The cup of tea, beloved by the Irish, is very much in danger of losing its place as the nation's hot beverage of choice, threatened by our growing addiction to coffee. Even for those of us who cannot be bothered with the fuss of grinding and filtering and are happy enough to put up with the dried and jarred, coffee flavoured dust at home, we still expect much more from our coffee when out and about.
Every passing year sees an increase in the numbers of cafes and coffee shops, and an improvement in the quality of freshly ground beans and brews. Irish roasters are becoming more prevalent also, with success stories like Badger & Dodo, Pónaire and, closer to home, The Galway Roast. This local company's bean blend comprises three different kinds, Brazil, Guatemalan, and Honduras mixed together to the company’s own recipe. The Galway Roast is now also supporting Fairtrade coffee producers by roasting Fairtrade organic Peruvian beans. Even better news is that these fine coffees will of course need to have suitably good food accompaniment for the discerning diner. The revolution is quietly happening all around us and there are many places doing coffee well in our city now. So where is the best 'cup of joe' in Galway? It is, of course, a very subjective topic. Not everyone knows a great coffee when they have it, but everyone knows what they like.
The coffee houses nominated were many and varied. Some favourites were Corrib Tearooms and Jungle Cafe, with Mr Waffle and Arabica in Salthill also in the running. An honourable mention goes to the flat white in Kai, a New Zealand speciality. Pretty new to the scene is Urban Grind which also does a great flat white, although the blend is not to everyone's taste and the service, in what is still very early days, can be so slow as to make your quick takeout coffee a bit of a drawn out affair. Pascal's cosy little cafe, just off Edward Square, is a very handy spot especially if you need a good coffee while wrestling with toddlers. When you pop in to McCambridge's, an institution in the city, you are assured the coffee will be of a predictably high standard. The same is true for The Kitchen at The Museum and Cafe Revive. My crack team of connoisseurs have voted and majority rules, and it was obvious from the early stages that there was one clear winner. The best coffee in Galway can be found at… Cafe Express.
Cafe Express is situated in a prime bit of Galway retail space, in Abrakebabra's old location on Eyre Square. Last year, the council in its wisdom (and perhaps taking inspiration from Limerick funny men, the Rubber Bandits) gave permission for a large and very smelly horse to park outside this area. The horse's feed, in turn, attracted vast amounts of pigeons turning what was one of the nicer areas of outdoor seating with views over a bustling intersection into something else entirely. Luckily this year, the horse has moved on, replaced by the jolly little train, much more civilised.
The evening menu is particularly good value for relaxed, casual, city centre dining. The staff are mostly young, enthusiastic, and helpful, adding to the cheerful vibe. There is a small selection of wines by the glass or bottle, with nothing very much over the €20 mark. Starters include a lovely light antipasti plate and fresh simple salads. Well prepared pasta dishes that retain a nice bite are freshly cooked to order, coated in your choice of carbonara, seafood, or vegetarian sauces in sizeable portions. The pizzas are of the generously topped variety, piled high with sauce and cheese. Pepperoni, Parma, olives and more liberally sprinkled on their delightfully chewy bases. I had the 'Bologna' with mozzarella, salami, Bolognese sauce, and chilli peppers. Bolognese sauce on a pizza sounds a bit weird, like something invented by students for students. I am telling you now, don't knock it till you've tried it, it is pretty darn good.
A second Cafe Express outlet by the top of the market does a mainly takeaway trade, especially on a Saturday, but also has a few popular outdoor tables to watch the world go by. The Lavazza brew served here may be the Galway coffee drinkers’ current favourite, but with new coffee shops opening all the time and existing cafes upping their game, they cannot exactly afford to rest on their laurels. Even though Cafe Express is still quite new, it has managed to slot itself neatly into the market, well priced to cater to both office workers and tourists on Eyre Square from early morning right through to supper.
Cafe Express, 32 Eyre Square, Galway. Tel: (091) 567 922/
Mon - Wed: 8am - 9pm. Thu - Sat: 8am - 10pm. Sun: 9am - 9pm.