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Thursday, 29 August 2013

watch your step and enjoy your trip...

Aniar is the third best restaurant in Galway. If we are to believe the TripAdvisor rankings, that is. Yes, the only Michelin starred restaurant in the whole of Galway currently takes the bronze behind the "consistently good” Gourmet Tart Company and the "excellent little gem" that is Oscar's Seafood Bistro. With The Galleon and Kirwan's Lane restaurant completing the top five, you may or may not agree with this analysis of the current state of dining in Galway.

But a quick look at the reviews for the newly-starred Aniar will show that there is something not quite right with the system. While the contributors are in general fair and honest, now and again an isolated bad experience skews the numbers often leaving fine dining restaurants like The West in Barna out-ranked by cute, popular, little cafes like Cupán Tae on Spanish Arch. Like is not compared with like.

There are a few 'inarticulate rants' wherein restaurant owners are painted as dishonest crooks trying to separate the general public from their cash instead of decent people working their way through a recession in an industry with notoriously tight margins. Of course, and I of all people should know, restaurant criticism requires no qualifications. If you can afford your lunch, you are perfectly entitled to write about it. Bloggers, bon viveurs and the army of virtual food critics do so every day.

While most reported to be "blown away" by Aniar with the food being "absolutely amazing and excellently presented", a small but vocal minority had their “worst meal in years” and found it to be “pretensious (sic) & waste of money”

I have never eaten there myself, early criticism from friends had persuaded me to give them more time to find their feet before venturing in and I also find it difficult to pass by Cava next door, where I know I will get a quality meal at a good price. Alas, now I will just have to join the very long queue forming for a table.

The reviews for Aniar clearly show what kind of establishment it is and what sort of cuisine is on offer, as much can be gleaned from the negative comments as the positive. One person's 'cramped dining room' is another persons 'cosy, intimate setting'.  Are you an adventurous eater? Is fine dining your thing? No? Then keep on walking. There are 190 other places to choose from and one of them will suit you. Common sense can tell you that if you are the sort of person who puts salt on your food before tasting it, likes portions that will require an elasticated waistband and absolutely must have chips - you might not be happy with your experience there.

In general, I believe that these types of restaurant recommendations sites and their advice is informative and useful in avoiding a mediocre meal that will not be to your taste. But overall you would be well advised to take TripAdvisor and their ilk with a large pinch of Maldon.

Dela Restaurant

It's good to share...

As Cava rises phoenix-like from the flames on Middle Street in the city centre, its old lodgings have been given a makeover into a Scandi-style eatery known as Dela. On walking in the door, it's impossible for any regular of the previous occupant not to compare one to the other. The layout is pretty much the same, there's a lunch-time deal of soup and a sandwich with coffee for €10 just like the old days and they have Patatas Bravas on the menu, but then again, who doesn't these days? And there ends the similarities, as they are as different as the proverbial chalk and a sharing plate of Sheridan's cheese.

Dela is owned and run by local couple Joe and Margaret Bohan. So, what inspires a couple to open a restaurant in a space previously occupied by one of Galway's best loved restaurants? Would you have to be certifiable or just confident to open in an area of the city that is home to many of the cities best eateries? Take 'Kai' for a start, just this weekend was announced the best restaurant in all of Connacht with Jess Murphy being highly commended as best chef to boot. There's the very popular 'Oscars Seafood Bistro' and the amazing value in 'Rouge'. If you are going to be the meat in the sandwich between barbecue kings 'Creole' on one side and the Michelin-starred 'Aniar' on the other, then you had better have something special to bring to the table. Luckily for them, they do. 

The dining room at Dela is lovely and bright with clean, simple lines and wooden tables dressed with pretty pots of herbs. The weekend brunch has all the favorites along with some more unusual items, Sourdough Toast with Cheddar and Marmalade; Bellinis; Bloody Marys and Affogatos. Even their fry is made extra special with eggs from their own hens. The newly started lunch menu has Beef Ragu served with potato gratin; or Spanish Omelette with roast peppers and saffron aioli to choose from along with the aforementioned Sandwich & Soup combo, keenly priced with all items €10.00 and under.

