Hogwarts graduate casts a spell

EATING OUT: Galway has some excellent restaurants, so newcomer Aniar has a lot to live up to – and it does

EATING OUT:Galway has some excellent restaurants, so newcomer Aniar has a lot to live up to – and it does

GOOD INTENTIONS DON’T always taste good. My goal to eat everything we grew this summer crumbled at the fifth consecutive meal involving cauliflower. A restaurant that opens its doors with a flourish of philosophy and a promise to let nature dictate its menu is setting itself the mother of all challenges.

Aniar is the new venture of young chef Enda McEvoy with JP McMahon and Drigín Gaffey, who own Cava, a Spanish restaurant and tapas bar that sits next door on Galway’s Lower Dominick Street.

They're calling themselves a terroirrestaurant. The word (typically associated with wine) means a sense of place and indigenous flavour, a dig-where-you-stand approach to food. It's all very earnest. Don't expect to see tiger prawns or Kenyan sugar snaps here any time soon.


It’s my third trip to Galway in recent months, the first two involving excellent eating. Aniar has some stiff competition in this city.

I’m with my mum and when we arrive for a 7.30pm table the place is emptyish, but fills to capacity as the night progresses. It’s a café-style restaurant, with painted bentwood chairs, no tablecloths but cloth napkins, and some slightly-wilted wild flowers in a jar. It’s small, with fewer than 30 seats, relaxed and friendly. Wines sit on a shelf with chalkboard paint behind them and arrows pointing to the bottles, with chirpy descriptions in pastel chalks.

We get two glasses of sparkling rosé, an Italian Pinot brut Le Contesse, just for the novelty of it. Tiny, unasked-for tasty things are a feature in posher places, although hardly anyone calls them amuse-bouche anymore. Here, they’re two warm blue-cheese pastries and two sticks of rye crispbread with blobs and bits on.

The pastries are a gorgeous first mouthful and the blobs on the toasts are a scallop and smoked potato purée. There are crispy bits of chicken skin arranged on top, with tangy sprigs of dillisk and sorrel (the latter features in every course here). It’s an impressive start matched by interested staff who know exactly what they’re bringing to your table.

To begin, we’re both eating things we’ve never tried before. For me it’s sweetbreads (a kind of offal, in this case the thymus gland) with buttermilk and girolle mushrooms. Mum’s having pigs’ cheeks, which come rolled in bread crumbs and fried in rapeseed oil. There’s a heavenly hazelnut purée, apple jelly, and a slice of perfectly pickled kohlrabi. The pigs cheeks are dense, a dark mushroomy brown and full of flavour. My sweetbreads are truly delicious, not too punchy and offal-y, but delicate and smooth and served in a half bowl with the tangy buttermilk and mushroom sauce, which is mopped up with great bread.

Main courses are equally impressive. A large slab of beef cheek (it’s a cheeky theme) for mum has that almost-black look that this cut gets when it’s cooked slowly to a silky consistency. She gets a spicy glass of Argentinean Malbec Crios de Susana Balbo (€7.50). On top there’s sorrel, a flavour which reminds her of eating sorrel leaves from hedgerows as a child, and there are some halved new potatoes on the side.

My ray wing has been sprinkled with dehydrated smoked salmon, which dials up the fishiness. The rolled coils of chalky white fish are perfect. There are some tasty, bright orange mussels under it and a cauliflower purée, which is delicious, and some florets of cauliflower, which are not. (Admittedly, when it comes to cauliflower, I’m now favouring a worldwide ban.)

The dish is garnished with baby Russian kale leaves (which I’ve only seen before in a seed catalogue picture) along with its yellow flowers (also edible) and samphire, which is grassy and gorgeous. It reminds us both of childhood memories of taking grass-seed stalks out of their tough outer sheath and chewing on the tender stems inside.

A raspberry sorbet with sticky toasted oats, a tiny dollop of whiskey cream honey and sprigs of . . . you guessed it . . . sorrel, is a perfect dessert. It comes with chalky small slabs of meringue made with rhubarb juice.

For me, a crème caramel with honeycomb ice cream is perfect, with some good but slightly odd flavour partners of apple cubes and an apple purée. A coffee and a small slate of lovely petit fours round it off.

The trick with good intentions is to add a bit of magic. After Sheridan’s on the Docks closed, chef Enda McEvoy took himself to the Hogwarts that is René Redzepi’s Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. Back home, he is meticulously creating wonderful food with superb local ingredients. Aniar is serving astonishing food with a lot of style. It’s a lesson in a food culture worth its salt.

Dinner for two, with three glasses of wine came to €104.75.

Aniar Restaurant

53 Lower Dominick Street, Galway, 091-535947

Music:Easy listening classical the night we were there

Facilities:A lone, freshly-painted bathroom, with a framed picture of the chef Wheelchair access: Yes

Food provenance: No suppliers name-checked but the umbrella promise of a strict local-sourcing policy

Coeliac-friendly: No specific dishes but plenty of wheat-free options on our menu

Rotana Cafe: keeps hungry boys happy

A car-full of boys, hungry after a swim, and a thwarted plan to go somewhere else, led us to the Rotana Café on South Richmond Street in Dublin city centre recently. It’s a friendly Lebanese restaurant with a bring-your-own-bottle policy and a menu that proved child-friendly. I had a large portion of hummus (€5.40) and a portion of cucumber yoghurt salad (€5.90). This was definitely more yoghurt than salad, but fresh and tasty. The boys shared a plate of chicken strips (€5.40), proper chicken fillet rather than the spongey reconstituted stuff you get in nuggets, and some tasty flatbreads with my hummus. An apple beer for me (€3.75), which was like a yeasty Cidona, rounded it off nicely and the hungry horde was happy.

Rotana Café, 31 South Richmond Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4759969


Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests