I lived in Galway for several years and being a native Dubliner, my city was calling me home, marrying another Dub’ sealed my fate and now I’m home permanently. However, if I was asked to describe Galway in less than five words, I’d probably say “The place LOVES it’s food!”.
When we first moved to Galway in the mid 90’s, it was still very much a country town, going out for dinner meant the usual seafood or a stodgy Supreme of chicken with lashings of mash and a kidney dish of root vegetables and that’s as adventurous as it got, even the cocktails were stuck in the 80’s. With the wave of the boom came cosmopolitan culture, micro cuisine, adventurism and even a Michelin star.
Galway has a lot to thank JP McMahon for, not everyone likes him, but everyone is entitled to their opinions. JP has opened several restaurants in Galway, not all surviving, Azur for example but it’s location over a pub on the Docks, a not much visited place in Galway. Not many businesses who open on the docks survive, it’s a bit of a stroll from the main shopping street and it’s not such a desirable place at night, so you’ve got to hand it to JP, sadly Azur was one of those casualties. Cava and Anair are another pair of restaurants owned by the restauranteur and chef, Anair, a Michelin star winning restaurant (Galway’s first and only star) is thriving and in addition to a dining experience, they even hold daytime cooking classes on a regular basis, when do the owners rest??
With Galway bay facing the wild Atlantic, it’s known for it’s seafood, along with Clare which has many fish smoking houses like the Burren Smokehouse near Lisdoonvarna. The Killary Fjord in the heart of Connemara has many fish farms, there are Oyster beds and even the famous Salmon Wier Bridge on the Corrib river, flowing through the city. If you adore seafood, Galway is definitely the place to go. I personally can’t eat seafood but love to see friends and family enjoy it.
There’s a little place called Moran’s Cottage in Kilcolgan, just beyond Clarinbridge, it’s stuck in old Ireland with a thatched roof, an open turf fire, original wooden bar and everything traditional that you’d imagine, local farmers coming in for a creamy pint of Guinness after ploughing the fields and little snugs for private parties, their seafood menu is extensive and they’re known widely for their oysters, bowls of mussels and Guinness. The cottage overlooks the Kilcolgan river, home to enormous flocks of swans. it’s gorgeous to sit out in the sun and have your lunch and take in the refreshingly clean air and views. When family from the States come over, this is always the first stop.
Coming back to Galway town itself another well established family business, McCambridges!! Ahh McCambridges, how you stole my heart. I always remember the little cream and maroon vintage van that drove around Galway with their old logo on it, delivering goods throughout the town. McCambriges always stocked the best of everything, a sort of Fallon and Byrne of the west. If you wanted vintage wine or cheese, you went to McCambridges. At lunchtime the queue’s have always gone out the door for their deli, salad bar and soup which just lasted an hour before being sold out. They’ve always had a great name in Galway and the enticing smell always drew you in. In the last few years, the store has grown, they’ve removed the offices upstairs and opened a fantastic restaurant with the loveliest staff you could imagine. The coffee dock is still downstairs and on a warm day the seats are jammed all day like the sun loungers hogged by German sun worshipers on a European beach resort, if you manage to get a seat under the maroon canopy you are very lucky, in all my years there, I’ve never managed to get one! The restaurant is open all day whether you want a coffee and a slice of their incredible pecan pie or Macaron’s, a cup of the best coffee in Galway or even lunch, it’s always there but be warned, make a reservation if you can because the line often goes down the stairs, it’s that popular! My personal favourite savoury dish is the French onion soup, perfection in every way, comforting, naughty and so flavoursome. If you’re a meat lover, you’re in for a treat, 21 day matured steaks with horseradish butter and panchetta, stuffed pork bellies, not to mention fresh seafood, like prawns and chowders-it’s Galway, there has to be seafood.
If you’re not one to sit and people watch out the large windows, there’s always the grocery department, not just any grocery department, I think they were stocking Arborio rice before anyone knew what a risotto was!! Fresh baked pies, focaccia’s, sourdough boules, cheese and tomato bread, fresh organic vegetables, exotic pastes and sauces and even a speciality off license with a stunning wine collection and artisan chocolates.
In addition, McCambridges are wonderful for supporting local Irish small businesses and suppliers, you’ll often have showcase stands with the business owners there meet customers and provide all the information you want, you might even get to taste some goodies. They’re definitely not greedy that way, happy to share their success with local businesses and it’s wonderful to see. I am a true believer in Karma.
|Photo Credit: McCambridges Website|
|Photo Credit: McCambridges Website|
My absolute favourite thing to do on a balmy summers afternoon is to take a trip to Quay Street, pull up a seat at a tiny wine bar like Martines or Gemelles order a nice glass of wine or Champagne and a crostini and just relax, the smell from the surrounding restaurants and the atmosphere is definitely one to relish. Watch out for one of the many local characters like Nora, a local bag lady, she’s unmistakable, a cigarette behind one ear and her tongue out, she likes to come, share your glass of wine and pocket your tips that you leave for the staff, but what is an old medieval town without it’s characters. It definitely adds charm.
There’s not much to do in Galway during the Winter though, it pretty much closes up and succumbs to the foul weather, but in the Summer, it’s wonderful, it blossoms like a flower! I loved to fill a picnic basket and drive out to Connemara for a beach picnic in my little red Fiat Cinquecento (I miss her, my first car).
Even in the winter their restaurants are still there to enjoy, a welcoming distraction from the howling wind and driving torrential rain.
Their new location is opposite the church in Salthill, Galway
As I discussed above, this is definitely a hotspot, for reunions, dates or girly/lads nights out, it’s perfect for any occasion!