Opened on Buttermilk Walk more than two years ago, Il Vicolo is that clever combination of day-time cafe, wine bar, and restaurant. Breakfast, lunch, coffee, cake, dinner, and wine, it has the lot. Owned and run by Aoife Flaherty and Gerry McMahon, you have to admire the way they have made this very 'Tardis-like' space work for them. Things are a little better now than at the beginning with an small external kitchen giving the staff a little more room to breathe, but it is still bijoux by anyone's standards.
Il Vicolo's intimate setting does, however, make it ideally suited to food and wine tasting events, the dinky size is a real plus for this type of evening. I toddled along to one such dinner on a cold Monday, and was glad that I did.
A pair of Venetian chefs, Federica and Franco, are currently rocking the kitchen with their culinary stylings. It has been said that whether or not someone is a romantic at heart, Venice will take your breath away. Venice must be experienced with all of your senses wide open. Every region of Italy is known for its traditional food specialities and it has been a while since I had the opportunity to visit Venice, so I'm glad to see they have obliged us by moving Venice to Buttermilk Lane. Most helpful - grazie!
To start, we enjoyed a glass of prosecco and as usual it was a pleasure to listen to Peter Boland from Cases Wine take us on a whistlestop tour through Italy, explaining regions and climates, touching on grape varieties and why particular wines were matched with foods. The all-Italian wine list was enthusiastically promoted, with some friendly heckling from the kitchen.
In her turn, Federica Stella explained the dishes that she and Franco Tiso had put together before each of the five courses, traditional dishes designed to complement the tipples from Sicily, Le Marche, and Tuscany. Due to Venice’s location on the lagoon its fresh fish are cherished, simply seasoned with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and herbs. Creamy risotto, polenta and, of course, pasta, are also celebrated in regional recipes and this was reflected in the menu. A lone vegetarian was easily accommodated also.
Two whites first, a delicate, aromatic Musita Grillo, cold and crisp, came with a dish of sweet, lightly dressed, crab, shaved fennel with a scatter of leaves, and a slick of good oil. A crisp raddiccio leaf holding a lone mussel shell was a pretty garnish on a bowl of creamy risotto rich with scallops and prawns matched with the floral aromas of a glass of Baglio Normanno, Sicilia.
Next the reds with a Cantina Offida, Rosso Piceno. Deep, dark, rich and complex to hold its own against a plate of fettucini and slow cooked ragu rich with tomato. Cantina Offida 'Il Podestà, with its oaky aromas, was well balanced with simply seared Brady's beef. Some peppery rocket, parmesan shavings, and balsamic were all that was needed to make the wine sing.
Vin Santo, which translates to 'holy wine', the traditionally sweet wine from Tuscany, was for dessert. Vin Santo Val d'Arbia, a glorious amber colour, its hints of roasted almonds, honey, and apricot made it a perfect partner to the biscotti and simple sweet dish of almond biscuits with lemon cream.
These tasting menus and wine nights are a regular occurrence, and well worth keeping an eye out for the next one — Facebook is best. The menu, specials, and opening hours can be changeable so check the Facebook page also for the latest details.
As always, Il Vicolo has service that is welcoming and friendly. Gerry oversees the evening with his signature charm and ready grin. We have not seen all that the younger of the McMahon brothers has to offer; they are a family known for being involved in shaping the landscape of dining in Galway. They never go for the obvious choice but carve themselves out a new niche, attracting brilliant reviews, awards, and even stars, they seem happy to boldly go where no one has gone before. Twenty one seats will not content this daydream believer for much longer, we certainly have not seen everything he has to offer yet. While it seems to me that no-one ever writes about Il Vicolo without mentioning Gerry's relationship to brother JP, maybe the day is coming when that will also work the other way round. Watch this space.
Il Vicolo Cafe and Wine Bar, 5 Buttermilk Walk, Galway.
Tel: (091) 535 922.