It's no secret that Kinsale, that charming little town in West Cork, is a food lover's paradise. Fresh seafood, local ingredients and boasting simple chippers that even seem to serve better fish and chips than anywhere else, eating out here is a safe enough bet.
But after a few days roaming around Cork and hitting up all the usual suspects for food, I was in the mood for a little something different.
Bastion by Helen Noonan and chef patron Paul McDonald offers exactly that.
A surprisingly sleek restaurant is tucked away on Kinsale's winding streets, a splash of navy in between the pastel hues of its competitors. There's no harbour view here and I doubt you'll find it in any tourist guidebook, but let there be doubt that Bastion is one of the best spots in Kinsale.
Awarded the prestigious Michelin Bib in 2016 and included in this year's guide for "dishes that are tasty, carefully prepared and often have an innovative, playful element", Bastion stands out with its well thought out ethos of constant evolution.
Casual wooden chairs and tables against a grey brick and navy interior set the scene that this is a place for grown ups - while prosecco on tap reminds you it's for grown ups who don't take themselves too seriously.
A darker more secluded area in the back is lit with candles...
The menu includes an eight course tasting menu for €70, which sounded incredibly tempting but I'd overindulged in fried scampi on the pier just hours before, so I knew I'd be playing a losing game.
A small but smart main menu consists of six starters, four mains and four side dishes. Simple, but lovely.
A bottle of crisp chilled Bordeaux for €35 (mentioned in the wine list as "Helen's favourite") was a zesty choice that went well with our dinner and a lovely wooden bowl of three different types of homemade bread was brought over to the table alongside treacle butter and balsamic olive oil.
For starters we went with a truffled beef carpaccio (€9) and a cheese & onion barley risotto (€9)
That carpaccio was AH-MAZING. I've a soft spot for it and there was almost an argument between me and my bf over who would order it (he knows by now the rule is we can't order the same dish - I'm greedy and want to try it all), but I won out and I'm still gloating over it.
Tender slices of raw beef flavoured with an intense truffle was drizzled with balsamic and parmesan with sourdough croutons.
The barley risotto was light and fluffy with a sunny egg yolk resting on top and pickled shallots.
Mains for the evening was a roasted hake fillet (€24), Toonsbridge smoked ricotta agnolotti (€23) and a side of curried cauliflower (€4)
Cauliflower is my new food obsession and I can't resist ordering it. Did we finish it? Not even close. But did we try? You betcha. It was chargrilled and flavourful.
My roasted hake came with a perfectly crunchy skin, salt baked beets, pickle, fennel and slivers of orange. There was a bit too much of the beetroot element included for me as it can be quite overpowering, appearing in both a baked and puree form but overall this was a delight.
As for the smokey ricotta pasta parcels - I've never seen something hoovered up so quickly, which I can only take as a great sign. I managed to snag one little pillowy piece and it was delish, with tomato and asparagus resting on top.
One thing I loved about Bastion was that the servers went through each dish as it was brought out, saving you from going 'what exactly did I order again?'
They were all young and chatty, adding a laid back vibe to the otherwise mature setting.
We glanced at the dessert menu and while my heart desperately wanted something my head said no - we'd already stuffed ourselves to the brim.
Finishing off the bottle of wine, we noticed it was well after 11pm but there was not a sign of rushing anyone out the door which was appreciated.
A recommendation of a pint nearby in "the staff's fave", Dalton's Bar, was the perfect end to a truly enjoyable meal.
It's places like this that will keep visitors coming back again and again, long after the initial tourist buzz has worn off. I for one will be coming back for dessert - 100%.
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