There was a time when it would be normal to eat dinner at the local hotel or if staying there, to eat-in each night. In fact for many towns in Ireland the only place to eat was the local hotel. All that changed in the seventies and eighties with the growth of cafes, restaurants and the new kid on the block - bar food. The change in attitude to hotel food is something that hotel owners must struggle with daily as they try to get the seats filled in the dining room. There are of course many exceptions to this and one I really recommend that you try at the earliest opportunity is The Lobster Pot restaurant in the Galway Bay Hotel in Salthill.
The Galway Bay is an enormous hotel and has a fantastic reputation for weddings and large functions. It also has an enviable occupancy rate every night of the year. However it would not be known as a destination for fine dining but this may be about to change.
I had heard about a year ago that the head chef from the Ice House in Ballina, Gavin O‘Rourke had moved there and his reputation for serving great food especially fish dishes is well known. So on a recent Saturday night I visited to see how he was putting his mark on the menu.
First impressions of the menu were excellent. Immediately we knew that there was a very serious chef working here and that a lot of thought had gone into the dishes. I would venture to say that it is the widest ranging fine dining menu in the city, other establishments may have equally interesting dishes but nowhere has as many on one menu. This is sometimes a worry and you might be forgiven for thinking that many of the dishes are pre cooked, however when you have about 25 chefs to help out then large menus of freshly cooked food are possible.
To give you an idea of what is available I will pick some of the starters and mains on the night I was there. Pickled gurnard with rhubarb, grenadine and vanilla syrup, beef rillette, horseradish parfait and smoked ox tongue(try making that at home ). Another starter was breast of quail with white onion puree, wholegrain mustard and thyme croquette, dandelion leaves and broad bean salad.
The starters we chose were, deep fried hen’s egg with black pudding mash, deep fried serrano ham, balsamic dressing and brioche soldier. The presentation for this dish and all others was fantastic, in fact I would say presentation would be a 10/10 for everything, stylish yet not overdone. The egg had a light crumb outer and when opened was perfect for dipping the brioche soldier. It was mopped up rapidly by my two dining companions and judged “one of the best”. I chose a cappuccino of fresh crab with lots of lovely foam on top from the chefs fresh fish box of the day. It was a large helping and absolutely gorgeous. We also had a classic prawn cocktail served in a martini glass and what set it apart was the use of fresh Dublin Bay prawns and not the ubiquitous and often tough as nails tiger prawns that have invaded every restaurant in the country. It was also presented in a manner that was really impressive. When served properly and with the right ingredients this is a wonderful starter.
At this point I should mention the wine, it was only the second time I have seen Slovenian wine on a wine list and as it was so good the last time I had it that I chose it again. It is a pinot gris with the long name of Miror Munda ljunter Ormus Verus. Its €31.25 a bottle and well worth the price. The wine list is much bigger than most restaurants and has a well chosen selection with house wines at about €20.
The main courses include braised beef with overnight baked tomato, flat cap mushroom, champ and fine herb hollandaise. Roast belly of pork with whipped potato, pearl onion and apple relish, black pudding croquette and natural jus. I chose another dish from the chef’s fish box of the day, black sole meuniure smothered in capers and melted butter. We also had the fillet of hake with button mushrooms, smoked bacon lardons, mushroom bread and butter pudding, parmentiere potatoes, and chicken veloute. We had a selection of vegetables and one in particular stood out for me. It was mash that had been piped out, the center filled with spinach and then finished under the grill, yum. Suffice it to say that both main courses were among the best I have eaten anywhere, this is top drawer cooking with the best of ingredients and if you are even only an apprentice foodie you need to plan a night here. I am guessing that week ends will be best so book early.
The question now was could they keep up the standards with desserts. The answer a resounding yes, the iced coconut parfait with lime curd, coconut marsh mallow and pineapple crisp was brilliant but the 10/10 dessert was the chocolate plate, the chocolate marquise was superb and I had to ask how they made the white chocolate and raspberry piece. Frozen fresh raspberry coulis dropped into warm melted white chocolate and you get a chocolate with liquid raspberry inside, just gorgeous.
So how much does all this cost, two courses with tea or coffee is €31.50 and three courses plus tea or coffee is €38.75. Is it worth it? Absolutely is my answer. I am all in favour of great deals when eating out but you simply cannot provide this level of food at great deal prices. I really hope you get to sample it and do not plan to leave early, this is food to take your time over. If it is out of your reach then I suggest you try the bar food menu, it is also the work of Gavin O Rourke and I would rate it among the best bar food in the area. Try the herrring choker special €11.95 and I guarantee you will be stuffed and satisfied.
To contact the hotel phone 091 520520.