A savory experience that you didn’t have to see to believe

The Savour Kilkenny food festival may have been a treat for all the senses, but at one event on Saturday night it was ‘a treat for nearly all the senses’ – minus the sense of sight.

The Savour Kilkenny food festival may have been a treat for all the senses, but at one event on Saturday night it was ‘a treat for nearly all the senses’ – minus the sense of sight.

‘Sensory Dining’ was the theme of the event in the Club House Hotel, and it was like a typical elegant dinner party – except that the guests were blindfolded.

From the start it had an air of mystique as the participants gathered in an upstairs room to mingle and enjoy a glass of champagne. In the classic setting of the Club House Hotel, it felt like a murder mystery, with no one knowing exactly how it would turn out.

The guests were then led into the dining room, where we settled into our seats and introduced ourselves to our table companions. We might have been putting faces to names, but a little voice recognition would have been more useful as it was then time to put on our blindfolds.

The wait staff (who thankfully were not blindfolded) helped at each step of the way, telling each of us by name as they placed our first drinks – and where to find them, “at the top of your knife” – and then the first course. Informed that this was a course to be eaten by hand rather than fork, we could ease into the experience.

It turned out to be ‘a taste of Kilkenny’, featuring Lavistown sausage, Knockdrinna cheese, Goatsbridge smoked trout pâté and Smithwick’s Pale Ale, and a few of the astute palates at my table were able to recognise some of the local delicacies.

And that was part of the fun as we sampled the courses of pigeon and hedgerow salad, monkfish with grapefruit, shot of beetroot soup, rabbit and pumpkin stew, and dessert of crunchy spiced plums, along with their accompanying wines.

With the salad, for example, as one person recognised its blackberries, others guessed which meat it was that we were eating. And was that a peach or a plum in the dessert?

The dinnertime conversation was also an interesting challenge. How can you tell whether a person is addressing you? How can you tell whether someone is listening? Are you sure they’re even there?

And yet, as with the food, you can tell. It does work. And it was great fun.

Variety of tastes

One great thing about the Sensory Dining was that you didn’t have to be a food expert to enjoy it as much as anyone else. All you had to do was be willing to play along and wear the blindfold. (I heard that one diner did not but, being blindfolded myself, I couldn’t verify this, of course.)

This was also true for the crowds who came out to sample the market on the Parade plaza on Saturday and Sunday, and the surprisingly small number who took advantage of Sunday evening’s free beer tasting in the Left Bank by Metalman Brewing, whose pale ale and weissbeer were certainly worth trying.

Also informative and entertaining was a talk on sports nutrition on Thursday evening in the Pembroke Hotel, with speakers including Kilkenny hurling team nutritionist Noreen Roche and Hurler of the Year Michael Fennelly. While not many of us are toned and trained athletes who can manage up to 3,000 or 4,000 calories a day, the night offered useful tips on what to eat before and after exercise, and the days leading up to a big sports event.

It also gave some insight into the life of a top Kilkenny hurler, as Michael Fennelly gave a hilariously informative talk on his dietary routine. And if he might have revealed a small secret or two about any teammates, we won’t get him into any trouble here.