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Category Archives: Galway Now
There are so many amazing places to eat in Ireland and the food is just getting better and better. This is a list of my favourite places to eat, a personal choice based on how I like to eat, which is generally café-style and light. There are so many passionate and committed people producing not just stunning food, but exceptional spaces. This article is about spaces, people and food. Places where you are stimulated and excited on every level. All of these places are owner-run, and you literally see the owner running them. In a generic society, this is what makes them so special. So, in no particular order,here are the places I get so excited to visit.
Cafe Rua/ Rua Deli in Castlebar is not worth a detour, it’s worth a tour. I usually am in a panic of excitement by the time I get to Headford at the thought of their rhubarb pie. I could write a whole article on these amazing people – Aran and Colleen McMahon and the instigator of it all, their mother Ann McMahon. They tick every single box and consistently win all the awards for service, food and produce. The one I go to most is Rua Deli which has a deli downstairs and a café upstairs. This is a busy space serving from early morning till 6pm. All breads and cakes, and just about everything else are produced in-house…and boy does it look good. Stunning plates of locally-sourced produce served by attentive and informed staff.
Jessica Murphy has finally opened her own place, Kai on Sea Road in Galway, with her wonderful husband Dave. This is an adorable pitch perfect interior space with a cosy fire and Jess’s own quirky collection of art and a blackboard with daily specials, which is a work of art in itself. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with everything from the morning scone to a Castlemine meat platter and pumpkin soup to polenta with courgette flowers to frozen manuka honey ice cream. It is wonderful to have a place like this in Galway that satisfies us all at any hour of the day or night.
Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara is a thing of legends. Walking through its doors to the smell of the turf fire and the welcoming ‘hello’ from the almost family-like members of staff, this really feels like coming home. Then like being at home, the scones and tea arrive with whipped cream. Or you can have a relaxed bite of food in the bar- venison stew, seafood platter, some homemadesoup and a glass of Guinness too. If you’re lucky enough to stay, then you can have the breakfast of kings with a view of the river that will have you sitting in silence long
after you’ve finished eating. This place is consistently good under the watchful eye of the entertaining manager / man of the manor Patrick O’Flaherty and his warm,friendly staff. There is no sense of hotel chain here, just a pure sense of belonging.
Visiting Farmgate at the Cork English Market is like going back in time. The restaurant is situated on the balcony overlooking the market, which itself has such a draw with its bustling food stalls and amazing produce sold by charming producers. The Farmgate is all elegant old to accompany classics like corned beef and spring cabbage, lamb liver with bacon and tripe and onions finished off with the likes of apple and berry crumble with custard. Service is familiar and they always seem to remember you, even if it’s been a year. They have recently won the ‘Just Ask’ restaurant of the year and no place could more perfectly deserve that wonderful award.
Ballymaloe Cafe, Shanagarry, Co Cork is on the grounds of the iconic Ballymaloe House and if you have never been to any of these outstanding places, then you need to go. This whole world of through her children and grandchildren. I love eating at the main house and have had the pleasure many times, but it is the simplicity of the café that I love most. Dishes of game terrine with pheasant chutneys, hot alpine sandwiches peppered salamis and onion confiture or Henderson’s smoked mackerel plate…and then there are the cakes and the warm spiced apple drink. This little café is always packed; it’s a place I think about often and wish I could visit every day.
O’ Brien’s Chop House, Lismore, Co Waterford, run by Justin and Jenny Green, has a huge focus on meat. Housed in an old pub in the sleepy town of Lismore, this is the ultimate place for Sunday lunch; I’d even drive from Galway for it! It’s great every other minute of the day or night, but I’d like to single out the Sunday experience there. Ireland needs more great places for Sunday roasts and roasts done well. In O’ Brien’s, you get Englishtown free range chicken liver pate, Hereford beef 28 days aged with Yorkshire pudding and gravy or traditional fish pie. It’s all done so well here in a Farrow and Ball elegance of colour and style. Unique, international and yet intrinsically Irish in a James Fennel-inspired picture of Irishness.
