I CAN sometimes succumb to far field syndrome and be guilty of forgetting what is right under my nose when prospecting for a skite on the Oul’ Sod, so deeply rooted is the notion that an ideal destination must first be “earned” with the penance of an arduous trek across the country. So we relish the ease of our time in Kinsale, just an easy 25 minute drive from Cork City and we are ‘on holiday’.
In fact, it seems the nation as a whole has succumbed to a longing for far-off fields – hard to blame anyone after the past few years – and every Covid-weary man, woman and child has soared and gone. flown to foreign climes which means sunny Ireland is eerily quiet for this time of year, although a high in the Azores has us sizzling like sausages in the pan.
It may be quiet, but it gives the charming little seaport a blissful serenity as we bask in the warm weather, sipping al fresco bubbly from a streetside table outside the hotel. Haven Hotel. I’ve always had a thing for the laid-back nature of the little gem hotel in the heart of the city, having laid my head on the pillow here many times over the decades and tonight we discover a new addition to its hotel offering. Hospitality: Rare 1784, a gourmet restaurant and cocktail bar under the direction of Chef Meeran Mansoor.
All true Gael is three-fifths rainwater, generally loath to give up the rarity that is a real heat wave, but we have to get inside and first impressions of Rare are good. Although refinements are still in progress, it’s a lovely space, a sleek room rising to the rear where a suitably swish kitchen is visible through a wall of glass. Lighting is subtle, tables lit with downlights, completing a cozy speakeasy vibe.
SpouseGirl continues with the bubbly while I have a very nice Mexican bunny from the cocktail list, aged tequila, agave, mango, a reduction of the local Black’s Brewery IPA and an absinthe spritz to finish.
We have the tasting menu with wine pairings and the first of the blocks is the homemade bread, served with creamy country butter and bright, light tapenade. The miniature baguettes have a nice soft crust and the focaccia is excellent, airy and crispy.
Next is a quenelle of sumptuous Ardsallagh lactic goat cheese, draped in a coat of beet jelly, followed by a dollop of beet chutney, topped with a disc of roasted beet pulsating with hints of star anise, the beet troika adding earthy-sweet sugars to the cheesecake. This is followed by a succulent, plump scallop with a silky, rich mash of romesco cauliflower, sprinkled with sumac.
We hit the “course” of meat, lamb. Previous dishes carried subtle spicy suggestions of Mansoor’s Indian heritage, but here it is most pronounced. A delicious and tender lamb sits on a bed of Bulgarian wheat and is topped with a soft miniature flatbread. A strong juice is poured over it and the whole schemozle sprinkled with a powder of dehydrated lamb fat. It’s a refined but warmer dish for winter, the class of comfort required when glorious summer nights like this have faded into the realm of myth and the cold has returned to the bones.
SpouseGirl doesn’t eat red meat and instead gets a slice of lightly smoky roasted eggplant topped with pureed roasted red peppers, romesco, tahini, walnuts and micro greens. It’s my evening dish, a delicious blend of crisp, fresh and crunchy textures and flavors, perfect for the evening here.
The baked cod has a nice crispy skin and little fronds of glasswort tempura are a great addition, but the fish is under-seasoned and beefed up with Lombardy peppers stuffed with a cod mousse. A nice sweet coconut sauce with oils, chilli and coriander, complete what could have been a very good little dish if done correctly.
A palate cleanser of lime and raspberry sorbet and lemon and orange parfait with mango gel is very nice, but more of a full dessert than something to recalibrate the palate for an overworked chicken ballotine and truffle that won’t hold. The dessert itself, a chocolate and caramel delight, is well executed but for the sweet tooth; I would have gladly revisited the previous “palace cleanser”.
Even though Irish cuisine has been on the rise over the past few decades, there has unfortunately been a corresponding drop in service standards, mainly because it is so hard to find staff that the industry often ends up by having to manage.
For this reason, it is a particular joy to meet someone like the lively Charlie O’Sullivan who runs the room with sublime professionalism married to an effortless and utterly charming joie de vivre.
Truth be told, she’d rather have him knocked out of the park in New York if the Covid hadn’t done what it seemed to do best, upending life plans, in his case sending him down a totally unplanned road.
But New York’s loss is Kinsale’s gain and she is now delighted with her new life in West Cork. There are still a few rough edges to iron out in Rare 1784 – the wine list needs some work as well as some ambient tweaks in the room – but I’d fully trust O’Sullivan to achieve that.
We had a lovely evening and once Mansoor relaxed in his cooking, perhaps abandoning some of the overly complex process-based cooking of his extensive gastronomic experience abroad for greater simplicity that allows to its well-sourced local products to do more than lift heavy loads, then a Rare Pleasure will deserve to become a regular treat.
Rare seven-course tasting menu, €85 per person
- Food: 7/10
- Performance: 9.5/10
- Value: 8/10
- Atmosphere: 8/10