Cucina Cafe and Restaurant is in Kinsale, and on a miserable old day, the little shops and restaurants of Kinsale appear to huddle in that bit closer, seeking some respite from the biting rain and stumbling into the warm glow of Cocina is an instant tonic. It’s a small room but thoughtfully finished to appear cosy rather than cramped; décor is spare, simple, lots of warm, light wood makes for an intimate little space.
Trying to settle ourselves and a couple of car-crazed young children makes for a rather distracting ordering experience, so, on first glance, the menu seems no different from that available in many similar small independent café-restaurants operating the length and breadth of the country. Open from early morning to late at night, they offer a contemporary Irish take on some now familiar global staples.
Locally-sourced Crab Meat & Claws w/ Avocado Salsa, served with Wholegrain Bread & Artichoke Pesto sounds pleasant, with all the right buzzwords and a mixture of the local and the exotic; on the plate, it is certainly a step up from the usual presentation, a very pretty little arrangement, most pleasing to the eye but first mouthful is when we sit up and start to pay proper attention. Crucially, it is fresh and relatively unadulterated, with two nice fresh claws to worry at once the rest has gone down. And it goes down fast.
Ordering the Toasted Bagel with Turkey Slices, Cranberry Mayo, Honey Roast Ham, Cumberland Sausage and Swiss Cheese was, initially, an exercise in sheer bravado; who on earth could possibly live with this protein overload but, unbelievably, it works. No grandstanding, each balanced element complementing the other with the creamy tang of cranberry mayo providing the grace note. Two junior hyenas set about it with unnerving ferocity and it takes the arrival of their Chicken Schnitzel to distract them and leave a taste for the adults. Who could have done with a whole lot more. The Schniztel is written up on the menu as Breaded Chicken Goujons on a Toasted Bap with Avocado Salsa, Garlic Mayo and Cheddar Cheese, but these succulent breadcrumbed chicken pieces have as much relation to the often inedible and rubbery children’s menu standard as … well, good chicken does to the rubber tyres.
A lovely crisp pastry tartlet is loaded up with Sunblushed Tomato, Carmelised Red Onions and Camembert Cheese to be given a turn in the oven, just long enough for the cheese to turn to a lovely, molten mass – the mixed leaf salad accompanying it is top drawer, none of your usual bagged, chlorined leaves. A suspicion that it may be from nearby Horizon Organics farm is later confirmed. Thick potato wedges have a lovely crisp exterior that breaks through to a molten, floury heart. These little details are starting to mount up: while the menu may appear familiar, safe even, the care and attention to detail, the quality of the cooking means its as good a rendition of a modern Euro/Irish café/deli menu as you’ll find in many a long day.
Some lovely baked desserts, spiced apple with a lovely crisp crumble and a quite savage chocolate brownie, maintain the high standard in the home straight.
Anyone seeking out the outre or the outrageous, some other wild concoction to cross off their list of foodie experiences would do well to look elsewhere; but if you’re in the market for good seasonal Irish produce cooked with skill, care, attention and a whole lot of heart, then Cocina has it in spades.
When we visit in the off-season, Cocina is closed in the evenings and only offers an a la carte night-time restaurant from . I look forward very much to trying that out as well.