I get asked so, so many times where to eat in Dublin and I just keep saying Pepper Pot Café, Powerscourt Town House, Dublin. There are some great places to eat in Dublin such as La Maison and Dillinger’s, but I just keep going back to the Pepper Pot. The place is run by two wonderful women, Marion and Dervela, who have worked so hard to get this great little spot up and running and thriving. All fabric flags, flowers, aprons, vintage teacups and oilcloth tablecloths, this is an effortless place which makes you feel at home. The food is stand-alone good – balsamic roasted beetroot and orange salad with hazelnuts, egg and land cress sandwich, lemon and poppy seed cake and organic porridge with roasted pears. Marion is always out front with a big smile and a big welcome, while Dervela is controlling what’s rising in the oven. Together, they have created a perfect and much-needed place in the centre of Dublin.
There are so many others places I would love to mention like Dolls Café and the Cake Café in Dublin, which I so admire and Café Paradiso in Cork and Good Things Café down south. There are so many committed and inspiring people doing great things for our food culture; I love the thought of getting in the car and driving to any one of these places in the knowledge that I will be enveloped by the place and warmed by the food and the welcome.
The plane descends on what appears to be the moon. The old taxi man that takes us from the airport tells us Armstrong spent time here to practice the moonwalk before he did the walk of last century. The landscape is volcanic and gigantic.
Fresh from the airport, we’re dropped off at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal lake in the middle of nowhere, and then suddenly, we’re at the bar drinking carrot juice with volcanic mud on our faces, submerged in 42 degrees of turquoise blue water as the fresh northern air freshens the post flight head. This is the first time I’ve been here during the summer…when the sun barely sets and you have to wear your Ray Bans to bed if you want to get any sleep.
Reykjavik is a small town of red corrugated roofs and iconic contemporary architecture, sitting majestically on a most stunning expanse of water and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Its main artery is Laugavegur Street, which is a catwalk of Icelandic cool. The Icelanders themselves have tired of this street but for us visitors it still has a deep hold. We stayed just off the main drag in a series of apartments called ‘Home’. The apartment is fresh, quirky and contemporary. The mattresses on the beds are made of ‘memory foam’, which was first developed by Nasa for its space shuttle programme. Galcier, the owner, sits with us and chats when we first arrive. He tells us
what’s newest and coolest in town and talks of his school days with Bjork. This typifies your normal welcome chat from an Icelander.
Reykjavik can only be described as a hybrid of Scandinavia and Portland Oregon with a little bit of Brooklyn NYC thrown in. It’s a uniquely evolved, fiercely independent little spot of 340,000 people. Its people are warm and full of humour, and are obsessed
with drinking, knitting and creativity. It’s these lauded qualities that make the Irish and the Icelandics so uniquely similar.
I was here to run the Icelandic Half Marathon – to experience running in the freshest air and crispest landscape in the world. It was a fantastic, easy run, with Icelandic children at every corner in pyjamas and clouds of white blond hair cheering us on. The day was stunningly bright in an almost supernatural purity. The marathon was the start of an exceptional day, August 21, the cultural day of Reykjavik and what a day it was to be. After a post marathon feed of trucker breakfast and American pancakes in the retro cool basement café of Grai Kotturinn, we hit out to the madness that was unfolding on the streets of this crazy town. The post-run abdominal dip was lifting. Jon Gnarr, the hilarious new mayor, was opening the cultural events at the new Harpa Centre down by the harbour. The black glass mausoleum is perhaps not too fond a nod to the pre-crash days, but it was, for me, a hugely memorable space as the sun glistened on this perfect day. We were there to see a concert of 20 of Iceland’s harpists play. The day continued with a skate boarding competition, with DJs set up on rooftops. Performance art took
place on every street, and we went to a poetry reading in an old bank.
Later, we had some rest from all the creative madness in Hostel Kex down by the sea.
Hostel Kex is housed in an old biscuit factory and is designed by Halfdan Pedersen, a movie-set-designer. The design is all to do with recycling and reusing up as many old things as possible. Its design makes you feel instantly at home and comfortable.
