The pub is now to Ireland what the bistro has long been to France, that is a place of reliable cooking to be found across the country. Just as the French bistro is likely to have a menu of frisée and lardon salad, some steak frites and an apple tart, so the Irish pub will offer a terrine or pate, a burger and something involving beetroot and goat's cheese to start. There will be a fish dish, probably pork belly and rib eye for mains, and a chocolate fondant, crème brûlée, and lemon tart to finish. This is all excellent. They are sturdy, trustworthy dishes, the Ronseal of restaurant food. Either they are executed well or they are not great. Either way pub food culture will always be marked by its ordinary, not its exceptional.
The King's Head is the exception to this rule, a piece of architectural history, a veritable medieval super-pub. With three storeys it is a big premises and must appeal to a broad audience to fill the seats. They do so with aplomb. At more than 800 years old, this popular bar has free live music every night, big screen sports, occasional lunch-time comedy, and serves fresh food every day. It is dark and atmospheric, the original medieval fireplace always has a welcoming blaze. Looking out on busy High Street, the comparatively small frontage belies its large interior.
The King's Head is one of the best known pubs in Galway and the first stop for many visitors to the our city, it is also one of the busiest pubs in town. It takes its name from the fact that part of the property was given to the executioner of Charles I. In the intervening years the premises have served many purposes, with a pub first occupying part of the building from the late eighteen hundreds. The current premises came into being in the 1970s, and the Grealish family have run it since in 1989. It is a beautiful space, there are multiple levels including the Ruby Room on the top floor which is used for a variety of intimate gigs including regular comedy, and the ground floor has a stage and covers bands perform seven nights a week. But to my mind, the very best thing about the King's Head is the very well run kitchen.
Head chef Brendan Keane is a talented man, he and his team deliver some of the best food in Galway, every day of the week. They serve fish and chips and a burger, of course. At the weekends there are breakfasts and roasts. Keane has a well-written menu, full of gutsy things that speak of hedgerow and earth and appetite, his talent lies in his lack of ego, he just gives people what they want to eat. It could be a fiercely peppered slab of aged rib eye with onion rings that are properly crisp and triple-cooked chips or a zippily dressed hallomi salad full of the crunch of pickled beetroot. It is a true thing of beauty, when the ingredients are locally sourced, organic, and delivered fresh to the doorstep every morning, it is the kind of place you hope that tourists will stumble across. Each element is precisely as you would wish it to be and how it so often is not. I cannot go on without mentioning the lobster. Oh my God, the lobster.
For dessert there is a selection of goodies, I recommend the posset and the sticky toffee pudding, but do not miss the strawberry meringue while it is in season. Just eat all of them. The King's Head is a pub that is trying to do more - there is plenty of evidence of good intent. This kitchen is involved in acts of special gastronomic interest, it is my happy place and I expect to do a lot more eating in there very soon - you should too. The King's Head is a must go destination if you are on a trip to Galway. The team do only what they do and they do it so well. To find that out you do have to go there.
The King's Head, 15 High Street, Galway. Tel: 091 566630