozen from Oysterhaven that they describe as creamy, briny and not rubbery at all.
They smell like sparkling fresh sea water, and despite their colossal size, I watch the soft cushions slide right out of their shell and down their throats with no effort at all.
Meanwhile, I enjoy seared organic salmon perched atop wasabi infused mashed potatoes with buttery broccolini. The teriyaki drizzled around the edge of the plate almost tastes like balsamic.
The side salad I order tastes fresh from the garden and is dressed lightly so it doesn’t interfere with the peppery, herbaceous bite I’m enjoying from the mixed baby greens.
The Black Pig
Now I really feel like I’m in Sausalito.
The first thing I notice when I sit down at this adorable little wine bar is an entire page dedicated to the farms and artisans they source their ingredients from.
The wine list is extensive. Almost to the point of being overwhelming.
It consists of 250 wines. Over 150 of them are poured by the glass and over 50 of them are organic and biodynamic.
I’m all over the Iberico ham (acorn-fed Spanish black pig) croquettes.
They are light and crisp with ham flavored cheese oozing out with every bite. The spicy pimenton aioli accompanying it pairs beautifully.
Sliced beefsteak tomatoes are served on a platter covered in a snowfall of crumbled feta cheese, shaved red onion and chopped parsley.
Try to slip in early and grab a spot at the bar to eat here. Or at least make a dinner reservation. This place fills up quick.
They have good food and a full mixology program for cocktails. I slide in casually with a friend who lives in Kinsale for a cup of French Onion Soup and a nibble off her side of broccolini and chips.
Across the room a man can’t stop talking about the oysters.
“They are the best I’ve ever had in my life!” he shouts.
Definitely take time to explore the star-shaped fortress that overlooks the town and bay called Fort Charles. It was built in the late 1600’s and is one of the largest military sites in the country.
Some argue that the battle of Kinsale was the most important in Irish history. It was one of the last efforts against English rule and this was the fort built to protect the town.
It’s right down the street from The Bulman. A nice hike to take after lunch.
Cups and Cones
“What is that?!”
I’m sitting on the sea wall in downtown Kinsale with my mom, just letting the time pass by with the moving cars around us.
A gaggle of tourists are loading back on to their bus. Approaching us is a woman holding a little paper boat in one hand and a spoon in the other .
She looks like she has just robbed a bank, won the lottery and bought a new puppy. I watch with wonder as her eyes light up and laughter emits from her full cheeks.
“It’s hot donuts with ice cream, white chocolate and caramel!” she boasts.
“They make the BEST ice cream!” she insists pointing to the little shop across the street.
When it comes to ice cream you don’t have to tell me twice, so I wander over and check out the situation.
Yep, made to order donuts tossed in cinnamon sugar and soft-serve ice cream. I must partake.
I order up a little paper boat of my own.
The donuts are warm and doughy, and taste like Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereal.
But that soft serve. Holy…..
It is so creamy. Like eating frozen, whipped butter.
And it’s not too sweet. The richness and high quality of the Irish cream and eggs, used to make the ice cream, makes adding excess sugar unnecessary.
I eat it quickly before the warm donuts make it melt.
And because I’m finding it slightly difficult to control myself…
Our innkeeper at The Peir House B&B recommends Max’s. Also a great option for seafood.
I’m noticing more and more that many restaurants have an early bird special from around 5:30-6:30 p.m.
We are there early, so we take advantage of the deal.
Most of these menus are arranged in a prix fix style, letting you choose from a variety of appetizers and entrees.
We order the following, which all turn out to be very tasty and fresh….
After dinner it’s time for some pub hopping and live music.
The Grey Hound has tiny, dark rooms and booths, conducive to conversation, and a modest bar where the boys huddle in to watch the game.
It is one of those places where the bar turns and looks at you when you walk in. Maybe not as much to size you up, as it is to see if you are someone they know. It is a locals pub for sure and one of our favorite so far.
I’m sipping on a Gunsmoke Gin when I notice a small group walk in the door with instruments strapped to their backs.
Ok, here we go. Real Irish music.
The group unzips their bags and pull up stools around a table. Out comes a guitar, an accordion, a fiddle and a Irish drum called a bodhran. And is that a harp!?
They waste no time. Within minutes there is a full on jam session emitting Irish jigs, suitable to river dance to, happening right in front of us.
We also stayed at The Blindgate House one night while in Kinsale. They had the best breakfast we’ve had so far in a B&B.
A note about breakfast in Ireland…
It is the same everywhere you go, no matter what.
A traditional Irish breakfasts consists of these components:
- Tea or Coffee and toast.
- Black and white pudding – Sausage made from pork liver, pork, oatmeal and suet. Black pudding has the addition of pig’s blood.
- Roasted tomato
- Bacon (what American’s would consider ham)
- Pork Sausage
Baked beans are also a thing at breakfast. They taste just like a can of Bush’s or Heinz.
There are also always pastries (croissants – regular and chocolate), cheese, fruit, yogurt and a variety of cereals, nuts and seeds and fresh juices laid out as well.
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.