When the programme for the 2014 Galway Food Festival was announced earlier this year, the very first item to go on my list was the Venetian Tapas at Il Vicolo on the Taste Trail. Given the subsequent events, it may have taken a little longer than I expected, but all things considered it was worth waiting for.
Formerly a tiny corner cafe and wine bar, a couple of minutes walk from Shop Street in Galway's city centre, Il Vicolo is now housed in far more spacious quarters. Gerry McMahon and his partner Aoife have moved their much loved Italian restaurant, lock, stock, and barrel, just a couple of minutes walk in the opposite direction over the bridge.
Il Vicolo had built up a loyal following very quickly in Galway despite its small space and a miniscule kitchen in full view. With just 25 seats and a further kitchen across the street, it had became clear that it wasn’t feasible with these limitations. For a few weeks after shutting the doors, the future of the operation hung in the balance until another premises was secured. Re-opened just in time for the summer festival season, the new Il Vicolo Restaurant & Bacaro at Bridge Mills is much improved by its rather stunning location.
Down a few rough hewn steps, the wine bar is flanked on either side by two stone dining rooms and the river runs underneath the main area with the original mill wheel still visible. The same relaxed atmosphere and pleasant buzz is evident as before. Familiar staff, the vast majority of whom are Italian, work the room with the same quiet efficiency. They have also gained an enchanting riverside terrace overlooking the water.
The cooking is still northern Italian, specifically that of Venice. Creamy risottos, polenta and, of course, pasta also feature in these regional recipes cooked by native Venetians. The lunch menu offers rustic soups, bruschetta, panini and substantial salads. There is excellent coffee, as well as cakes and other elegant desserts and a lunch here can be quite reasonable.
The exclusively Italian wine list has a particular emphasis on artisan wines with bottles from the big name Italian wine regions along with a few interesting wines spanning the entire peninsula. A range of Italian beer is also served and both Peroni and Moretti are available on tap.
There is also some good value on the evening menu. Customers can have a glass of wine at the bar, just as in a traditional Venetian bacaro, with some spunciotti, Venetian-style crostini or cicchetti, small tapas-like dishes, which are priced between €5 and €12. The a la carte features pasta, risotto, steak and fish dishes, complete with a selection of meat and cheese boards.
We chose from the cicchetti menu which is broken into simple, easy to navigate sections. 'From the Sea' are ravioloni filled with crab meat and prawns in a creamy scallop roe sauce. 'From the Land' are courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and cured meat in a light batter and sautéed calf’s liver in a tangle of braised onion with a pleasantly sharp sting of vinegar. A refreshing ricotta and broad bean pesto with lemon zest is followed by fried aubergine with confit tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella bocconcini and fresh basil 'From the Garden'. Save some room for dessert - they are simple, elegant and utterly delicious.
This is a grown-up Italian restaurant, not the usual pizza and pasta joint. It cleverly concentrates its efforts on one region of Italian cooking while keeping it sympathetic to the Irish palette. Any minor missteps have already been made in the old venue, so this was a fully formed concept from day one. And while this is a totally different concept, it retains the utter charm of the old Il Vicolo, but now, there is more of it to love.
Il Vicolo Restaurant & Bacaro is located in The Bridge Mills, O’Brien’s Bridge. For more information or to make a booking call (091 ) 530 515 or email [email protected].