expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Thursday, 27 February 2014

A Celebration of Sandwiches

The gCounter
We are a nation of sandwich eaters. Every cafe, counter and hatch does its own variation, with ingredients ranging from withered lettuce to flash fried steak, from slathered 'spread' to flavorful aioli. But which is the best? Sally and John McKenna recently took this question to the streets of Dublin and the Twitterverse to find out. From an close-fought battle the Pulled Pork from Brother Hubbard was crowned the Capital's 'ultimate sandwich'.

Last year the Hellman’s Best Sandwich Competition saw food establishments asking their customers to vote for their favourite sandwich in Ireland, and the people of Galway people proved we were particularly fond of ours. The title of 'Ireland’s Top Sandwich' went to The Cellar Bar on Galway's Englinton Street. They won the day thanks to Chef Aidan Cleary’s tempting 'Cajun Spiced Chicken Ciabatta'. Not only that, the City of the Tribes also scooped a runner-up spot in the same competition with the Warm Toasted Ciabatta with Beef Medallions from McCambridge’s, proving that Galway is Ireland’s overall top spot for sandwiches. The three winners were awarded a trophy, and professional panini grills, which will come in handy for this year’s competition which is shaping up to be a lot tougher.

A lot of people wrongly consider a sandwich to be a simple construct of a sliver of processed meat or a square of processed cheese between two pieces of white sliced pan. They think that a sandwich is just a sandwich. Sadly, this tragic, flaccid excuse for a meal is a lunchtime staple for too many who will never know the magic of a lovingly made 'buttie'. Let's face it, no truly good sandwich is ever going to win any awards in the health stakes but then if you are looking for a low carb, paleo option you'd better have a salad.

If, however, you do like a nice sandwich now and again, what and where is the best sandwich in Galway? Like breakfast, sandwiches are a matter of personal taste. People feel strongly about the one they buy, they are closely linked to where they live, work or socialise. There are places that are new and cool and places that are institutions - my own extremely well-researched preferences are the long- running 'Hot Tuna on Foccacia' in Anton's, the newcomers G Counter Club Sandwich and the 37West Chicken Melt. McCambridge's is the place to go when you want to go off-piste. Here your sandwich doesn't have to follow any rules. It doesn't have to have any salad in it. Or cheese. Or ham. The menu board is just a list of suggestions. You get what you want, how you want it. Stuffing with beetroot? No problem! Sounds grim but hey, it's your sandwich.

From months of intensive testing and an incredibly close-fought battle, not including the franchise-type like Subway and O'Briens, who are a little lacking in both passion and personality. My crack team of sandwich connoisseurs have come to a decision. The best sandwich in Galway at this moment in time is... the Bánh Mì at the Bierhouse, Dominick Street where the boys from Entre-pans have been taking the art of sandwich making to a whole new level. From their tiny open kitchen in the Bierhouse, these master sambologists serve a short but brilliantly diverse menu of five sandwiches. A celebration of sandwiches in all their forms made to a very high standard, the others to chose from are - the three cheese grill; a smoked mackerel or tofu Po' Boy; their SBLPT, (a smoked bacon BLT with the genius addition of fried potatoes) priced around €6/7.

Bánh mì
A bánh mì is essentially the only sandwich in Vietnamese cuisine and it is quite a tour de force, with crusty baguette, hot seasoned pork, creamy pate, fresh coriander and a drizzle of mayonnaise. Entre-pans' take on it has a wonderful mix of flavours with an excellent crunchy fresh savoy cabbage 'slaw, studded with pear and apple and garnished with a perfect cucumber pickle. Each and every bite filled with intense and delicate layers of flavors, add a portion of house spuds at €2.50, potatoes sautéed in butter with onions and a tipple from the Beirhouse's extensive menu of craft beers and this sandwich will be hard to beat.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

a matter of taste...

Loughrea, charming lakeside town or the last outpost of civilization before you reach the dangerous 'midlands', a place similar to Middle Earth inhabited by orcs, elves and dwarves. You'd be well advised to play it safe and stay inside of our county borders, and if you do, it is quite possible to dine well in Loughrea.

Restaurants and pubs in Loughrea have a fair selection of good quality meals and snacks using locally sourced ingredients. The hotels too have locally sourced cuisine on the menu with great local lamb and beef farmed nearby. As in any sizable town there are, of course, takeaways offering fast food, fish and chips, Indian and Chinese.  For something a cut above you can't go wrong with the pizza and pasta at il Porcetto from their affordably priced menu. 'The Hungry Bookworm' a lovely eclectic cafe and wine bar and where you can enjoy their variations on classic dishes while also perusing the literary classics is well worth exploring too. 

My latest visit to Loughrea was to 'Taste Matters' a small restaurant at the West Bridge end of town. The large commercial building it is housed in is not going to win any beauty contests but they make the very most of their space with plain wooden tables and chairs, bare floors and slatted timber ceiling. The walls are hung with bright works by local artists, it has a certain charm and cheerfulness to it.

The stated aim is to serve ‘honest, fresh tasty food in a friendly casual environment’ and under the direction of Slovakian chef Michal and his front of house partner Jirka from the Czech Republic, they certainly manage that along with their friendly, efficient staff. The point here is the food, which is sort of brilliant. 

Most of the dishes are born of careful shopping, the seafood chowder and winter salad especially are won or lost with their ingredients. A simple slice of pork belly on a fennel spiced red cabbage puree is wonderful, the brie melt was enjoyable with a lovely beetroot and celeriac slaw although the bread was a dense foccacia rather than the advertised sourdough.

The menu changes regularly, according to what is in season, main courses are typically organic salmon, duck breast and roast loin of lamb or pork stuffed with black pudding.

A slow cooked rib eye is so, so tender, almost at the wonderful point of total collapse into its celeriac and dill sauce. The sauce so shiny you can see your reflection in it. A piece of pan fried hake is crispy skinned perfection on one of the nicer risottos I've found outside of Italy, creamy and studded with green peas and fresh pesto.

Desserts were a good chocolate mousse, an excellent zesty lemon tart, a chocolate cake with the right amount of 'gooeyness' in the middle and a passion fruit parfait. They were all very good with the lemon tart winning 'best in show' for that night. For those of you doing the maths here, no we didn't eat four desserts by ourselves! I brought the children, there's a great kids menu too.

The compact organic and biodynamic wine list (featuring wines from small family-owned vineyards in Chile, France, Italy, Argentina and Spain) contains just 16 wines with the majority of them at €26 and below. All are offered by the glass, half carafe or bottle and there is a nice touch with the 'Wine Flight' three glasses of white, red or dessert wines of your choice reasonably priced at €12. A couple of Irish craft ciders, a Czech Pilsner on draft and O'Hara's bottled beers from Carlow round out the drinks menu nicely.

Michal and Jirka have the magic formula, Jirka at the front of house is hugely likable, while Michal in the kitchen is clearly talented. The cooking is both traditional and innovative and best described as European fusion, inspired and influenced by many cuisines. These guys also have the best prices for tea and coffee, with a tea costing only €1.50, while coffee is €2 - and their coffee is great.

Taste Matters have been building up a good local clientele and were certainly worth the drive from Galway. The restaurant was busy when we visited, all tables filling quickly and a large family party of seventeen. Another testament to the broad appeal as the family ranged from toddler to retirement. Booking would be advised especially on a Friday or Saturday. These guys know what they are doing, now they just need everyone else to know what they are doing too. People of Loughrea, this is a clear case of use it or lose it. 

Taste Matters, Millennium house, West Bridge, Loughrea. Tel: 091 880010