The Bohans are very hands on in Dela. Margaret, graciousness personified, greets the guests herself at front of house and it was she who seated me when I popped in for dinner last week. She is also green fingered and grows lots of the herbs, salad leaves and gorgeous edible flowers used in the kitchen, but not the tomatoes. She doesn't want to talk about the tomatoes. The tables are provided with complimentary breads and compound butters, not that common anymore and a nice surprise. We had a sundried tomato butter and a pesto one which were lovely, particularly with the freshly baked focaccia and brown bread.

The evening menu reads well at the beginning and end, with some difficult territory to navigate in between. First are the Sharing Plates – charcuterie, cheese or seafood in sizes small and large and using the best of Irish ingredients and local suppliers. The menu also includes traditional main meals – Steak, Pork Belly or Sea Bass with vegetables and potatoes for an additional €3.95 for each. 

Then there are Tasting Plates – which are starters by another name; a selection of Salads/Plates and lastly 'Small Plates' which one might take to mean tapas, but are not. Matched with a very good wine list with some classic reds and whites, divided into new and old world for ease of choice and the best of Irish Craft Brews such as Trouble, Dungarvan, Kinsale, Tom Crean, O'Haras and Stonewell.

We started with one of the Sharing Plates, a classic combination of seared Rossaveal scallops with black pudding. It looked a picture and came with a river of lemon cream and a buttery bright green, pea purée. This was a glorious plate of food that I will no doubt daydream about for years to come.

A main of Monkfish for my companion came with a cream sauce studded with vanilla seeds on a buttery hill of mash, a side of ratoutille included. We also had the Patatas Bravas and the Sautéed King Prawns in garlic and chilli from the Small Plates. While the potatoes were as expected, the prawns lacked a little in both chilli and garlic and sat uncomfortably with a salad full of walnuts and parsnip crisps. It's inclusion in the small plates was questionable as it was a sizable plate of food.

Dessert choices of the day included Bread and Butter Pudding and an Eton mess. We had a nice, chewy Chocolate and Hazelnut Brownie, and a Lemon Tart with berries which suffered from a bit of a soggy bottom. The desserts were just a little on the 'rustic' side - perfectly alright for the day menu with a coffee, but lacking in elegance for an evening menu, more of a plating issue than a tasting one.

For a four month old, Dela is already a solid performer with a growing club of regulars. The brunch and lunch menu offer real value for money for such good quality food. There's a little fine tuning and tinkering required for the evening menu as one or two menu items are conspicuous by seeming immoderately high in comparison to the rest, but Dela is certainly more than good, getting better and has all of the potential to be exceptional. All-in-all Dela is a great addition to the West-End's dining district and another great reason to make that river crossing.

Dela Restaurant, 51 Lower Dominick Street, Galway. Tel: (091) 449252. Currently open every day from 12 until late.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The g Counter

The g Counter club

This new cafe and deli based in Wellpark Retail Park caused quite a lot of excitement when it opened four months ago and now has just about found its groove. Next to the back door of the G Hotel and directly across from the EYE Cinema, it instantly scores brownie points with some of the only free parking in the city and no booking required. 

If you thought The g Counter was in anyway associated with the G Hotel, then you have made the same mistake as I have. Nothing to do with it at all, the only thing they share is a dividing wall and a letter of the alphabet. It is, in fact, the opposite of the G Hotel. No plush neon chairs, afternoon teas or twinkly mirror balls. If you prefer your morning repast to be accompanied by starched linen, heavy cutlery and smartly dressed service, go next door. The g Counter is pared back, open plan, industrial cool, reminiscent of New York's trendy 'Meat Packing District'. This is a Big Apple dining experience without the airfare.

