In many seaside towns both here and afar, there always seems to be one main street filled with souvenir shops, a smattering of dull bars, and some terrible tourist-trap restaurants. In Galway we buck this trend and are lucky enough to have Quay Street, the buzzing heart of Galway’s Latin Quarter. It has medieval architecture, and 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. You are guaranteed entertainment from buskers and performers, a festival or passing parade, and it is the best place in the 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 on our streets.
Quay Street is also the hard working culinary backbone of our tourist trade with many distinctive restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. Behind the colourful facades there are wine bars, coffee shops, and restaurants with many cuisines from which to choose. But dining out in the centre of Galway is certainly not just for tourists. In the leaner winter months especially they must rely on the local trade to keep afloat in an industry with such notoriously slim margins. While many of us walk past them every day, a lot of them just happen to be very good places to eat, with exceptional variety for visitors and residents. Whether you are looking for a fine dining establishment or a fish and chip joint, you are likely to find something that meets your needs.
In the summertime, the obstacle course of menu boards offer a wonderful selection of international fare, everything from Spanish to Japanese. You certainly will not have to settle for a Starbucks or an overpriced coffee as in other cities. This little village of independent and family run businesses has few 'chain' establishments to blot the landscape, more than just your average tourist hub.
True lovers of Italian food need look no further than Trattoria, the longest serving of these Quay Street treasures. It was originally set up by Sergio and Mary Magnetti on Cross Street in 1989, and originally called Pasta Mista (Mixed Pasta ) as they made all their own fresh pasta, a rare occurrence in Ireland at the time. Today, Trattoria is owned and run by the next generation of Magnettis, brothers Sean and Marco. They remain true to their family tradition of authentic Italian food with a regional influence.
It is a larger than average room for this part of town and the well spaced tables and chairs are trattoria-typical. The menu features fresh pastas and rustic dishes and great effort is made to source the highest quality ingredients. Courses are broken down in the Italian style and ingredients are the best of local and Irish with imported specialities where no substitutions will do, mainly specialist cured meats and cheeses. Of course, they also have a good list of Italian wines, as the Irish do not now, nor are we ever likely to, count among the world leaders in wine production.
The prices are also in keeping with its trattoria style, antipasti cluster around €7.50, main courses do not go much above €20, with risotto and pasta dishes considerably less than that. From creamy risotto and pasta dishes to firm fresh fish, simply seasoned with olive oil, vinegar, and garlic, expect exceptional dishes such as deep fried tiger prawns wrapped in Capelli d’Angelo with garlic and paprika sauce, or the particularly masterful filled pastas, ravioli and tortellini. Meals like this are commonplace in Italy, a 'trattoria' is a simple eatery without the sophistication or the price tag of a 'ristorante' where you expect good food, not great culinary heights. Common as they may be in Italy, they are few and far between here.
The best value is the innovative offer of the menu based on the regional specialities of Italy, these nights are held around once a month. At €30 per person for four courses, including wine matches provided by the neighbours at Woodberrys, it is a fun and affordable way to taste many new types of dishes and to explore the cuisine of Italy. On a recent evening we sampled a selection of salami from Tuscany and bruschette topped with Parma figs and Pecorino shavings. Cheese filled ravioli with duck ragu was presented for 'primo' along with 'passatelli in brodo', a pasta from the Emilia Romagna region, served in chicken broth made light with a zing of lemon. 'Secondo' consisted of specialities from Marche and dessert was a flying visit to Lazio and Umbria.
The tastes and the flavours were totally authentic, the service quick and knowledgeable. Trattoria is one of the best places in a street not lacking in good places to eat. If you like Italian food, you will almost certainly like Trattoria.
Trattoria, 12 Quay Street, Galway. Phone (091 ) 563910 .Email [email protected].