A Taste of Galway

Laying down the law: This is how it’s done. Emer Murray with one of her spectacular wedding cakes.

Laying down the law: This is how it’s done. Emer Murray with one of her spectacular wedding cakes.

Emer Murray, crowned by food writer John McKenna as ‘the best baker in Ireland,’ was an unhappy law student at NUIG. She came from a business and insurance agents background, and the law just didn’t have the excitement she thought it would have. One day her mother Ena told her that John and Anne Sherry were looking for outside caterers. They had recently taken over Lydon House, and wanted croissants and Danish pastries for their breakfast menu. Emer, who had a passion for cooking, went into O’Gorman’s bookshop, bought a book on making breads and pastries, and, that evening called round to the Sherry household with samples. She got the job.

Her two uncles and her dad, Dermot Murray, all successful in the insurance business, thought Emer was a bit soft. Her sister Orla, an effective financial adviser, sadly felt that poor Emer would never make a living. However her mother, a natural cook, encouraged her. A second kitchen was built onto their Dalysfort Road house, and Emer set about making cakes with a vengeance. McCambridges’ began to sell them; but Emer’s biggest learning experience came from her stall at the Saturday market. She quickly built up a ready rapport with her growing list of customers, discovering what people like. On Easter Week, she opened a small shop on Quay Street putting in the window a large multilayered chocolate gateaux, and the humble ‘Spotted Dick’ (a traditional soda bread with sultanas ). Everything was sold. Even now they are still her two most popular items.

Today Emer heads up the thriving, busy restaurant Goya’s in Kirwan’s Lane and offers a range of cakes, desserts and savoury foods that had food critics struggling for superlatives. Her Christmas cakes are to die for, and if you ask for extra marzipan, you get loads.

Another successful chef/hostess is Berna Kelly who runs the small but superlative bed and breakfast at the end of a cul-de-sac in Devon Park, Lr Salthill, Devon Dell. Berna has listened to her guests, needs and wants over the years, and now has an ambitious breakfast menu that would frighten some of our leading hotels. Although she has only seven rooms, she makes enough food for a banquet. Berna is up with the lark, and every morning bakes her own bread, brown and fruit scones. She doesn’t do sausages or puddings but puts emphasis on a healthy alternative rather than the traditional Irish pig in all its component parts. But her alternatives are so amazing that her guests keep coming back for more. She prepares six different selections of fruit, which are either gently poached or fresh. There is a choice of cereals (she mixes her own Swiss muesli, naturally ). Then there is a choice of apple, cinnamon, and maple syrup waffles, Atlantic smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, eggs and tomato, and her speciality (which has won applause in her small dining room ), a choice of Cashel Blue cheese or pan-fried goat’s cheese, pancakes, all accompanied by mushrooms and tomatoes.

I have been told that some guests are so reluctant to go that Berna has had to threaten eviction.

International flavours

More Galwegians than ever are earning their livelihood producing food. Emer Murray was right to use the Saturday market to try out her cooking and selling skills. Overheads are cheap and you have the opportunity to relate directly with the customer. Apart from an excellent range of vegetables, flowers, crafts (watch out for Mike Kreith’s outstanding baskets weaved in the traditional way ), there is a huge range of freshly cooked foods. Our growing multicultural society is reflected in tastes and smells from Holland, France, Egypt, Japan, and New York.

Eric Morton, Lr Salthill, is a great man to support local produce, all of which complements his excellent butchery, fish counter and vast Dagwood-sized sandwiches ready to go. He has packed his shelves with original sauces that would make the plainest cook a Gordon Ramsey! He stocks all the pies, breads, cakes, cranberry sauces and brandy butters, fruit crumbles, scones, chutneys and relishes, all made and supplied locally by Bacus Bhearna, Kylemore, Foods of Athenry, and former employee Fréderic Gervais of Le Petit Delice.

In my opinion the best mince pies are made in Gourmet Tart, Abbeygate Street, at 50 cent a piece. They have that crumbly yummy Christmasey taste.

A Galway grinder

Probably the warmest shop in Galway, on a frosty Saturday morning is Griffin’s Bakery, Shop Street, now owned and managed by Jimmy, the fourth generation of this hard working Galway family.

Jimmy’s great grandfather, John Griffin, opened a small bakery at Cross Street, where Busker Brownes is now. His son Matthew Griffin worked for his dad, but had a sweet tooth and opened a second bakery at their present location in Shop Street. He sold bread and cakes over the counter as well as in a tea-room at the back. The family lived in the floors above the shop, and Jimmy’s father Anthony has the distinction of being born there 83 years ago, a Galway Cockney (born within the sound of the bells of St Nicholas ).

As far as I know Griffin’s have given Galway some unique names for their various breads. There is a ‘ Grinder’ (called a ‘ turn-over’ in Dublin ), where the dough is rolled out, greased, turned three times, and baked in a batch. There is the Cob or Bishop’s Hat, which is four pieces of loaf baked together. They do a range of healthy loaves that have more grains, fruit or nuts than you have ever imagined, or gluten free, but all their bread, which has a light, solid consistency, is made fresh each morning. It stays warm in its brown bag until you take it home, and put it on the kitchen table.

During the War of Independence, the Black and Tans enjoyed Griffin’s cakes and tea. Some of them came in every day. Griffins quietly closed their tea shop. It remained closed until this year when Jimmy reopened it in the original family parlour. It’s like stepping into history when you sit there.

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