In the village of Oranmore, Péarla na Mara is well worth a detour off the main road. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it has a Mediterranean style menu with a heavy Irish influence and there is a warm welcome from one half of the husband and wife owners, Justyna, at the front of house.
It opens early daily with options such as a full Irish breakfast; a mushroom, ham, and cheese omelette; and a chef’s breakfast of smoked salmon, sautéed spinach, poached free-range eggs, and homemade hollandaise sauce. Even the takeaway breakfast baguette of two sausages, two rashers, and a free-range egg on ciabatta bread is a vast improvement on the garage forecourt version, and at €3.95 isn’t any more expensive.
Lunch has a nice line up of dishes such as a steak sandwich, chicken diavola, spicy meatballs, and panini. There are also a wide variety of amazing sounding pasta dishes; a cocktail of fresh seafood, cooked in white wine tomato concasse with fresh herbs; and roast vegetables tossed in a duo of red and green pesto, served with freshly grated parmesan cheese. But I discounted them out of hand, telling myself, “Irish restaurants often cook pasta very badly”. As it turned out, I was wrong — a stolen taste of my daughter’s pasta in a creamy sauce proved it to be cooked perfectly al dente, and was a bowl of pure comfort.
The restaurant is very child friendly and when we were there on a Sunday it was filled mostly with families with young children, like ourselves. The high chairs and baby changing facilities are good and the staff are very helpful with the small ones, bringing their food first to avoid any hunger-induced meltdowns. Indeed, the children’s menu is exceptional value at €5 including a drink.
Our five-year-old had the mussels meal from the regular menu (she must have been Belgian in her last life, any mention of moules frites and her ears perk up ). It was very good value at €8.95 and not one plump mussel lived to tell the tale. My current husband had two starters from the à la carte menu, both turned out to be very good. An orange-glazed duck fillet at €8.50 was expertly cooked and served on a bed of baby leaves, tossed with dried fruits and orange dressing. Delicate seared scallops sprinkled with a lime dressing were a delicious follow up and an average price at €10.
My own grilled rack of lamb was tender and cooked to a rosy pink, served with balsamic reduction with a side of crisp, steamed green vegetables. All the meats had credited suppliers, which is always nice to see. Two desserts and four forks completed our Sunday lunch. Two classics of tiramisu and tarte tatin were very enjoyable with everyone in agreement that the tiramisu was the better of the two.
It runs a lot of good value offers, most notably the evening pizzas, where any pizza and a glass of house wine will cost just €14.95 (this excludes the scallops pizza, but putting a scallop on a pizza is, quite frankly, bonkers ) or two pastas or pizzas and bottle of house wine for €35. You can also bring your own wine, corkage fee €5 per table. One other great innovation is the filtered water, especially for anyone who is repulsed by the brackish nature of our local tap water. In all my 20 years in the west it is something I have never got used to, but still I’m reluctant to pay for the often outrageously expensive bottled water. Instead we got beautifully customised, glass-stoppered bottles, filled with ice cold water filtered on the premises. And at €1 for an unlimited supply of either still or sparkling this is a real bonus and I really can’t understand why more restaurants in the west don’t have this system.
They make the best of an awkward space here, with a sun trap to the front and an oddly shaped, almost corridor, to the side of the bar. It would be much improved with a few small screens and a bit of extra storage to hide the table filled with paperwork to the rear. However that is a minor quibble as they do so many other things right. This is good food, family-friendly and reasonably priced. Péarla Na Mara is a very tasty diversion from the main road, and a diversion I look forward to taking again.
Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 8am – 11pm, and Sunday 10am to 11pm.
Off the beaten track
There is a lot of great food outside of Galway’s urban sprawl, you just have to know where to look. There are plenty of culinary treats to be found in the wilds of the county where you will be fed, and fed well. You certainly don’t have to settle for a chicken and stuffing sandwich from the garage forecourts. Clarenbridge has a few charming little cafes, such as the Poppyseed, where you are assured of something tasty — it just opened on Eglinton Street last week, so it is obviously doing something right. Loughrea has Il Porcetto, a cosy restaurant on the main street with some of the best Italian food you will find outside of Italy. And the minute they bypass Gort, it goes and nabs one of Galway’s most creative chefs and puts him in a charming, eclectic cafe with brilliant results. You can sample some of chef Pawel Karnafel’s creations at the Gallery Café restaurant in Gort on Thursday November 8 at 7pm. A glass of prosecco infused with wild damson is promised followed by a five course winter taster menu at the official opening.