Raw talent with fish

Hotel dining can be mediocre but the sushi restaurant in the Radisson Blu in Galway has very good food, fresh from the sea, writes…

Hotel dining can be mediocre but the sushi restaurant in the Radisson Blu in Galway has very good food, fresh from the sea, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

IN OUR TOPSY-TURVY world nothing shouts “fake” louder than the word “authentic”. The rule of thumb is that a restaurant claiming authenticity is typically as phoney as an Irish dancer’s ringlets. The Radisson Blu hotel in Galway city is a fairly soulless building on the side of a busy road. The nicest bit of its fourth-floor restaurant is the large window with a great view out to sea, as long as you gaze over the top of the city’s gas and fuel depot.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Rather than the typical middle-of-the-road food, this hotel has gone for sushi. Opened early last month, the new restaurant is called Raw – Sushi in the Sky (hum your own “with diamonds” at the end) and it promises authentic Japanese food. The first indication that this is not a hollow claim is that it is the only sushi restaurant I’ve visited in Ireland that comes with a view of the sea.

The restaurant is textbook chain hotel: purple crushed-velvet chairs, purple ceiling lights, pillars wallpapered to look like tree trunks and some fake bamboo plants in the centre. In a corner kitchen area, chef Hisashi Kumagai wears kimono-style chef’s whites. The laminated menu is wrapped in a leathery scroll.


The restaurant is only open in the evenings from Tuesday to Saturday. It’s a throwback to Anthony Bourdain’s advice to never eat fish in a restaurant on a Monday because, with fish markets closing on a Friday, Monday’s “catch” will be older than any fish you want to put in your mouth. In Europe you simply can’t eat sushi, in a restaurant, that is straight out of the sea. Under food safety regulations, any fish served raw has to be frozen for 24 hours before it can be served. So the secret in the best sushi joints is to start with something as fresh as possible before the freezing, slicing and serving. The nearby Galway Bay Seafoods are the suppliers here.

I’m on my own and not inclined to linger so there’s a touch of the Japanese love-hotel about my visit. I’m going to use the table for less than an hour and then the tax experts who are collecting their name badges in the lobby for a weekend conference downstairs can take my seat overlooking the sea.

It’s an almost-entirely fish menu with a lone duck dish for the fishphobe in your life. The usual rice-based sushi dishes are here but the end of the menu promises some more adventurous dishes. Sashimi or raw fish is often eaten first. The subtlety of the flavours is best appreciated at the point before your taste buds are overwhelmed by stronger tastes.

A portion of sea scallops (€14) comes on a white rectangular plate with another similar plate of seared bonito, or skipjack tuna; a fish that is closer to mackerel than tuna and comes into its own here. But first the scallops. They’re presented in a small mound sliced into delicate mouthful pieces and come with a fresh salad on the side. I’ve asked for some pickled ginger (usually my favourite thing about a sushi meal) but here it shouts too loudly over the whisper of the raw scallop flavour. They were absolutely right to leave it out. The scallop meat is soft and creamy and astonishingly good. Paper-thin rounds of sliced radish, fresh coriander, flat leaf parsley and rocket leaves are lovely companion flavours.

The bonito (€12) has been seared to that light tuna colour on the outside but left richly purple-red in the middle. One mouthful would make you weep for all the fish meat that has been cooked, tinned and turned to mouth-drying clumps of beige.

The gorgeous slices of almost-meaty flavour come with a minced garlic and ginger paste, tangy pickled daikon and microscopically chopped vegetables, gossamer thin ribbons of red onion and fresh micro leaves. I have a glass of Les Duclaux Rosé Cote de Provence (€8) which provides a nice dry light summery note.

The waitress (service is brilliant) explains that there are two typical Japanese desserts: green tea ice-cream or fruit salad.

Here the chef also does chocolate sushi, where the chocolate is rolled around rice like nori. I hadn’t planned dessert but that has to be done.

The rolls look great, chocolate outside, a layer of rice and then strawberry chunks in the middle. They come with a strawberry coulis for dipping. It’s nice, in a Muller Rice kind of way.

Authentic or not, Raw is doing something you rarely find in an in-house hotel restaurant, marvellous relatively inexpensive food that makes it worth a special trip.

Dinner for one with a glass of wine came to €35.05.

Criticism all in a good cause

I don't usually have to deliver my criticism eyeball-to-eyeball with a chef but so it was recently at a charity night in Galway's G Hotel.

Two celebrity chefs were in the kitchen churning out high-end dishes such as duck three-ways and goat's cheese pannacotta for 100 guests at a charity night for Console.

The evening began with a powerful speech given by Galway businesswoman Phyllis McNamara who lost her husband four years ago to suicide.

Console, the suicide bereavement charity, had kept her alive in the dark days afterwards, she said, "15 minutes at a time".
The G head chef Regis Herviaux ran his team through a series of complex dishes and Today FM DJ Tony Fenton took the crown (or the oversized whisk and chef's toque), beating model Lynda Duffy by a squeak.

On the judges' panel, flanked by myself and fellow critic Corinna Hardgrave, the chef-turned-author Gerry Galvin began his criticism with playwright Brendan Behan's words on critics: "Like eunuchs in a harem they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves."