Tribeton is on Merchants Road, in the building formerly known as McDonagh’s which dates from 1825 and features flourishes that reflect its art deco origins. In a previous life this building was the administration area for McDonagh’s timber yard across the street, where the Eyre Square Shopping Centre now stands, and the site of the beginning of the big fire of 1971. This inferno spread throughout a six acre block, causing an estimated £2 million worth of damage to 26 premises. Some of us will remember fondly going to McDonagh's paint and hardware to see the wire pulley system that took orders and receipts on a Willy-Wonkaesque journey overhead. It has had many reinventions since then, as a furniture and lighting store, a media centre for the Volvo Ocean Race, and an art gallery for the Galway International Arts Festival. Most recently it was a homeware store and woollens shop, stuffed full of tables and chairs, cushions, and jumpers.
Tribeton was on the minds of Galwegians long before it opened. Last summer, snippets of the boldly designed interior began to emerge tantalizingly on social media promising us something different and special. It is another venue from the Barrett portfolio, who gave us the g Hotel and also has the iconic Hotel Meyrick, standing guard over Eyre Square. Barrett’s latest venture in the City of the Tribes is a vast, industrial, warehouse style gastrobar.
The entrance is on the ground floor through a lofty and, as yet, empty room with a 1920s-style hand painted tile effect floor in the style of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen dominated by a fairytale sweeping staircase to take you up to the first floor. Upstairs it boasts an impressively long bar with high atriums looking down through open wells to the floor below and seating areas broken into various styles and sections, a striking installation of bulbs hangs from the roof.
The bar is built from oak wood salvaged from old Amish barns all the way from rural Pennsylvania. One hundred and fifty years of weather has developed a colour palette ranging from light amber to a nut brown with distinctive grain patterns topped with marble and pewter. The wood is perhaps the most beautiful thing in a room filled with beautiful things. I like to think of it is an homage to the ill-fated McDonagh timber yard, but I suspect in reality it is aesthetically driven.
Since opening the menu has undergone various transformations, the latest offerings are much simplified from the early days, and the kitchen, after some initial floundering, has now very much found its feet. The food is casual and the dinner menu has a lovely selection of starters sporting dressed crab, glazed pork belly, and tiger prawn tempura, €6 to €12, while ‘mains’ has sirloin, fillet, rib eye steaks, with other choices seabass, hake, chicken, and lamb, all ranging from €16.50 up to €33 for the fillet steak.
I last visited for lunch, which has a reassuringly compact bill of fare usually indicating a focus on quality ingredients. Choose from soups, sandwiches, and salads, various hamburgers, a grilled chicken dish, and fish 'n' chips. Being near the docks, it is nice to see seafood featuring often. We fancied a crab and clam linguini dish on the menu, but unfortunately the clams had not arrived for the day. Instead we had the exemplary crispy fish and chips with very good fries, lemon tartar sauce, and an emerald green pea puree. A tuna melt on rye bread served with a spicy cabbage slaw and potato salad was also delicious. They were great lunchtime value at €10 and €9 respectively. Desserts are presented visually on a board, like a police line-up for cake. From the brownie, crumble, cheesecake, and pie, we decided the bakewell tart was the guilty one and condemned it to death. Don't worry, it was quick and painless and it didn't suffer.
Tribeton has something for everyone. You can enjoy excellent coffee with freshly baked sweet treats in the morning, swiftly served lunch each day, or come evening time a choice of cocktails at the bar or relaxed dining. Tribeton's weekend menu looks especially enticing, with an extended choice of breakfast dishes, frittatas, and cocktails, and a choice of roasts on Sundays. And then of course there is the frankly enormous drinks list with a great choice of gins, vodkas, whiskeys, craft beers, and wines. It is chic, contemporary, and different, and it has great staff to boot.
Tribeton has gained a reputation for its cool interior, extensive cocktail menu, and vibrant atmosphere. The food has now caught up, with well considered menus, real value for money, and prominence given to local producers and suppliers — hat tip to the chef.
Tribeton, 1-3 Merchants Road, Galway. Tel (091 )421-600. www.tribeton.ie