With old blackboards, found objects, leather beaten chairs and tables and old children’s toys throughout, the huge open area of the hotel is abuzz with people. Rooms are industrial and up-cycled, with found, framed, off-shot photos to lend some warmth and familiarity. The most surprising element of Kex though is its kitchen. Iceland, for me, is not at the forefront of a food movement and although I eat well there, I don’t get challenged in a food context. This is where Kex is so different – they are totally on the pulse of food. Breakfast of pilsner jar preserves, cold meats and cheeses served on vintage plates is simple yet perfectly pitched. Lunch and dinner are a delight with salt cod, roast beef with new carrots and jus, chicken cooked in lemon with herbs, skyr (Icelandic yoghurt) brulee and Johnny Walker chocolate mousse. It’s all so simple; the
fewest ingredients are used, but it’s clever and served by the most exceptional staff. Needless to say, I moved out of Home and into Kex at the next opportunity. With its built-in barber unit and its plugged-in staff, it’s a space of endless possibility. Dragging myself away from Kex, I had some wonderful food in two places down by the harbour. Saegreifinn, an almost glorified fish shop is a place of legend. It serves the best lobster
soup and fish (whale, monkfish, scallop – you name it) on a stick with Viking beer, all on plastic plates and cups. Cheap and unpretentious, bustling with people, zero interior design, disaffected uninterested staff…all this results in creating one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Around the corner is Hamborgara Bullan, aka burger joint. It is rammed with people and serves burgers and chips in a basket with coke. With music blasted from a 1980s getoblaster, it’s cheap, not chic, but brilliant. It was my pre-marathon last supper and boy, I enjoyed the calories.
Spend a few days in Reykjavik or the rest of your life – it’s up to you. But here is what I like to do when I am there – take some knitting classes and learn how to make the Lopi traditional sweaters; visit Kling n Bang – the crazy art space; read ‘The Grapevine’, the local cultural weekly in one of the cosy bars like Kaffibarinn; sit in Hallgrimskirkja the Lutheran church and then go to its peak and look out on the local 1940s airport; sit at City Hall and watch the ducks; take a trip to the Harbor House Museum where you’re likely to be the only person there looking at the art. Around the corner, visit the best gallery in the world…I8 gallery; maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see a Roni Horn exhibition, do a harbor walk and sit at Solfar, a breath-taking Viking ship sculpture. Dress up really cool and brave the coolness that is Boston Bar. Oh, and on Saturday night, head out out out and party anywhere, shop in Kron Kron, tonar 12, Sputnik and for the best antique shop in the world, Frioa Fraenka. Put on a 1950s swim hat and go to one of the main public pools – my favorite is Sundhollin, all 1930s cool and social
inclusiveness and all of that. This is just the tip of the iceberg – there’s everything outside of the capital to explore too. Glaciers, the library of water in Stykkisholmur, horse riding on the Icelandic ponies, golfing by the midnight sun, monumental landscape, hot springs and unending beauty.
Spending a long few days in Iceland is essential…try to stay at one of the many eco-hotels and feel the true extent of the nature. I don’t understand why so few people go to Iceland but that suits me fine because I want to be the only person in a room full
of Roni Horn’s stunning art pieces entitled, ‘You are the Weather’. As the back of my neck tingles, I realise how lucky I am to know this country just a little bit and to feel its power. It is this power that has led it rapidly and independently out of a recession and back into the glowing light it belongs in.
Home apartments: www.homereykjavik.is
Harbour house museum: wwww.artmuseum.ie
Saegreifinn: www.saegreifinn.is Boston, Laugavegur 28b
Grai Kotturinn, Hverfisgata 16
Hamborgarabullan, Geirsgata 1
Kaffibarinn, baergstaoastraeti 1
Kronkron, Laugavegur 63b
Sputnik, Laugavegur 28b
Frida Fraenka Vesturgata 3
Blue Lagoon www.bluelagoon.com
The Wallpaper guide to Reykjavik
For a taste of what’s extraordinary about Iceland, check out Bon Iver music video Holocene http://vimeo.com/27307766
Icelandic indie band Seabear, album ‘The ghost that carried us away’.
Inis Meáin is the least frequented of the Aran Islands. But it typifies that which is truly the spirit of these unique islands. Psychologically, the islands feel far away even for us nestled away in Galway but they are very easily accessed from Rossaveal by boat and also very uniquely by airplane from Inverin – the flight being a mere eight minutes from
Connemara airport. It is wonderful to experience both ways of getting to the islands as you can have different perspectives of scale. The flight is stunning and as you approach the airstrip, you really get a sense of place and time on these islands that are an exercise in anthropology and climatic diversity.
