Kinsale is a small town with a famous food festival, nestled on one of the most beautiful parts of the wild and windswept Cork coast in the south east of Ireland. (Coincidentally, I’m heading back there in March and looking forward to it, interviewing Rachel and Darina Allen for a future feature.) As of last autumn, Kinsale is also a restaurant in burgeoning Kennedy Town.
I have to admit that we originally ventured out on a Monday evening to hit up Chino, across the street, but it was shut. Nul points for my research skills. Kinsale welcomed us warmly instead with its relaxed feel, dimly-lit but classy interiors, friendly staff and huge black and white photo of waves crashing in to shore, presumably in County Cork .
So far, so good. Then my Caesar salad with shrimp arrives. The Caesar ranks only beneath the club sandwich as a beloved, safe staple of nervous business travelers in unfamiliar countries. But when done well – and authentically – it’s famous with good reason. I could have gone for Kinsale’s foie gras burger, confit duck leg or melanzana from a wide ranging and enticing menu – but I didn’t. For once I felt like a salad.
Pretty much everything that could go wrong did. Caesar dressing, a la Cardini with egg yolks and Parmesan, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice? Impossible to tell as the lettuce had been so recently rinsed that any remnants were washed away down the sink. The ‘white anchovies’ as advertised on the menu, boquerones I could eat by the trawler-ful? Two generic brown anchovies from a tin instead. Why? You think diners won’t notice? White anchovies give lift and sharpness, brown anchovies just salt which isn’t needed next to Parmesan. Worst of all was the shrimp, at a hefty $45 dollar supplement. Plump, pan-fried and seasoned, spread liberally? Two small shrimp – that’s two – sliced in half. You’d see this in spring rolls in cheap Vietnamese restaurants, where you get 3 rolls for $30. With service, this salad was more than $200. At that price, the dish was a shocker.
My wife’s zucchini spaghetti was good, sides of sprouts, spuds and mushrooms ok if nothing special. But when you misfire so spectacularly on a simple salad, I doubt I’ll be rushing back soon to try the rest of the menu. Which is a crying shame, as Irish hospitality is justifiably legendary. Just not when you order the Caesar.