In many tourist towns both home and away, you will notice that there always seems to be a street full of tacky souvenir shops, a smattering of dull cafes, and some terrible tourist-trap restaurants. Not so in Galway. We are lucky enough to have Quay Street, the buzzing heart of Galway’s Latin Quarter. It has medieval architecture, a pedestrian street for browsing the many quirky little shops full of wooden toys, vintage clothes, and pottery alongside the quality woollens and Celtic jewellery. The atmosphere in the pubs is fun and friendly, with the sound of music from trad to rock spilling onto the street. There are almost always some buskers and performers, a festival or parade, and this is the best place in Galway city on a sunny evening, when the outdoor seating is packed with tourists and locals engaged in 'people watching' and enjoying all the sights and sounds of the streets of Galway.
Behind the colourful facades of Quay Street are wine bars, coffee shops, and restaurants with many diverse cuisines and a lot of them just happen to be good places to eat. Il Folletto is one of these, an Italian restaurant whose warm welcome is supplied by Vetina Tobin with authentic food by Italian chef Roberto Basso in the kitchen. It is one of those Quay Street 'Tardis-like' spaces — it looks teeny-weeny on the outside and opens into a spacious, long, room with art by local woman Margaret Nolan, including the pixie mascot after which the restaurant is are named. The menu features Italian wines, well priced homemade pizza and fresh pastas, and a great early bird menu from 5pm to 7pm — a starter of soup, caprese insalata, or bruschetta followed by a main pasta dish, gnocchi, or pizza for €15.95.
We ordered from the a la carte menu which was very vegetarian friendly. A layered aubergine dish, melanzane alla Parmigiana, from the antipasti selection almost had me but I went for the Il Folletto aperitivo instead, a prosecco and Campari cocktail which comes served with an assortment of Italian bite-sized nibbles of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic bread, and focacia warm from the oven. A generous platter arrived with oil and balsamic and at €9.95 I am keeping this in mind for the first sunny day, it is perfect for eating al fresco on one of the dinky little outside tables.
My companion ordered the caprese insalata, a rookie mistake. A salad whose success depends on the quality of very few ingredients is tricky, but a tomato in March in Ireland is never going to taste the way it should. Her main course made up for it, as she ordered from the fresh pasta menu, tagliatelle with chicken, crispy pancetta and mushrooms in a white wine and cream sauce was a hit. Gluten free pasta is also available, which is good to know. The pizza with Italian sausage, red onion, and sweet balsamic reduction was also very good with generous toppings and a soft, chewy, crust.
There is also a bit of imagination in the dessert menu. Among the usual tiramisu, affogato and panna cottas was a torta al cioccolato, a dark chocolate hazelnut and yogurt cake with hazelnut biscotti; a limoncello and meringue pie; and a very civilised list of digestivi and dessert wines along with the coffees and tea. A list that encourages lingering over one of the desserts, which if the homemade bread was anything to go by, must be good. With a crowd pleasing menu like this, Il Folletto is an ideal location to meet family and friends, or unwind after a day sight-seeing or shopping in the city.
Il Folletto Italian Restaurant, 8 Quay Street Galway. Tel 091 566 066, email ilfollettorestaurant @gmail.com
Three more Quay Street stars
With the summer season nearly upon us, it is time to rediscover some of the much loved places along Quay Street, while there is still room.
Drop into Martines of Quay Street for a glass of red and the signature dish of delicious charcoal cooked steak. Thirty five day dry-aged black Angus from Cork and wines from around the world — you won't want to leave.
The Quay Street Kitchen: This new kid on the street does a great vegan and vegetarian lunch and dinner, with vegan and gluten free treats from Goodness Bakes available as well. While it previously struggled with breakfast, the new menu shows better focus. Minute steak, liver and onions, sausages, bacon, pudding, skinny fries, eggs, flatcap mushrooms, and hollandaise sauce with crusty mopping bread? Yes, please! I may have to revisit quite soon.
McDonagh's legendary fish and chips bar has been proclaimed a Galway favourite by plenty of national and local publications. The fish is cooked to order, it has the freshest chips, with potatoes peeled, cut, and fried on the premises. Eaten in, taken away, or on the outside seating, these are a Galway tradition not to be missed. If you prefer your seafood un-battered, the seafood restaurant has a huge variety of fish dishes, native Clarenbridge oysters, crab, scallops, prawns, hake, lemon sole, wild mussels, and lobsters waving from the tank.