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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

the kitchen

Ham hock terrine with a delicate cauliflower pickle

There are some places you go to for the best coffee, some for the best dessert and some to have just one particular dish over and over again - but you go to The Kitchen to be surprised! Head chef and proprietor Michelle Kavanagh's extensive travels bring an eclectic mix of flavours to the table, Asian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese. This is fusion at it's finest.

Szechuan squid rings in panko crumbs with a lime mayonnaise

Starting life as a cafe, The Kitchen at the Galway Museum opened its doors well over a year ago. It's a friendly cafe, quirky, homey and comfortable with a mixture of seating and lounging areas, pulled together by an enormous pretty, patterned rug. The space is airy with high ceilings and some lovely natural light from their glass wall. The outside seating is very popular when the sun shines with it's gorgeous view of Nimmo's and the river by the landmark Spanish Arch. Lunch here has a growing regular clientele for its selection of healthy salad plates, imaginative and great value food. There is good coffee and freshly squeezed juices to order. All breads and bakes are displayed on the counter among a colorful array of bric-a-brac and cookbooks, perfect for a quiet afternoon coffee and cake treat. The weekend brunch is also gaining a following - bacon and eggs, stacks of thick syrupy pancakes with Colleran's bacon or the near legendary (in our house anyway) chorizo hash. Popular as well with Galwegian parents, with ample room to park a buggy.

Stuffed pesto chicken and quinoa

After more than a year of going from strength to strength, they are now opened for dinner as well. The evening menu, like the daytime one, is changed according to what looks good from their local suppliers. You can get a heads-up on Facebook if you don't like surprises, as they more often than not post the menu ahead of service. If you embrace the unexpected you will be rewarded. I have seen such delights as a shoulder of pork, slow cooked overnight in smokey Mexican spices; succulent meatloaf with a tomato sauce and thyme-roasted baby potatoes; crisp filo tart with blue cheese and bacon. Whatever it is, you're unlikely to fail to see something on the menu that catches your imagination.

Preserved lemon roasted pork belly

Aoife Qualter, manager and one of the most photogenic women in the city, showed us to our table when we went last week. There's something for everyone on the drinks list with a short wine list and beers from Galway Hooker, O'Haras, Eight Degrees and the Stonewall Cider. Starters were, after extensively talking it through with the friendly chap who served us very attentively for the evening, a very flavourful ham hock terrine with a delicate cauliflower pickle and a slate full of Szechuan squid rings in panko crumbs with a lime mayonnaise, crispy and perfectly cooked. All the starters sounded so good that I debated with myself whether to have a second starter of brown sugar roast peach & rye field goats cheese salad with a sprinkle of dukka instead of a main but greed took over as it always seems to do. Preserved lemon roasted pork belly won out in the end and was delicious - it came with potatoes, green beens and a very good spiced plum relish.

Chocolate mousse cake with orange cream and candied walnuts

Gluten free and diabetic are well catered for at The Kitchen with vegetarians doing particularly well here. I have been sending vegetarians there for about a year now. Even though I don't know what they will have for them, I do know it will be better than the goat cheese tart or pasta and veg on offer in a lot of restaurants. The night we were there it was spinach gnocchi with wild mushrooms, parmesan and truffle salt. You lucky vegetarians!

Lemon posset with almond shortbread biscuits

While the restaurant industry remains heavily male-dominated, one thing for sure about Galway is that if there is a trend, it is more than likely to be bucked here. Having a history of female success stories from Martine's and Goya's from way before the Celtic tiger drew it's first breath, to Kai and Ard Bia. Michelle and Aoife prove there's nothing in the industry that either gender can't do. And these girls do it very well indeed.

the ard bia cookbook

I had heard a while back there was an 'Ard Bia' cookbook in the pipeline. I had even debated it with a restauranteur friend of mine. "It's too expensive, I think it's mad. You can get cookbooks from big names for half that price", I said. "You can get a lot of rubbish cookbooks for half that price," he replied. "If it's a lovely book as well as a good cookbook, it's well worth the extra money". Now, here are the most painful words I may ever have to write… Aran McMahon, you were right and I was wrong. It's not too expensive, it's worth every penny and more.

