It took me many years to decide if Galway was a party or a city. In my youth it was more of a prime, a Mardi Gras spelled with a fada, and despite regular visits my understanding of street names, landmarks and general topography was hazy, generally trusting the blind instinct and local comrades to lead me to the next dish, the next dance, the next drink, the next song.
I don’t want to paint such a culturally vibrant city as one endless bachelor party, but most of my Galwegian somersault was nocturnal – decades later I still need to get my bearings upon arrival.
Accordingly, on a freezing March evening, I first seek out and establish Éan’s whereabouts an hour before dinner. That done, I turn around the corner to the ever-green and ever-wonderful Naughton’s for a jab of a crossword and a nice pint of plain.
I contemplate for a second when my phone rings. I’m actually 45 minutes late, badly transcribed reservation time. I tell Éan about it in a state of advanced mortification, but the warning that awaits me is the essence of Galway’s charm: a few gentle ribs, followed by instant absolution, then I settle down with grace. reassuring.
Éan (Irish for “bird”) is the younger brother of Enda McEvoy and Sinead Meacle’s Michelin-starred Loam across town. The rugged interior is a palette of elemental textures: exposed original blocks, raw concrete, durable wood, a bit of Farrow & Ball, gorgeous handcrafted furniture; the overall effect is as elegant as it is casual, warm and inviting.
McEvoy and Meacle have handed over the cooking entirely to head chef, Christine Walsh, and the day offers a concise and concise menu, anchored by superb homemade breads, sandwiches and pastries, enhanced by beautiful rustic dishes. A more evolved night menu has tapas-style small plates that are enough for sharing – but tonight I’m on my dream date, dining with only a crossword puzzle and a book.
The first is Squid Toast: pool deity triangles that trigger a burst of dopamine barrage in the brain and a primal compulsion to never stop eating. It starts – like all Walsh dishes – with a sublime supply. Line-caught Irish squid is tossed with shio koji and ground dilisk, spread on homemade sourdough, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried to a springy nutty crisp. Fermented shio koji adds fruity funk; dilisk and a shimmering rain of vaporous bonito flakes provide sea-worthy umami. The creamy acidity of the blond miso emulsion completes a perfect dish. Unsurprisingly, he became a special Éan signing.
Buttery and leathery Slovenian Sauvignon Blanc (Fosilni Breg 2018 Domaine Ciringa) with astringent honey notes pairs just as well with the above as it does with more earthy tempura. Heavy slices of King Oyster in a tempura batter are fried, a diaphanous crunch yielding lush, muscular flesh from meaty mushrooms. The fiery togarashi (Japanese spicy condiment) fizzes and crackles across the palette like a loose thread of spark.
Raw beef is less acidic than classic tartare and the usual emulsifying properties of egg yolk are replaced by a demi-glace reduction of roasted Dexter beef trimmings and charred onions, then topped with a brunoise of Castelvetrano olive creaminess and curls of crispy sweet salsify, all suggesting sweetness. salty stew.
Deviled duck hearts sit on sourdough toast with duck parfait, pear puree and a rich Madeira-based sauce of duck trimmings, shallots, garlic and herbs, a robust and tasty base. My own preference would be for a less strident companion for such demure and exquisite duck hearts which, flashed in a pan with a little Madeira sauce, are painfully tender, buttery, sweet, with a metallic note of blood iron.
I order a farmhouse salad, thinking it might suit better (you can have fun like this all night long when dining solo), but that plan is quickly scrapped because the salad is a masterful composition, not tolerating any other alterations: fresh and shiny green leaves, an invigorating bitterness. radicchio, shavings of salted celery, cucumber, crunchy daikon radish, all resting on a melting crème caramel with Cáis na Tíre cheese. It is crowned with a fluffy wire netting of more than Cáis na Tíre. I clean the plate – one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten – re-address the duck hearts and finally finish off the sumptuous, rich toast.
There is a short but splendid list of natural wines and although each of my excellent servers insists that their knowledge of wine is limited, they obviously know each one well and I am happily guided by their infectious enthusiasm. A mineral and fruity Gamay (Bran 2020 Le Raisin et L’Angr, Ardèche) is another good choice.
But there’s not much one body can do, and I raise the white flag before dessert, gloriously sated, fed for the week, even though I’m hesitant to leave one of my new favorite restaurants.
Walsh has an all-but-testosterone-boasting resume that would see equally capable male counterparts sing from dawn to dusk, and only recently has she earned a modicum of long-awaited national recognition. Her career began under Michael Quinn, at Waterford Castle, and continued with McEvoy, at Loam, imbibing their ethos of revering local and seasonal produce, and she also served in Chapter One Dublin , Tom Aikens (London), Noma and Benu, in San Fransisco.
This deep experience is seasoned with a personal passion for Japanese cuisine and culinary culture that adds elegant accents to his confident and singular delivery of some of the finest produce and most delicious dishes served in the country. Éan already has a Michelin Bib Gourmand and a star is a real possibility in the future, should she be determined to pursue it. However, one absolute certainty in racing is that the next time I am in Galway, all my roads will lead to Éan and I won’t need a map or a clock.
- Food: 9.25
- Services: 9
- Value: 9
- Atmosphere: 9
Tablet: €133 (wines and cocktails included, excluding tip)