I had not been to the islands for years but the draw of the award- winning Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites was too great. Ruairí and Marie-Therese de Blacam have created a stunning restaurant with four large suites attached. The building itself was designed by architects Blacam and Meagher and was directly inspired by the surrounding area. It is a monument in contemporary stone and sits in tandem with the local stonewalling. The build is much publicised for its unique aesthetic and design consciousness. It exists as a contemporary build with a total embodiment of all that is around it, from wool throws on the bed, Irish pottery, periwinkles to start with as an amuse bouche before dinner and fishing rods and bikes left outside for your amusement. This place presents something totally fresh but with the greatest respect for everything that it has come from. This is what makes Inis Meáin suites stand alone as a sparkling gem of contemporary Irish hospitality both nationally and internationally.
The rooms are simple and yet luxurious with a view that would take your breath away. Egyptian cotton sheets in white with grey tweed furnishings and dark wood lend a simple tone that allows the space itself to shine. Breakfast in the morning is dropped off to the porch of the suite, homemade granola, fruit compote, traditional soda bread, jams and fresh boiled eggs from the house chickens. Breakfast can then be eaten on the expanse of windowsill that is an unending table in and of itself. You are then well set up for the day’s activities; a detailed list of what to do is laid out charmingly and amusingly by the owners in an almost ‘things to do’ on the island. A walk to Synge’s chair on the precipice of the cliff past the writer’s house is a sublime and head clearing adventure, cycling all the lanes of the island, an afternoon in the local pub with a toasted sandwich and a glass of Guinness followed by a visit to the multi generational traditional knitters in a nearby house, a swim at the deserted beaches, and without fail a trip to Inis Meáin knit wear factory shop.
It seems all that these people do is spot on and done with such integrity. Inis Meáin knitwear supplies stores all over the world. Its commitment again to the local product is combined with an element of luxury that positions their products in stores as renowned as Bloomingdales in New York. The store itself is an old barn but houses a most extraordinarily diverse collection of knitwear. With bargain baskets galore, this is a chance to get your hands on some wonderful bargains and great finds. You can spend hours here looking at the old black and white photos and trying on endless combinations of knits and working up your appetite for dinner.
The simple stone dining room is really one of the most appealing restaurant rooms in Ireland. Large old black and white photos of the islanders subtly break up the room. The dark wooden huge windowsill again dominates and frames the landscape as if it were a photograph, light exists everywhere, it is almost like eating outside such is the openness of the space. Ruairí cooks in open plan in the centre of the room. The menu is simple; bearing in mind that all food has to be shipped or flown in, that alone is a huge achievement. There is naturally a strong element of seafood with the crab and lobsters caught daily by the local fishermen in their currachs. The vegetables come from their own garden and arrive simply buttered and seasoned, as they should be. There is cooking – here the ingredients are allowed to shine. You leave having had wonderful attentive service by Marie-Therese who fills you in on the local island activities and anecdotes, which further enhances this unparalleled dining experience.
After three days of blistering sun we leave revived and restored.Happy in the knowledge that we didn’t have to fly hours to have an exceptional holiday, knowing we were supporting a local community and staying with people who work to enhance not exploit as they create an exceptional time for their guests. This is eco tourism at its best and most integral. The Aran Islands are a stunning destination and if you haven’tbeen for a while, visit them again. The local community could do with slightly more tourism and coupled with that, you will have some breathtaking peace and beauty.
Aoibheann McNamara roams at home this time and embarks on a culinary ramble through Tipperary, Cork and Waterford.
I have travelled alot abroad and have enjoyed it all very much. These days I feel that perhaps I should consider holidaying more in Ireland. Staycations are the new thing to do and where better than Ireland as it is a wonderful country with amazing people. From an economic point of view, we should all be buying Irish and support everything Irish and this should extend to taking a holiday in Ireland.
With little time away from the restaurant, I managed a sneaky weekend off in February. I did a culinary meander through Nenagh, Co Tipperary and stopped off in the iconic Country Choice and delighted in their robust minestrone soup with big chunks of Limerick baked ham and homemade pasta served with traditional soda bread. Peter himself was there and we had an animated chat about Donegal tweed and then he was off. This place is wonderfully indicative of contemporary culinary Ireland. With energy, passion, gusto and style, Country Choice is traditional to the core with an amazing array of products, predominantly Irish and universally of great taste.
