The Universal is a small bar with its sights set on craft beers and cocktails. Located in the West End district of Galway city, it complements the alternative nature of the area with its idiosyncratic menus and drink selection. It opened in 2016 in the premises that was previously The Old Forge and never have two pubs been more different from each other. Conor Lynam opened The Universal Bar just down from his other great success, the Bierhaus. A year later, and this Irish contemporary restaurant and bar has a solid reputation for good food and imaginative drinks.
While The Bierhaus is all about mighty fine sandwiches, spuds, and stout, The Universal has a more sophisticated take on pub food. The décor is sleek and urban, there is lots of mustard and navy tones and elegant bentwood chairs. The kitchen is manned by chef Paul Lewis, who did stints in Café Paradiso, the Ivory Tower, and Jacob’s on the Mall, before taking on the role of head chef at Boqueria and then opening up his own bar and restaurant, An Cruibin in Cork, before coming to Galway to work in Kai. Kai acts as an incubator for a new generation of ingredient-driven young chefs and Paul Lewis is one of its most notable alumni. He is up to speed with pickling and fermenting and takes a modern, joyous, approach to food with plenty of cross-cultural mingling and a robust attitude to flavour.
On a Saturday evening every table at The Universal is taken. From a quick look at the menu it also shares suppliers and a similar ethos with its Sea Road neighboring restaurant, include Ernie’s fruit and vegetables from just a few doors down, Galway Goat Farm, and Herterich’s Butchers. The staff are smiley and good at checking in with us. There is a jovial atmosphere in The Universal, and despite the busy service the staff appear to be chilled out, which is not always the case in restaurants under pressure. A short list of creative, globally inspired sharing plates make up the food menu. There are two of us eating, and we decide to share four of the options between us. That means that we get to try a lot of the menu, which turns out to be no hardship.
There is a strong Mediterranean influence that comes across in the cooking, with South American and Asian influences also present. Crispy squid tentacles with misonaisse is memorable, as is an order of goat cheese, jalapenos, and corn pancakes with guacamole. Chump steak teriyaki with Asiatic greens and sticky rice is another winner, and a plate of house made pickles is lip puckeringly refreshing. You are no one if you don't make your own quirky cocktails these days, and a mezcal and jalapeño margarita, made with jalapeños grown down the road by Bia Oisín, is utterly delicious. Alongside this is a simple selection of classics, and a good selection of craft beers.
The Universal serves consistently interesting and well-priced food, everything is fresh, vibrant, and well-presented. It is a struggle to pick one dish over another. The bill is reasonable for all this deliciousness, and service from Justin is notably personable and efficient. The Universal is the neighbourhood boozer that we all wish was just around the corner from where we live. Time to start house-hunting in the West End. The Universal, 9 William Street West, Galway. Email: [email protected]. Tel: +353 (0 )91 728 271.