The book takes you on a culinary journey through the day - from morning to lunchtime, afternoon and evening and then on to a set of useful pantry notes. If you eat in Ard Bia now and again, you will recognise some of these recipes - their full fry and the Berlin Platter, the lunchtime salads, soups and stews, the bakes from the table inside the little front door. A thick section which waltzes you through the starters and mezze, fish, meat and vegetarian and something for afterwards to keep you at the table a little longer than you really meant to stay - it's what they're really good at.

Our Aoibheann (Mac Namara) has teamed up with food writer Aoife Carrigy to capture the essence of Ard Bia of Nimmos. In my opinion Ard Bia really only got soul when it moved into Nimmos, but when it did it really found it's spiritual home. It's food with inspiration from around the world but is ultimately grounded in Irish produce and seasonal ingredients. It is never a chore to eat here either, no-one will ever smother your food in a mist or a foam or a nonsense - you will only ever be in danger of being smothered with love.

For the cookbook lovers out there this one is a keeper. I will be filing it in my collection alongside the Drimcong Food Affair under the "bit of Galway Food History" section. The paper is the yummy un-coated kind, the little drawings are quirky and the photos with the vintage props will cause terrible crockery envy. Even the typeface is one of my favorites. This is more than a collection of recipes, it's a memento and a keepsake, something precious and special. A snapshot of a time and a place in Galway that captures the energy and spirit of the place that is Ard Bia.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Holiday Tapas

 I am off for my holidays - a week in Spain to cure me of the respiratory illnesses I am in danger of developing from the wettest summer in Ireland ever. To celebrate, here are two recipes of my favorite Spanish snack - Patatas Bravas or more particularly for the sauce. One is from Cava, a very excellent restaurant in Galway that specialises in Spanish tapas with an Irish twist. The other is from a blog I love, The Winter Guest, a Spanish lady who posts many lovely Catalan tapas recipes (amongst other things). Both are excellent, one is pretty instant and the other requires putting the oven on but is pretty low maintenance as well. I often make the roasted garlic one with oven roasted potatoes to cut back on the deep frying thing and it is a lovely lunch on a winter day. The roasted garlic version also freezes very well which makes it a great standby. Happy holidays everybody!

Salsa Brava
400g crushed or pureed tomatoes
2 tbsp roasted garlic puree
1 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sweet Spanish pimentón
1/2 tbsp hot Spanish pimentón (or a little more)

Roasted Garlic Puree
Preheat the oven to 150ºC and wrap 2 garlic heads in aluminum foil and put them into the oven when it's hot. Cook for one hour. When done, you'll find the garlic cloves have turned into a soft, fragrant and caramelized mass, that can be easily squeezed out of the clove - just open one end of the peel and squeeze the flesh out. Empty all the garlic flesh into a bowl, then mash it with a fork to make the puree.

Patatas Bravas
Ingredients (Bravas Sauce)
400ml mayonnaise
150ml tomato sauce
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp hot paprika

Blend all ingredients for the sauce in a food processor. Rest and chill for 1 hour before serving.

Wash and chop potatoes into cubes (no need to peel). Fry cubed potatoes at 135˚ in a deep fat fryer until a cocktail stick can pass easily through the potato cube.

Season potatoes in a bowl with sea salt and smoked paprika. Allow potatoes to rest for 5 min.
Turn fryer up to 175˚ and fry potatoes until golden brown.

Season potatoes with hot paprika and some more salt.
Serve hot with a generous amount of Bravas Sauce or Salsa Brava

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Rouge & Le Petit Rouge, Galway

Open over a year now and a firm favorite with many a Galwegian, Rouge is the hottest ticket in town at the moment, and understandably so. The '€15 for two courses' price tag alone would be enough to get people in the door, but the fact that the food is fantastic has something to do with it as well. A small menu is usually a promise of good things to come in my eyes, a few things done right is far better than a long list of potential disappointments and Rouge has the shortest and sweetest menu of them all. I went at the weekend with some old ex-Galway friends (who must now regret leaving!) and we had a very lovely evening there.

