Galway’s sandwich renaissance

We are a nation of sandwich eaters. Every cafe, counter, and hatch does its own variation, with ingredients ranging from withered lettuce to flash fried steak, from slathered 'spread' to flavourful aioli. A lot of people consider a sandwich to be a simple construct of a sliver of processed meat or a square of processed cheese between two pieces of white sliced pan, but they are wrong. They think that a sandwich is just a sandwich. Sadly, this tragic, flaccid, excuse for a meal is a lunchtime staple for too many who do not know the magic of a lovingly made 'buttie'. Let's face it, no truly good sandwich is ever going to win any awards in the health stakes, but then if you are looking for a low carb, paleo option you can have a salad.

Despite the rise and rise of the gluten free brigade (or perhaps because of it ), sandwiches once again reign supreme on our city's luchtime menus. So where are these sandwiches to be found? Like breakfast, sandwiches are a matter of personal taste. People feel strongly about the one they buy, they are closely linked to where they live, work, or socialise. There are places that are newer and cool, like the 37West chicken melt, and places that are institutions such as the extremely long standing hot tuna on foccacia in Anton's.

We have explored this tricky subject here before three years ago, when entre-pans at the Bierhouse were our champions. Galway has seen many changes and new openings since then, and so we have concluded months of intensive testing. We have the results of the close-fought battle for Galway's best sandwich 2016.

Highly commended come the epic beef cheek melt at Dela Restaurant, and the lobster roll at Caprice, pricy but nicey and a thing of elegance and beauty. But the best sandwich in Galway at this moment in time is the King's Head Bistro beef brisket sandwich.

This is on the King's Head's new, improved, menu so you may not have come across it yet. The King's Head is one of those pubs still thriving because it has adapted, after 800 years it is still a work in progress. Owners Paul and Mary Grealish have learned that people are as concerned with good food as with pints and have responded by producing increasingly good, sometimes excellent, food. It is an establishment which has given more consideration to its beverages, offering a selection of the wide and ever-expanding range of Irish craft beers, a genuinely good wine list, a selection of whiskey, gin, and other spirits, from the burgeoning independent Irish boutique distilleries.

In taking the Olde Malt House under the umbrella of the pub as The King's Head Bistro, the Grealishes have adapted again and given us a simplified menu in a beautiful space. The style is rustic — a bar with high stools and a welcoming communal table as you walk in. Two reclaimed wood-clad dining rooms lie off on either side with a clear view through to the pub. The former courtyard makes a charming beer garden strung with twinkling coloured lights.

Good Food Ireland has added The King's Head as an approved provider, which is a well deserved recognition and it is one of fewer than 70 restaurants in Ireland to have been awarded the Bord Bia Just Ask Award. Selected by renowned food writer Georgina Campbell and Bord Bia, the Just Ask campaign rewards eateries across Ireland that have committed to showing transparency in the sourcing of the food on their menus.

As usual, the soup, chowder, and soda bread are made fresh in house every day. For other stuff they like to keep it local — sandwich bread comes from Griffin’s Bakery next door, sausages from Colleran’s Butcher’s down the street, beer batter from Galway Hooker Brewery. The menu is reassuringly short and to the point with pub classics from fish and chips to pan fried crab claws. The ongoing commitment to sourcing the best local produce is still very evident. Sandwiches aside, it offers winter value specials of homemade cottage pie and local catch of the day. Starters of organic Dingle gin and Clare Island salmon gravalax with a perfect cucumber pickle, dill, and mustard dip and foraged wild mushrooms on toast, with garlic, thyme, Parmesan cheese, and cream are real menu highlights. There is plenty of choice in the evening with sea trout and duck breast main courses taking over from the sandwiches. Happily, the chocolate fondant survives on the dessert menu along with more seasonal treats. The cooking is assured and confident, as to be expected from Brendan Keane, the head chef of the Malt House for 15 years and now in charge of the offerings for the entire premises.

But back to the sandwich — thick slices of hot seasoned, braised brisket, beer pickled onions, sharp Dijon mustard mayo on crusty Griffin’s sourdough and a bucket of twice cooked chips all for €11.95. It is like a steak sandwich on steroids and you will need napkins for this one. Each and every bite is filled with layers of flavours, add a tipple from the bar's extensive menu of craft beers and this sandwich will be hard to better.

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