Cafe Express is situated in a prime bit of Galway retail space, in Abrakebabra's old location on Eyre Square. The previous menu of doner kebab, chip butty, 'special' pink sauce, and the ever popular taco fries (imagine an Irish version of the French Canadian 'poutine' ) has been pushed aside for something completely different. While Abrakebabra surely has its fans, Cafe Express, it has to be said, is a vast improvement and a welcome addition to Eyre Square. On the corner, this is fast becoming the coffee destination for city centre workers commuting from the outskirts and tourists on sightseeing excursions. With the trains, buses and taxis all feeding into the square, the Lavazza sign over this door acts like a beacon that draws coffee lovers like moths to a flame, and it's certainly hard to fault their real Italian-style coffee.
The tables upstairs are one of the best kept secrets in Galway, nab one by a window and you are guaranteed reasonably priced, tasty, food with one of the best views of the city. It is a people-watching paradise. Aside from the growing popularity of the coffee and good WiFi, the menu is not over complicated in an Italian-meets-Irish way. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a few things in between.
There is a full Irish breakfast from early morning. The lunch menu served from 12 noon had Italian favourites such as caprese, brochette, and antipasto. Salads are fresh and well dressed from €7.50 and substantial sandwiches, made with very good bread and generously filled, start at €4.95. The pasta and pizza menu is also available from noon and continues right into the evening.
The pizzas are the thick-crust kind, dripping with cheese and toppings, pepperoni, parma, and pancetta liberally spread on their spongy, fluffy bases. The pizzas are 12" but the thickness of the crust makes them quite filling so you may want to take advantage of the kind offer of a nine inch one for €3 less, or a 16" shared between two people (with the same taste in pizza toppings ) for just €3.50 more. Pastas feature many favourites, most freshly cooked to order, carbonara, lasagna, bolognese with seafood, vegetarian, and some very good ravioli on offer also. There are wines by the glass or bottle, nearly all Italian, with one or two French and Spanish options. You can get a Peroni here as well, the very popular Italian beer.
There are some good desserts if you like something sweet to go with your espresso or cappuccino. I had a very satisfying slice of chocolate cake served hot with chocolate sauce and ice-cream on the recommendation of the lovely Laura. Service is fast, friendly, and enthusiastic from charming staff, some of them even add to the Italian feeling by going the extra mile and actually being Italian — there's dedication for you.
Even though they are really just settling in here, and some of the decor could do with a little direction, Cafe Express is neatly slotting itself into a gap in the market. By serving both the transient and indigenous peoples of Eyre Square from early morning right through to supper, it has all the makings of a landmark cafe.
Tweets and treats
In Galway we are lucky to have beautiful medieval buildings with wonderful thick stone walls — unfortunately that often means that a phone signal and internet connection can be hard to come by. It is much improved since the 17th century when many a tribesman would bash his smartphone in frustration at not being able to 'like' a picture on Facebook. Here are a few places in the centre of town where you can work through lunch, catch up on your Twitter pals, or have a virtual snoop at your friend's holiday photos.
Arabica Coffee Co is the west of Ireland's largest coffee chain and the cosy little cafe just off Edward Square is very handy spot especially with children — the little play area will keep them entertained long enough to get yourself a coffee and connection. The coffee is always great, and fairly traded too. Innocent smoothies are available for the children and there is an extensive sandwich, wrap, and panini menu if you need something to keep you going.
The House Hotel offers reliable broadband in the comfy reception area. Settle yourself into an nicely upholstered armchair or a squidgy cushioned couch and surf to your hearts content. This is a great spot for a mid-town meeting, and I would thoroughly recommend the chicken wings on the daytime menu.
The Boutique Kitchen inside the retail store Born in Newtownsmith has a great lunch menu and plenty of space inside and outside on the patio to get your laptop out. The salads are good here, or treat yourself to something nice from the sweet table, being careful not to drop any crumbs on your keyboard.
Connacht restaurant wars
The title of Connacht’s Best Chef is up for grabs again, and this year with three of the nominated chefs situated in Galway's very own West End — Enda McAvoy of Aniar, Jess Murphy of Kai, and JP McMahon of Cava.
They will be up against other west of Ireland based chefs, Martin O’Donnell of West @ The Twelve, Tim O’Sullivan of Renvyle House Hotel, and Xin Sun of Ballynahinch Castle in the Best Chef category, along with Miriam Harte of Source, Ollie O’Regan of Nephin Restaurant, and Seamus Commons of La Fougere. All nominees will also be eligible for the overall Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year awards. Winners will be announced on Sunday August 19.
If I was a betting woman I would put a tenner on the final chef in the competition, Jonathan Keane of Lisloughrey Lodge, to win. I, however, much prefer to put my money where my mouth is, and a far better use of my money is the lunchtime special in Cava €10 for soup, sandwich, and coffee, guaranteed to be good and not a gamble at all.