Ireland has many great pubs but in general, especially outside the cities, we do not have great pub food. It is one of the challenges that needs to be addressed as we hone our emerging Irish food culture. Our pubs are a huge draw for visitors from abroad, but the food on offer inside is often substandard. Gill's Bar and Restaurant in Athenry bucks this trend, it is an establishment with a gastropub sensibility, proper craft beers on offer, and more than decent food.
Norrie and Frank Gill previously ran Monks, a famed seafood restaurant on the quiet harbour at Ballyvaughan with the distinct advantage of being situated in the middle of the Burren, one of the most spectacular locations on the planet. Not only was Monks in one of the best coastal locations, it was also known for that one dish that everybody loves, seafood chowder. If Monks, all rustic charm and open fires, served nothing but chowder, they would have been kept busy. A good chowder is a thing shrouded in secrets and varies so much from place to place, Monks had that balance of rich creaminess, chunky fish, shellfish, and a perfect silky texture.
Ballyvaughan's loss is Athenry's gain as the couple have recently moved themselves and their chowder into their new premises on Old Church Street. Gill's Bar and Restaurant is a handsome stone building with a pleasing, stripped down, simplicity, wooden floorboards, bare tables, and a wood burning stove. Live music at the weekend, big screen sports, a couple of good sized function rooms, and a sizable beer garden round out the offering.
The hungrier diner will not have any trouble being satisfied as the menu extends past the chowder to delectable, juicy mussels, crab claws in garlic butter, salads of grilled halloumi, and a punchy dish of prawns cooked in tomato and chorizo sauce. Other offerings include toasted sandwiches, wraps, and an excellent bar-food snack of an open prawn sandwich with classic Marie-Rose sauce. Bigger appetites are well served with steaks and crispy roast duck in orange sauce. Daily specials are well priced and typically range from a traditional roast to more contemporary panko coated calamari. The flavours are full-on and memorable and the servings are more than generous, the kitchen is putting thought, skill, and effort into each dish. For pudding there are classic such as apple pie and cheesecake.
Gill's may be the new kids in town but they serve what their customer want… fresh, warming, dishes to fuel the body and feed the soul. It is that excellent combination of bar and food that really hits the spot. Excellent fare rounded off with delectable homemade desserts make for a great excuse to return here time and time again. Happy the tourist that comes across Gill's, a real bonus for Athenry.
Gills Bar and Restaurant, Old Church St, Athenry, Co. Galway. Phone: (091 ) 844 728.