There are some places you go to for the best coffee, some for the best dessert, and some to have just one particular dish over and over again, but you go to The Kitchen to be surprised. Head chef and proprietor Michelle Kavanagh’s extensive travels bring an eclectic mix of flavours to the table — Asian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, this is fusion at its finest.
Starting life as a cafe, The Kitchen at the Galway Museum opened its doors over a year ago. It is a friendly cafe, quirky, homey, and comfortable with a mixture of seating and lounging areas, pulled together by an enormous pretty, patterned, rug. The space is airy with high ceilings and some lovely natural light from the glass wall. The outside seating area is very popular when the sun shines, offering a gorgeous view of Nimmo’s and the river by the landmark Spanish Arch. Lunch here has a growing regular clientele for its selection of healthy salad plates, imaginative and great value food. There is good coffee and freshly squeezed juices to order. All breads and bakes are displayed on the counter among a colourful array of bric-a-brac and cookbooks, perfect for a quiet afternoon coffee and cake treat. The weekend brunch is also gaining a following — bacon and eggs, stacks of thick syrupy pancakes with Colleran’s bacon, or the near legendary (in our house anyway ) chorizo hash. It is popular as well with Galwegian parents, with ample room to park a buggy.
After more than a year of going from strength to strength, it is now open for dinner as well. The evening menu, like the daytime one, is changed according to what looks good from local suppliers. You can get a heads-up on Facebook if you do not like surprises, as she more often than not posts the menu ahead of service. If you embrace the unexpected you will be rewarded. I have seen such delights as a shoulder of pork, slow cooked overnight in smokey Mexican spices; succulent meatloaf with a tomato sauce and thyme-roasted baby potatoes; and crisp filo tart with blue cheese and bacon. Whatever it is, you are unlikely to fail to see something on the menu that catches your imagination.
Aoife Qualter, manager and one of the most photogenic women in the city, showed us to our table when we went last week. There is something for everyone on the drinks list with a short wine list and beers from Galway Hooker, O’Haras, Eight Degrees, and the Stonewall Cider. Starters were, after extensively talking it through with the friendly chap who served us very attentively for the evening, a very flavourful ham hock terrine with a delicate cauliflower pickle and a slate full of Szechuan squid rings in panko crumbs with a lime mayonnaise, crispy and perfectly cooked. All the starters sounded so good that I debated with myself whether to have a second starter of brown sugar roast peach and ryefield goat’s cheese salad with a sprinkle of dukka instead of a main, but greed took over as it always seems to do. Preserved lemon roasted pork belly won out in the end and was delicious - it came with potatoes, green beans, and a very good spiced plum relish.
Gluten free and diabetic diets are well catered for at The Kitchen, with vegetarians doing particularly well here. I have been sending vegetarians there for about a year now. Even though I do not know what the menu will have for them, I do know it will be better than the goat cheese tart or pasta and veg on offer in a lot of restaurants. The night we were there it was spinach gnocchi with wild mushrooms, parmesan, and truffle salt. You lucky vegetarians!
While the restaurant industry remains heavily male-dominated, one thing for sure about Galway is that if there is a trend, it is more than likely to be bucked here. Galway has a history of female success stories from Martine’s and Goya’s from way before the Celtic tiger drew its first breath, to Kai and Ard Bia. Michelle Kavanagh and Aoife Qualter prove there’s nothing in the industry that either gender cannot do. And these women do it very well indeed.