My very capable friend Joan had booked it a couple of weeks in advance on my recommendation, I can't be relied on to book anything and she is super organised, but had she not booked there was no way we would have gotten in. It's a very busy spot and, while you can be lucky, you do need to book ahead to be guaranteed a seat. Their simple but excellent offering is a selection of just three main dishes, steak, fish or vegetarian all very delicious, cooked perfectly and very few complaints.

After you have given your main course order, your starter platter arrives, a collection of bite-sized appetisers served on slates to share. We had a bowl of French onion soup, very under seasoned and over sweet, a result of the onions not being caramelized for long enough. A sublime quiche, some garlic mushrooms which divided the opinion of the group, too much garlic some said, no such thing as too much garlic I replied. A goat cheese and walnut brochette completed the platter, which helped to make the underwhelming onion soup much more delightful acting as a very delicious giant crouton. The starters platters change constantly.

Then onto the three main courses - steak, fish of the day or the vegetarian dish. The steak is the only constant here, it is striploin, cooked to your liking and served in slices on a heated metal platter. A companion sauce had to be decided for the two of us at the table who had ordered the steak. We tried the wild mushroom and the peppercorn sauces, both very nice. All the mains come with a well-made variety of sides, fries, gratin, dauphinois, steamed potatoes, Chef's potatoes or side salad. A ratatouille was especially good and everyone raved about the potato dauphinois which were elevated from the mundane with more than the usual suspicion of nutmeg.

The fish and vegetarian dish can change daily depending on the catch and whatever's in season. The fish was expertly and simply pan fried and, unusually, came in a red wine cream sauce. The vegetarian dish was a delicious vegetable bake topped with a strong French cheese. Desserts and excellent coffees are extra, choose from pear and almond tarte, creme caramel, profiteroles or a Poire Belle Helene, or go for the dessert sampler at €11.80 if you have someone to share with. 

The service here is in the Gallic style too, staff are professional and efficient, not overly friendly and chatty - just the way I like it. Their very knowledgeable sommelier is on hand to recommend a tipple if your knowledge of French wines is less than encyclopedic - but the list is excellent. Not much under the €20 mark but what is there is stellar. My advice to anyone taken aback at the prices of the wines, or if you are on a budget, is to try a glass of their very palatable Sauvignon with your meal. At €15 for the set menu and €3.80 for the glass of wine - you'll still have enough for a bottle on the way home. Don't forget to leave a tip, mind!

The room and style of dining lends itself particularly well to groups with a few large family-style tables, all named after Parisian streets. A bustling, charming restaurant with stone walls, old 19th century posters and a grand piano, Rouge is entirely deserving of its popularity. Bon Appétit.

Le Petit Rouge, directly across the street from it's 'Maman' restaurant 'Rouge', has just opened, bringing yet another option to the West End's thriving 'Dining District'. This is a more than welcome addition, as currently there are few places for the 'thirsty and peckish' to go. This style and standard of wine, cheese and charcuterie is really only available upstairs at Sheridans Cheesemongers, since 'Sheridans on the Docks' was so cruelly taken from us before its time. 

Intimate and rustic, Le Petit Rouge is a small but perfect wine bar with a strong personality. The long, narrow space here is pure theatre, carefully considered lighting highlighting areas of a room that just stops short of being a stage set, with balconied shuttered windows and vintage posters adorning the exposed brick walls around their centerpiece, a gleaming cherrywood bar.

The wine list carries a number of French labels best known for their traditional and organic approach to winemaking. There are some well chosen cheese and meat platters, small or large to share over a chilled bottle of white; or terrines and pates - perfect with a nice glass of red. Staff are prompt and informative and there are even a couple of small desserts for the sweet toothed.

Le Petit Rouge is a little bit of la belle France, right here in Galway.