A lazy drive then down to Ballyvolane House in Castlelyons, Co Cork, arriving just before dark so we could take in the full picturesque isolation of the place. We rang the bell several times to discover, after no one answered, that it was actually open; I thought this was brilliant. The owners, Justin and Jenny Green welcomed us warmly. We were given the tour, which appropriately started with the details surrounding the honesty bar. The style of the place is in tune with a house of its age but it is peppered with interesting design features from an Asian influence, which comes presumably from the time Justin and Jenny lived there. Also clearly visible is the incredible aesthetic and design awareness of people confident to paint a children’s playroom charcoal grey from Farrow & Ball and sure, ‘we’ll paint the door too!’ We were then shown up to our expansive room with sunken wooden encased bath with views of the gardens and the carpet of snowdrops on the lawn. Little features in the rooms like a bush radio, fireplace littered with interesting books and a kilner of homemade preserve made the bedroom introduction complete and perfect. This is definitely a home and so the style and space are welcoming and intimate almost. Books and art in the drawing room give a sense of the personality of the owners. Wellie boots in differing sizes are discarded at the door alongside croquet gear. This is a place to feel at home, in the vein of Nick Jones’ Babington House in Somerset, where both Justin and I had the great pleasure of working.
On the evening we arrived, we had a light supper in the drawing room of rock- et and parmesan salad, followed by lemon drizzle cake and some offerings of Riesling from the honesty bar. Justine and Jenny were heading out to their Chop House in Lismore to host the monthly curry and beer night and since a trip to the Chop House was also planned, the intrigue continued and the anticipation grew for our visit there the following night. Breakfast the following morning was on a communal table with many others. Justin’s father actually serves breakfast in between reading old French novels and does so with gentleness and care. Ballyvolane is Justin’s family home and it is certainly a family affair; along with three children and grandparents, it is a multi generational exercise in happy country living. Breakfast itself was superb with the finest local ingredients for the trusty fry, six different types of seasonal stewed fruit, homemade breads and preserves. Not being able to wait for dinner, we popped into the Chop House in Lismore for a late lunch after a wonderful few hours at Middleton market.
The Chop House is a traditional Irish pub with a restaurant out back and a garden dining area for the summer. But it is a traditional pub put in the hands of people who changed it into a space of rustic wood and blue grey paint and yet did so with commitment to the integrity of the original space. The old snug and stain glass still exists but it is refreshingly crisp, aesthetic and perfectly cosy. We had a light lunch of Jerusalem artichoke soup and treacle marinated smoked salmon. After getting repeatedly lost we eventually got back to Ballyvolane only to say a very brief hello to the babysitter and then happily turn on our heels and head back to the Chop House for dinner.
Justin entertained us over elderflower Bellinis at the bar and we chatted about food glorious food until our table was ready and then, as the name suggests, we ordered the carnivore options. Devilled lamb kidneys to start followed by hanger steak and lamb chops with varying sides of home grown potatoes and vegetables, all from the walled garden at Ballyvolane. Dessert was an exercise in joy with lemon posset topping the list, also Eton Mess of berries and something obscenely chocolaty, while a delicate New Zealand Pinot Noir made the night all the more (or less) mem- orable. The food is simple and brilliant, executed with confidence and style. The place itself reflects the perfect place for Ireland right now, a place that embraces the old and looks forward with class and commitment.
Lismore, a beautiful heritage town of only one thousand people is blessed with an offering like this, as are the bordering areas. People travel from Cork and beyond regularly to experience all that Justin and Jenny have created. On Sunday morning before 9am, Justin, Oni and I and three swirling dogs went to feed the pigs and the chickens. Justin knee high in muck and looking like Withnail in his long barbour coat looked the picture of happiness. He doesn’t just talk the talk on the ecology and cycle of food, he lives and breathes it. This was the perfect end to a magical weekend. Ireland is lucky to have people like these minding, developing and nurturing the culinary and hospitality of Ireland for today and for the future. One of strongest and oldest of our industries is tourism and food tourism is the key to that future. Justin and Jenny and their two exceptional places are leading the way and what an enchanted way it is. www.ballyvolanehouse.ie