Restaurants and pubs in Loughrea have a fair selection of good quality meals using locally sourced ingredients and pub snacks. The hotels too have locally sourced cuisine on the menu with great local lamb and beef farmed nearby. As in any sizeable town there are, of course, takeaways offering fast food, fish and chips, Indian, and Chinese. For something a cut above you cannot go wrong with the pizza and pasta at il Porcetto from the affordably priced menu. The Hungry Bookworm, a lovely eclectic cafe and wine bar where you can enjoy 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 it makes the very most of the 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 passionfruit 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 did not eat four desserts by ourselves. I brought the children, there is 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 likeable, 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 the coffee is great.
Taste Matters has been building up a good local clientele and was certainly worth the drive from Galway. The restaurant was busy when we visited, all tables filling quickly, and a large family party of 17 was 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.