The Asian Tea House on Mary Street is a popular spot and for good reason. Connacht’s Best Restaurant at the RAI Irish Restaurant Awards 2011 still maintains the same high standard, certainly a cut above your average Chinese restaurant.
There is a variety of oriental dishes — Asia, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, all are represented here, MSG free and executed to an impressive degree with fairly frequent menu changes to keep the interest of the large number of regular customers, for both restaurant and takeaway.
The company has also opened the Asian Lounge next door, a great room with a lovely atmosphere and music sometimes. It is a million miles away from its previous life as a ‘lively’ pub, having had an extensive makeover. Now it sports a dramatic, but tasteful, interior with back-lit Asian sculptures and the beautiful original stone features of the old building restored to their former glory. The bar food menu is well worth a look, starters and light bites are shared with the restaurant but with a completely different selection of mains, and it serves unusual cocktails all at €5, featuring a variety of Japanese sakes, the sake-laced Mojito is particularly nice. A great spot for after-work drinks and nibbles.
Back next door in the Tea House, tea enthusiasts are treated to a sample of Asian tea from menu to start the meal. The selection ranges from the modestly priced Cha Wang for €2.50 to specialist blends at €9. From the starters section, traditional favourites are listed: duck with pancakes, butterflied prawns and spring rolls, but with some more unusual choices of mussels in Thai green curry sauce and my own excellent starter of egg and prawns in an Indonesian tomato curry. Luckily, they have had the foresight to equip the tables with both cutlery and chopsticks, as anyone who has ever attempted to eat a boiled egg with chopsticks will know that it cannot end well. The second starter was a lovely minced pork and prawn Japanese gyoza with a soy based dipping sauce. Starters are mostly in and around €7 unless, of course, you want to eat half an aromatic duck by yourself.
After the starters and soups, the rest of the menu is divided into mains of meat and seafood, noodle and fried rice dishes, vegetarian and sides. It was initially hard to choose with one option sounding nicer than the one before, but I settled on tender lamb cutlets in a generous bowl of Malay potato curry. Most of the dishes are aromatic rather than hot, but of the ones that are spicy, the heat level of the dish is clearly indicated on the menu. They even manage to nod to the Irish palate without in any way ‘dumbing down’ the menu. The reliable ‘crowd pleasers’ such as sweet and sour and curries are well represented and there is a garnish of fried potatoes on many mains. My sidekick, The Bride, who is supposed to be shrinking herself into a wedding dress, choose the Malay roti canai, a chicken and coconut curry served with very more-ish pancakes. She may not fit into her dress, but it was more than worth it.
Portions are very generous and the staff, who were really friendly and attentive, supplied us with a doggie bag for her to take home to her poor, hungry, groom-to-be. The prices of the main courses vary hugely from each other, as you might expect from such a wide variety of ingredients, so the midweek menu, a main course of some of the more popular dishes, pad-Thai, ramen noodle, green curry, with a glass of wine for €14.95 might be a good option for the budget conscious.
A good wine list is supported by a choice of Asian beers Channg, Tiger, Tsing-Tao, and Singha. I saw a waitress sneak a few pints of Guinness from the lounge side for a table of Japanese tourists, so I’m sure no reasonable request would be refused. A small selection of desserts finishes off the menu. As with many Asian restaurants, desserts are not made on the premises at the moment, but they do the job if you must have one. A much better idea would be to skip dessert in the restaurant and nip next door into the lounge for the Chocolate orangetini - in fact, why not have two?
Reservation is recommended especially at the weekend as it gets busy; call after 3pm on 091 563749. Open every day except Tuesdays from 5pm to 10.30pm. Mary Street, Galway, www.asian teahouse.ie