Zuni has had a change of chef since this review was first published.
26 Patricks Street
Phone: 056 772 3999
Irish Daily Mail
14 March 2015
Kilkenny is a very fortunate place. It has been blessed with two splendid wine shops, The Wine Centre and Pascal Rossignol’s Le Caveau where his Burgundian heritage is reflected in a splendid range of wines from small producers in that neck of the woods.
It also has the great fortune to have way beyond its fair share of excellent restaurants: Campagne, Foodworks, Café Sol to name but a handful. The entire county of Kilkenny has a population just under 100,000; the city of Cork has a population of 120,000 and fewer excellent restaurants. I have no idea why this should be.
Anyway, we found ourselves in Kilkenny and in need of a late lunch. It was the work of an instant to decide to head to Zuni because (a) I’ve not been for several years and (b) reports have been consistently good.
We declined the offer of a table in the restaurant and took one instead in the modest café area at the front, intent on just refuelling and moving on. In the event, however, we lingered because the food and the service were exceptionally good.
We shared a starter of seared tuna (seared on the outside but cut into rounds that were delightfully raw in the centre) served with strands of crisp pickled cucumber, little dollops of explosively hot wasabi (a form of horseradish much favoured by the Japanese when eating sashimi) and a generous seasoning of soya sauce and toasted sesame seed oil.
This simple dish was a delight, prettily executed and fully thought through in terms of tastes and textures, a theme that seems to run through the cooking at Zuni. Punchy flavours are very much part of what they do here.
I won’t pretend that “sweet chilli mayonnaise” was any better than it sounds - and I thought it sounded awful even as I ordered it, but I wanted the fish and chips with which it came. So, I’m not complaining. There are those who love the somewhat sickly, luminous gunk that is sweet chilli sauce and who would clap their hands in delight at the thought of it being married to a generous helping of mayonnaise. Personally, I think it’s a bit of an abomination. On the other hand, there is a version that my wife Johann occasionally makes which is delicious (and not, as it happens, terribly sweet).
Anyway, the point of the exercise was the fish and chips. The fish, in the form of two generous slices, was cod and it was cooked to perfection, flaking beautifully, encased in crisp but not shatteringly crunchy batter (i.e. the way I like it). And the chips were first rate, not – I strongly suspect – bought in frozen as they are in most restaurants. They were large and crisp, fluffy inside and cooked in delightfully clean, fresh oil. It’s quite alarming how often this is manifestly not the case.
The only thing that would have made this simple lunchtime dish better would have been replacing with sweet chilli mayo with – wacky thought, I know – some freshly made chunky tartare sauce.
Our other main was risotto balls (plainly stated and not translated as arancini) flavoured with mushrooms and truffle oil and served with even more mushrooms, dollops of truffley sauce, chive oil and little pieces of fresh goat’s cheese. A busy plate, certainly, but it worked well.
We resorted to sharing again at the pudding stage and this is where Zuni’s kitchen excelled itself. It was a presentation of quite delicious blood orange ice cream and and slice of chocolate parfait, geometrically perfect, glistening with its semi-liquid dark chocolate coating that would not have been out of place in any Michelin-starred establishment. This dessert was a stunner.
Zuni is quite clearly a lot of fun. The restaurant proper is quite a formal space (and is in the process of getting bigger as building work carries on) but in the food and even the menus as written there is a sense that it doesn’t take itself too seriously (for example, there is a Zuni Bounty dessert with coconut ice cream, a portion of which has my name on it), while the skill and the deftness involved in the cooking is very serious indeed.
With mineral water, a bottle of crisply pungent pale ale from Co. Laois’s 12 Acres Brewery, two glasses of wine and a couple of espressos, our bill barely reached €60.
Oh yes, Kilkenny is a fortunate place.
A fairly compact list, arranged by style and starting with Chilean Merlot Sauvignon Blanc for €21.95 (€5.75 a glass). Highlight include the robust rosé from Alain Brumont (€25.95/€6.75), Vincent Girardin’s Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes (€85), chunky Chateau de Cedre Cahors (€39.95), Grimon Rioja Crianza (€34.95/€9).