I think many of us could take a lesson in optimism from restaurants; it is the one area of business which is continuing to expand in Galway. Just witness any premises that has closed during the past 12 to 15 months and every one of them has been reopened with a new owner and often with a complete change of style and food.
One example is the premises that was previously Abalone Restaurant in Dominick Street and now has the name ‘Aniar’ over the door. The premises have been totally redecorated and the internal layout changed to give a fabulously airy and relaxed atmosphere that seats just about 30 diners. It has a Scandinavian feel to it and if you are curious you can look in the very large window that fills the space with light.
Everything is well coordinated, even the menu holder is a delight to look at; the wine list is a custom made book which puts many a wine list to shame. The restaurant is owned by JP McMahon and his wife Drigin, they also own Cava Restaurant next door. The chef is Enda McEvoy, recently returned from Noma in Denmark; Noma was recently voted as the world’s best restaurant. He was also previously head chef in Sheridans on the Docks in Galway. If you are wondering whether this is an extension of Cava, nothing could be further from the truth, it is fine dining and the extensive wine list in Aniar does not have even one Spanish wine on it.
What kind of food is it? The philosophy behind the menu is that it is a ‘terroir’ based selection of food, ie, making use of the best we have to offer in the west coast of Ireland, ingredients from our beaches, our woodlands, and our fields. I asked Alex, the very knowledgeable waiter, to explain a bit more for me. Enda will forage the seashore, the woods, and the fields as much as three times a week to pick sea grasses, wild herbs, edible flowers, and fungi and use them to create dishes that are ‘of the area’ — hence terroir. The best way to explain further is to tell you what we chose from the menu, and then I think you will have a feel for the type of food on offer.
While trying to decide what to order we were given an ‘amuse bouche’ of deep fried pig skin with duck parfait inside, this was sprinkled with a vinegar powder, and delicious (I mopped up the morsels of dehydrated vinegar with my finger ). It was presented nicely on a piece of slate. The menu is quite unusual in some of the detail, however Alex was more than capable of giving us a forensic breakdown of how each dish was assembled and the working techniques used. My companion’s starter was scallop, oyster, dillisk, wood sorrel, and smoked potato, €10.50. This was fabulous; the smokiness in the emulsion on the scallop was perfection. My starter was pig check and was assembled into a shape that resembled a croquette with the shredded pigs cheek inside, the apple and cucumber came in the shape of a small square of jelly, €8.50, also delicious, but the scallops wins the starter prize for me on this evening.
We chose a glass of two different house wines; I had a glass of the Chateau Lamothe Vincent, a Sauvignon and Semillon blend, €6.25 a glass, €16.50 for a 500ml carafe, or €26 a bottle. The other wine was a glass of Julio Bouchon Chardonnay, €6.50 a glass, €17.50 for a 500ml carafe, and €26 a bottle. The multiple choice of a measured glass of 175 ml, 500ml carafe, or 750ml bottle is brilliant.
For mains my companion had a lamb loin and lamb belly, turnip, pickled ramsons, and lamb cress, €29.50. The lamb was cooked to perfection, and even though my companion likes it cooked medium to well done it was still very tender. If you are wondering what pickled ramsons are, they are the seeds of wild garlic. My main course was wild brill, little gem lettuce, broad bean, carrot, and clams, €26.50. This was an absolute gem of a dish (pardon the pun ). I love clams but they are usually tough and rubbery, but these were as good as the best I have ever eaten, and that was many years ago in Legal Seafood in Boston. The brill was soft and moist and the steamed lettuce heart was also delicious. The other possible choices were a beef cheek dish, a slip sole dish, salt baked celeriac with whey, sorrel, and toasted barley, €19.50
Both sets of starters and mains were mopped up and the desserts were no different. The desserts we had were apple and brioche ice cream, crumble, and compote, €8.50. Our waiter as ever had a great further description of this, it is like a dissembled fruit crumble, and that is what it was. The other dessert was elderflower and gooseberry parfait with honeycomb, also €8.50, and this was the outright winner for the desserts. The parfait was just perfect and the huge piece of homemade honeycomb, just like the inside of a Crunchie bar, but much nicer, was so good. Both desserts had a see-through tuille of fennel flavour and this was very moreish.
My recommendations for you to get the best from your experience here is:
Talk at length to your server about the dishes on offer.
Be prepared to share and taste each other’s dishes.
Do not be in any rush, this is seriously good food, cooked with great care and attention to detail.
Aniar Restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm to 10pm. For bookings call (091 ) 535947. This is a fantastic addition to eating not just in Galway, but in Connacht, and I predict that there will be many superb reviews.