Dulse is the re-invention of the old Mulberry’s in Barna Village Centre, now almost a suburb of ever growing Galway city. Mulberry's was a surf and turf sort of place. It did a good selection of fish — crab claws, sole on the bone, monkfish, and mussels all featured. You would find dishes such as slow roast pork belly with broad beans, pea puree, and calvados reduction and prettily plated McGeogh's Smoked Black Pudding, with sweet potato puree, asparagus, and caramelised apple. Ballyhoura mushroom risotto with aged parmesan and truffle oil or pan-fried fillet of sea bass would arrive on a bed of warm fennel and orange salad and lemon sorbet with prosecco with a selection of perfect little berries floating on the surface. The reception area and cosy wine bar also served a few tapas-style dishes — crab cakes, prawns pil pil, calamari, spicy meatballs, or chicken liver paté. There was a comfortable waiting area also to accommodate the busy takeout trade of pasta and bistro dishes.
The same team, James and Deirdre Cunningham, are still in charge of the operation. The Cunninghams are also behind Connemara Food Ventures, producing a range of seaweed based health products, an organic seaweed blend for baking, and dairy and gluten free bars. Last September they teamed up with chef David O’Donnell, previously head chef at The Ardilaun hotel, to give the restaurant a rebrand and makeover. There was huge interest in the fledgeling Dulse Restaurant and Pantry. It was born with a focus on local and seasonal produce (no doubt with a generous sprinkling of seaweed ) and with O'Donnell's contemporary menus and presentation, it had all the promise of a successful destination restaurant. For a few weeks we were promised starters of Aran Island goats cheese with beetroot, crab and smoked mackerel, monkfish with panko and Parmesan crumb, and mains of mallard with duck leg croquettes and pasture reared chicken. Then the arrangement with David O’Donnell changed and shortly afterwards chef Joe Flaherty took over the kitchen. Joe started his career under Tim O’Sullivan at Renvyle House Hotel, and is most recently known for leading the kitchen team in Blakes Brasserie. The main dining area is understated, bright and airy, set with simple dark wood tables and comfortable seating.
Lunch is a simple affair with soup, chowder, and open sandwiches on Dulse's own bread. Children are more than welcome and well provided for with high chairs, colouring sheets, and excellent baby changing facilities. Nothing on the lunch menu exceeds €10. We order a meat and cheese board with was strange selection of olives and relishes in small bowls, more of the house bread and a tossed salad on a wooden platter, quite difficult to eat elegantly. Fish and chips were nothing short of excellent. Under no circumstances are you to pass on puddings, which included peanut butter parfait with honeycomb and ice cream which has travelled with the chef from The Brasserie. At lunchtime dessert with coffee is exceptional value at €4.95 — well worth the trip to Barna for this alone. The new pantry is opening slowly and carefully, considering it has a large and well stocked SuperValu as a very near neighbour.
The new dinner menu lists a short selection of starters from tempura prawns to duck spring rolls. Main courses run through a range of popular bistro dishes, there is steak of course, and fish and chips or roast chicken, with most mains offered with a side of your choice, chips, veg, or mash. The menu is attractive although suppliers are not listed. It is priced on an a la carte basis, or two/three courses at €21/€25. Sunday lunch is even better value with two/three courses at €17.95/€20.95.
The residents of Barna are entirely indulged by the choice of excellent food on their doorstep. Some inhabitants of small Irish towns and villages have to make do with a Chinese takeaway and a chipper that is not worth the calories expended to go there. This is not the case in Barna. They have Donnelly's, the pub and restaurant with the snuggest snugs, the nookiest nooks, and more than decent food. Then there is the consistently brilliant Martin O'Donnell at West @ The Twelve Hotel which also boasts the Pins Gastro Bar, and O'Gradys on the Pier, an old favourite often voted Best Seafood Experience. All are within roaring distance of each other and bang slap in the middle of all that good eating is Dulse where the food is good, the space is modern, comfortable, and bright, with friendly staff and quite reasonable prices. It should fit right in.
Dulse Restaurant and Pantry, Barna Village Centre, Co Galway. Tel (091 ) 592123. dulserestaurant.com