Situated in what was once the stables and dairy of Kilkenny Castle - and overlooking the craft courtyard - Kathleen Moran's deservedly popular first floor restaurant is situated above temptations of a different sort, on display in the famous craft shop.
Also on the ground floor, The Foodhall features local artisan food and lovely displays of the in-house baking (breads,gateaux,meringues...) and preserves, along with prepared dishes and soups in refrigerated units. And, with posters of local food champions on display, visitors are left in no doubt about the food philosophy here - and the stairwell up to the restaurant is lined with large black and white images of the kitchen staff, as well as fruit and condiment displays.
The restaurant itself is impressively decorated with previously unseen works by the artist Jane O'Malley, who lives in the area. During the day, it's a self-service restaurant and has long been known for wholesome and consistently delicious fare showcasing local produce. The day begins with breakfast for guests staying at Butler House (see entry), as well as non-resident visitors, and offers a changing array of goodies, and it is a popular lunch destination.
This excellent and reasonably priced Kilkenny restaurants well-designed to provide an accessible display of wonderful food, all freshly prepared every day. Home baking is an especially strong point, and there is plenty of hot food to choose from as well - seafood chowder with home-made soda bread, for example, and beef & pepper casserole with button mushrooms or a speciality chicken & broccoli crumble with local Lavistown cheese. The lovely crumbly Lavistown cheese is also used in great salads, which are always colourful and full of life - fresh beetroot, asparagus, spinach, red onion, coriander & Lavistown, for example, combine to make a salad worth travelling for, and the selection changes all the time.
On late week evenings (Thu-Sat), the room is cleverly transformed with drop-down linen dividers and table runners to create an appealing ambience for dinner. Diners arrive by the café entrance, are met at the door and shown upstairs; with windows on two sides, many of the tables have a view of the Castle or the craft courtyard, and delicious homemade breads are quickly offered.
Chef Paul Cullen offers lovely informative dinner menus inspired by the Kilkenny Food Trail, with local and other Irish produce very much to the fore and suppliers credited. The cooking is modern and colourful - a delicious starter of smoked haddock and leek tartlet with poached egg, perhaps, with local Mileeven honey in the dressing; or Knockdrinna goats cheese parcels which come on beetroot risotto with chilli and lime.
Main courses will include fresh fish from Duncannon and probably local beef and lamb from local butcher Paddy White; a favourite dishof confit pork belly is served with seasonal vegetables, barbecue pork rib and the delicious Highbank apple syrup which is made nearby, while an attractively presented autumn dish of Silver Hill duck confit comes with an Inistioge wild blackberry and red onion marmalade.
Seasonal desserts may be accompanied by the excellent locally-made Cramers ice cream, and there's also a tempting trio of local cheeses with notes on the cheesemakers of the evening.
The wine list - compiled by local merchants Le Caveau - is not long, but it is well selected and includes some organic wines wines, also local craft brews such as O'Hara's stout and Highbank Farm cider.
Although a little more training would be welcome, the enthusiastic young Irish staff are helpful and full of charm - and an evening here is sure to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.