Abbeygate Street has been transformed in the last couple of years from a down at heel shortcut to a bustling community of small cafes, restaurants, and shops. There are now so many places to choose from that this diversion from the main drag has become a hub of good food in Galway. The turn of fortune for this address can be directly linked to The Dough Bros taking up residence here, causing a huge increase in footfall. With their queue regularly streaming out the door, the many empty shopfronts were soon filled with a variety of diverse eateries to take up the slack and join the dots between the existing eclectic retailers, giving the area a new lease of life and identity.
We have lost several old favourites in recent times, notably The Home Plate, Couch Potato, and La Salsa, and Dough Bros is moving to a more permanent home at the other end of the street. Notwithstanding that, this street still boasts everything from a chilli shack and authentic Mexican food to rooftop cocktails, American candy, and an Asian market — it seems lately that there is something new every month. It has also become something of a veggie haven. There are good vegetarian options from the Pasta Factory and Tuco's Taqueria. If it is vegan food you're after The Lighthouse cafe does a solid line in wholesome bowls of soup, inventive tarts, hot pots, and sweet treats. At the very end of the street is TGO Falafel Bar, an informal vegetarian restaurant and takeaway that focuses on quality and healthy foods and yet another new place to eat in the vicinity of Abbeygate Street. Floris Wagemaker (aka Flo ) and The Gourmet Offensive falafel cart have been a fixture at the Saturday market over the past decade and has built up quite a following. While he still has the falafel cart at the market, TGO Falafel Bar is the first bricks and mortar home for his restaurant.
The notion of a vegan diet is repellent to a lot of Irish people with our ingrained history of farming. Your mental picture of a 'vegan' might have been that of a hippie in Birkenstocks, a militant animal rights activist, or someone who has sworn off deodorant as well as meat. But the 2016 version is a different animal entirely with more influence from Turkish, Lebanese, Indian, and the less meat-heavy of the world cuisines. Since vegans eschew all animal-derived products, including dairy, eggs, and honey, it can be a difficult principle to adhere to. Having a vegan in my own extended family, even picking a bottle of wine is a potential minefield. One would think that wine is intrinsically vegan, but as part of the wine-making process there is 'fining' which clarifies and stabilises the wine before it is bottled. Bull's blood was the traditional fining agent, but after the BSE crisis it was banned by the EU. Bentonite, a substance derived from clay, is the vegan-friendly alternative, but other animal-derived products — gelatin, milk protein, egg whites, and fish bladders — are still used, and winemakers are not obligated to state on their labels whether they have used them.
While we have no figures for the number of vegans in Ireland, there are approximately 542,000 in the UK. Perceived health benefits, along with environmental and animal welfare concerns, are the driving forces behind the increase of 350 per cent in the last 10 years. In the past, vegan food has been the butt of many a joke for over-reliance on gas-producing pulses and TVP (textured vegetable protein ) in the form of 'steaks' and 'sausages' as a meat substitute. The food at TGO Falafel Bar is more appealing in every way — bright, fresh, and colourful, and all of it tastes good.
Thankfully, there is no sign of Linda McCarthy's tofu 'sausages', quorn mince, or any man-made protein masquerading as meat. The menu is entirely vegan apart from a smidgeon of mayonnaise and a bit of squeaky halloumi, and the falafel are gluten free and coeliac friendly. Choose how you would like them served, wrap, salad box, pitta, or mezze plate. Pick from the sauces, mojo verde, hot sauce, or tahini, and add any extras, baba ganoush, aubergine, dolmas (rolled grape leaves filled with rice ). If you do not fancy falafel there are the house specials, a burger, (vegan of course ), the house dahl, and a very good gado gado, an Oriental tempeh dish with satay sauce and griddled vegetables. Do believe the hype about the chips, they are currently some of the best in town, especially good topped with TGO's own curry sauce. True to their market stall roots, the portions are very generous and there is outstanding value for money with prices ranging from €4 for a custom pitta or a small portion of the daily dahl to €8.50 for the vegan burger. These are excellent dishes also in terms of texture and flavour and the presentation is very photogenic. The staff are unfailingly cheery and they offer a small selection of vegan desserts as well.
Word has travelled fast and the bright, modest, little restaurant is busy at the weekends, with tables turning over as soon as they are vacated and the takeout counter equally busy. Flo is that rarest of people, an easy-going idealist. He is not a vegetarian, all-organic crusader, but he has his agenda, and TGO Falafel Bar is his front line. This is 'good for you' fast food where is a respect for ingredients and pride in the product. It would be wrong to label this as 'vegan' food — what this really is, is great food that just happens to be vegan.
TGO Falafel Bar, 11 Mary Street, Galway. Tel 086 189 0655. Email [email protected].