In 2018 County Galway was designated a European Region of Gastronomy, while its capital will become a European City of Culture in 2020. To get a flavour of what’s putting this small, westerly bastion of Irish culture on the global tourism map, take a culinary trip through Galway City’s winding medieval lanes to discover its best artisan restaurants and quirky food producers.
Aniar – for a taste of the earth
Like a fine wine, Chef JP McMahon’s menu absorbs the flavours of the indigenous ingredients that he forages and sources from the local soil for Galway City’s first Michelin star restaurant. Aniar’s Nordic cool blue décor and blond timber backdrop might be at odds with its dowdier neighbours on Dominic Street, but the food is full on modern west of Ireland. The tasting menu changes daily, with hot and cold starters, main, cheese and dessert on the six-course spread (€68). McMahon stages his food with thought; clams arrive with seared cucumber and seaweed, brill comes in a foaming bed of sea beet, and hay ice cream is infused with birch sap.
The Pie Maker – for a taste of sweet and savoury
The Pie Maker is the perfect antidote to a rainy Galway day with its snug, quirky 12 seater premises facing Kirwan’s Lane. The pastry is made from organic ingredients, with gourmet fillers that range from Irish black pudding and goat’s cheese to beef and Galway stout. The crumbly and decadent banoffee pie with ripe banana is a culinary landmark in the city. If the tables are full, which is often the case, order ‘on the go’ and head down Kirwan’s Lane to enjoy your pie at the nearby Spanish Arch.
Sheridan’s Cheesemongers – for a taste of the pastures
Slip down a narrow market lane by Saint Nicholas Church to detect the aroma of Sheridan’s produce that seeps out from its cramped store in the heart of the city’s medieval quarter. With blue, hard and soft cheeses from every corner of Europe stacked on the counter, it’s hard to know where to start – so just ask for advice or a sample from the helpful staff. Sheridan’s signature cheese, 15 fields, is a safe-bet mature cheddar, while wild-herb-flavoured Saint Tola’s goat’s cheese from County Clare’s Burren is smooth and sublime. Ask about the wine range to accompany their cheeses, and the picnic baskets for a spontaneous al fresco lunch in one of the city’s open spaces.
Kai Café – for a taste of fusion
Kai is Maori for food, so expect a marriage of the exotic with local ingredients under the skilful hands of New Zealander chef and owner, Jessica Murphy, and Irish husband David, who navigates the floor of their brightly painted boho premises. This fusion spills onto the plate with Roscommon hogget coupled with harissa and freshly caught Galway haddock crusted in panko. The word is out though so expect long lunchtime queues.
Loam – for a taste of sophistication
Loam’s location, in a sprawling glass development, has little of Galway’s medieval charm, but it’s only a stone’s throw from Eyre Square, and well worth a diversion from the city’s main drag. Chef Enda McEvoy, formerly of Aniar, searches the Connemara landscape for ingredients and offers them with panache in his daily changing tasting menu (€70) – a scaled back 2 course meal is also available (€40). Book ahead.
Cava Bodega – for a taste of Spain
Cava Bodega sits close to the Spanish Arch, the part of Galway’s ancient walls where in medieval times ships from the Iberian Peninsula moored to sell their cargo of spices and wine. These days Cava Bodega offers the best tapas in Ireland, with a well thought out wine list to accompany them. The menu is broken down into vegetarian, fish, meat and sweet, and given it’s the brainchild of JP McMahon of Aniar, expect a few flavoursome surprises like pig’s head fritters or scallops served with local black pudding. Parties of eight and above should go for the tasting menu (€25) which gives a sweeping selection of the menu.
Cupán Tae – for a taste of nostalgia
While the chintzy back kitchen setting might not be to everyone’s taste, the breakfast in this small restaurant in the heart of medieval Galway has a broad appeal, with hearty portions of traditional Irish fare like eggs and black pudding. However, it’s Cupán Tae’s afternoon tea (clue in the name, which is Irish for cup of tea) that’s gaining a steady following, serving leaf tea and the option of a glass of prosecco. Traditionalists will be at right at home with the €20 fixed-price option of tea-flavoured sandwiches, miniature snacks and scones. For something more substantial, the ‘Baaaaaaaad Ass Slow Cooked Lamb Stew’ is the real deal.
Pullman – for a taste of romance
Overlooking Lough Corrib on the lush grounds of Glenlo Abbey is Ireland’s most unusual restaurant, consisting of two stunningly restored carriages from the Orient Express (one of the carriages, Leona, appeared in Sidney Lumet’s 1974 movie Murder on the Orient Express). Before climbing aboard, rest assured that the Pullman Restaurant menu (€57) is as suitably refined as its plush setting. Game and locally caught fish are all served with French style flair on, of course, fine bone china.
Dunguaire Castle – for a taste of the past
As well as bearing the full force of the Atlantic for half a millennium, Dunguaire Castle, in Kinvarra, 30 minutes from Galway City, was also an outpost of Ireland’s late nineteenth-century literary revival. WB Yeats, Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge were guests, and the current owners offer a banquet at which extracts of the great poets' works are recited to the beat of a bodhran or plucking of a harp, while ocean gales howl around the roof. Mead, a honey wine blended for centuries in Ireland, is the only concession to the castle’s past in the culinary arena, with the food served being standard fare like smoked salmon, chicken and apple pie.
The Oyster Festival – for a taste of the sea
Born from the need to fill city hotel rooms in the shoulder season, the Galway International Oyster Festival expanded from a handful of guests just over 60 years ago to being the highlight of Ireland’s September festival calendar. The fun kicks off on Friday 28 September with traditional music and seafood (€40), and then Shrove Tuesday arrives seven months late in Galway for the festival highlight, the Saturday night Mardi Gras masquerade ball (€100) with sparkling wine, Guinness and oysters in ample supply.