Breakfast Salad

The room has a lively and informal buzz. The breakfast menu caters for those after something light, maybe buttermilk pancakes with fruit salad or a bramble topped porridge. Diners who need something filling and hot before lunch are offered poached egg on pastrami hash with spiced butter and spinach or a 'Full Irish' with duck fat roasties. There’s a comprehensive selection of eggs - poached, scrambled and fried, Benedict-ed and Florentine-d.

We popped in for brunch on a busy Saturday. Unusually for a menu, everything seemed to present itself as a contender. Difficult choices had to be made, but immediately, the unusual addition of a goat cheese toastie to the vegetarian breakfast caught my eye, which also listed fried eggs, roast tomato, potato hash and garlic mushrooms. The goats cheese toasted on a very nutty walnut bread was lovely. It also came with a serving of beans, which used to be homemade but now alas are the regular canned kind. I would like to see a return to the house ones as it would have made that breakfast pretty perfect. The 'Oh, so wrong and yet, so right' breakfast salad was also pretty special, with quality breakfast ingredients piled on top of organic greens with a poached egg on top. Fresh watermelon, pear, grapes and pineapple lightly drizzled with yogurt came with the buttermilk pancake rolls and both maple and blueberry syrups for the girls. It's a great spot to bring kids with a well priced kids menu between €2.95 for pasta and tomato sauce or homemade fish fingers and chips at €4.95

Vegetarian Breakfast

The rest of the menu is a variety of oversized 'Deli Sandwiches' salads, soups, rotisserie chicken and hot signature dishes. We liked it so much that I went back two days later for a couple of their 'Deli Creations', for to call these mere sandwiches would be doing them a disservice. The G Counter club sandwich was perfect on a soft pillowy brioche bun. Mexican chorizo, melted Moneterey Jack cheese and roasted red peppers on a delicious sourdough, fresh with a chewy crust and pilled high with herbed rotesseire chicken also came served on a wooden board lined with pretty greaseproof paper. The homemade slaw and pickle were the icing on the cake.

They also boast a great hotdog with good bun-to-sausage ratio, filled to bursting with sauté onions and sauerkraut. A squidgy bun dwarfed by a whopping NY-style sausage with a delicately smokey taste, is probably the best pre-cinema snack in town.

The coffee is good and Peroni beer is available on tap by the glass for €2.95 and there is a small but perfectly formed selection of wines by the carafe. Lot's of smoothies and soft drinks too, including my current obsession, the elusive blood orange San Pelligrino.

Sandwich platter

As well as the theatre of the open hot deli counter, they have an on-site bakery staffed by head pastry chef, Eva Quaid, who keeps the Counter filled with a variety of treats. Cheesecakes, roulades and tarts are piled high on the table in front of her glass fronted stage where you can watch these or a commissioned cake being made.

Cake Counter

Even though the G Counter has got the food spot on, it is still very new and has a couple of rough edges. The seats beside the chill counter are just that, chilled, and the availability of certain menu items could be better communicated. Provenance should also be listed here as they use a lot of local suppliers, a small thing but important to the foodie types who will be attracted here for the deli delights. There is an awful lot going on in this ambitious space, from table sevice, takeaway, bakery and retail, so it is very much a work in progress. Owner/manager, the charming Gerry Kelly, tells me their takeaway deli counter is commissioned and will be installed soon for even more takeaway options. You may well find the service muddled and a little fraught on occasion as they work out the new kinks, but I’d still return here even just for a browse of the exquisitely stocked shelves, for the cute singer sewing machine tables which sit outside under a sunshine yellow awning, instantly turning grey days brighter. This deli/cafe is already a Galway favorite and well worth visiting. Certainly one to keep your eye on.

Shelves full of 'foodie' treats.

The g Counter, Wellpark Retail, Dublin Road, Galway. Tel: (091) 770 891
Open: Mon - Sat from 8am - 6.30pm & Sun from 11am -6.30pm

This article was written for and published in The Galway Advertiser 22/08/2013