Michelin stars, masterful streetfood and unmissable markets. We meet some of the established heavy hitters and up-and-coming stars in Ireland’s new foodie capital (yes, we’re calling it …)
1. JP McMahon. The extravagantly tattooed, eminently talented chef/owner of Galway’s Michelin-starred Aniar restaurant, popular Spanish restaurant and tapas bar Cava Bodega, and Eat Gastropub just might be Galway’s most formidable foodie. Not only is JP, along with his wife, Drigín Gaffey, the owner of three successful Galway restaurants, he’s also the founder of October’s hugely successful Food on the Edge (FOTE) symposium.
Undoubtedly, he is a man of infinite energy and passion, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his Nordic-inspired, 28-seater Aniar restaurant, which serves a tasting menu six nights a week. “What we do in Aniar is hugely collaborative,” says JP, who has stepped in as head chef, a position formerly held by Enda McEvoy, below.
“There are four of us in the kitchen who work together to create the menu, which changes daily, if not hourly. We create our dishes around the ingredients that come in that day – not the other way around.” When he opened Aniar, JP set out to forge an Irish cuisine of international standard, but one rooted in the West of Ireland. And he has certainly done that in spades.
2. Enda McEvoy. So, how do you earn a Michelin star, not once, but twice? Enda McEvoy, chef-proprietor of newly Michelin-honoured Loam (his first star was earned at Aniar), shrugs modestly: “It’s all about setting yourself parameters.” Parameters? “As far as possible, everything is sourced from the West of Ireland, and we don’t use any ingredients from outside Ireland.” Think about that: no lemon, no vanilla, no chocolate …
That means Enda and his skilled team have to be all kinds of inventive. “It forces you to be more creative,” he smiles. Instead of citrus, they might use pine vinegar in early spring; in autumn, they’ll use something else in season. Then you just need to source all your meat and veg from farmer friends you trust, plate your meals on bespoke Connemara delph, tend your own herb garden in the dining room (grow lights are switched on at night) and adorn the walls with edgy local art. Simple.
3. Jess Murphy. Cool kiwi Jess Murphy – the hugely regarded chef-owner of Kai café and restaurant – is another top name on everyone’s lips in Galway. There’s just something about talking to Jess that puts you in a good mood. Maybe it’s the soft Kiwi accent, maybe it’s the easy laugh, or maybe it’s just the fact that once she starts describing her top picks from the menu – Silver Darlings pickled herrings with duck egg and toast; spiced Madras mallard – you just can’t stop salivating. The place stands out like a beacon (literally, with its lime-green and canary-yellow colour scheme) against Galway’s Sea Road, and foodie folk flock to the place in droves.
“When my husband, David, and I opened the place, we wanted it to be a cosy neighbourhood restaurant,” says Jess. “We set out to keep the menu small, because we didn’t have much space, but also because we wanted to ensure the ingredients would be as fresh and local as possible.” So from the outset, they made everything from scratch (bread, butter, ketchup) and the foundations for the Kai ethos were laid.
4. Brother Rabbits Food. Meet Eoin Coyle, chef-owner of gourmet streetfood trailer Brother Rabbits – and the poster boy for Galway’s laid-back brand of gastronomic glamour. “My cooking adventure began at sea,” he says. “I worked aboard a square rigger when I was 20 as the ship cook’s assistant.”
Brother Rabbits’ style mixes North African chip shop, Mediterranean meat grills and Inishbofin streetfood. “I always stress about portions and colour: there has to be loads for my customers and it has to look like the best present you’ve bought yourself in ages,” he says. “My favourite ingredient to work with is fish. Anything out of the sea. I’m gobsmacked at how varied and easy-to-use our Irish sea stock is.”
5. McCambridges. “We have the most amazing food in this country,” enthuses Natalie McCambridge, the third generation of McCambridges to run Galway’s famous deli and fine food shop. “There is such a great vibe going on in Galway right now, with a wealth of talented people creating brilliant food.”
Pictured above is just a sample of the gorgeous produce available from McCambridges, including Sheridans Mixed Seed Crackers developed by Galway’s famous cheesemonger brothers, Seamus and Kevin Sheridan; Kylemore Acres Bolognese Mix; Solaris Tea; and McGeough’s Air-Dried Pork produced by James McGeough from Oughterard, Ireland’s only recognised German Master Butcher.
6. The Dough Bros’ Wood-Fired Pizza. One of Ireland’s finest pizza spots, run by brothers Eugene and Ronan Greaney, started life as a streetfood truck in the summer of 2013, before popping up its current restaurant space a year later. At their laid-back pizza shop, see how a real margherita and neapolitan should taste, or try one of their unique inventions: Caesar salad or tandoori pizza, anyone?
7. Hooked. More than a fish-and-chip shop, but not quite a restaurant, Hooked serves up some of the tastiest, freshest fish in town, perched as it is right next door to Ali’s Fish Market. It offers everything from catch of the day to coconut squid and seafood tagliatelle. Oh, and BYOB too – we’re hooked.
8. Tribeton. Galway’s newest and hippest hangout, Tribeton (a play on Tribe Town), is located in the vast old McDonagh building, one of the finest mid-century structures in the city. Art Deco fans will love the building’s original 1930s elongated ribbon windows, double-leaf doors, and striking mosaic threshold.
The contemporary additions of a beautiful reclaimed oak bar (which runs the length of the venue), pewter-topped cocktail bar and arresting industrial-style, open kitchen further add to the impact and make this a must-stop on any Galway gastro tour.
Drop in, any time, from 10am till late and sit and sip a smooth cappuccino or a perfectly muddled gin sling, while you watch the world go by. If you’re hungry, there’s much on the menu to make your mouth water – succulent plates from the grill, zingy fresh offerings from the seafood counter, and plenty of brilliant brunch choices.
9. Galway Food Tours. “I started off Galway Food Tours initially for my French compatriots – to show them what amazing produce we have in Ireland, especially on the west coast,” says Franco-Irish foodie and sommelier Sheena Dignam. “I now have lots of interest from Irish and international tourists. It’s a great way to discover the city, the people and our food heritage.” So, what’s the French connection? “I was born here but moved to France in the 1990s with my family, where my eyes were opened to a whole new world of food, wine and culinary culture.”
Sheena’s love of French wine was such that she became a sommelier as well as an all-round foodie. Back in Ireland in 2010, she helped set up chic chocolatier Cocoa Atelier in Dublin. “It was very exciting to work with a group of amazing chocolatiers developing a range of chocolates, macarons and caramels,” she recalls. What drew her from Dublin to Galway? “For me, what makes Galway special is the local producers. And the best thing about the food market [held weekends outside St Nicholas’ Church] is the diversity: from cheese to sushi, oysters to curry stews, doughnuts to falafels. But especially, it has such a great atmosphere! The traders are such great craic and are hugely talented.”
One such character is Daniel Rosen, a New Yorker who’s a permanent fixture at the market of a Saturday (his deliciously soft, simple BoyChik doughnuts are not to be missed). Originally a sailor, he moved to Galway 20 years ago and started selling vegetable crisps before discovering he could make magical doughnuts. He cuts a dashing figure around Galway on his bike, makes all his own clothes and speaks several languages, including Irish.
10. Ard Bia. When in Galway, have a bit of fun and try “Aoibheann MacNamara bingo”. To play, simply chat to the local foodie folk and see how many times the dynamic Ard Bia owner’s name crops up. We’re still dreaming about their candied walnut pearl barley risotto (get the recipe here).
WORDS Sharon Miney & Lizzie Gore-Grimes PHOTOGRAPHY Nathalie Marquez Courtney