In the pretty town of Clarinbridge, a picturesque pub, Sherry’s Bar in the heart of the area provides a surprising venue for ‘Rustic Grub‘. Recently opened in a village already well supplied with good cafes and tea-rooms, it has hit the ground running – which says a lot about chef Maria McNeela and the ethos she brought with her. There are very few people who could match the passion and respect that she has for food, doing more than any other chef in the region to promote local produce and the menu reflects this in a variety of ways. She has found a space to showcase the best that the West has to offer and cooks in the Irish tradition – unrestrained, imaginative and dedicated to pleasure – maternalism at it’s finest.
Maria credits Anne McMahon of Cafe Rua, the godmother of good food in Mayo, for introducing her to the joys of the kitchen. Just like her, she values simplicity above all, the menu is a homage to the Galway market and the produce of the area, with no compromise on quality.
Once inside, you pass through the buzz of the busy bar, the modern, bright, café style seating at the back is in direct contrast to the dark, traditional public house at the front. The glowing wood fired oven is a welcome sight, while a small, friendly patio at the back offers outdoor seating for fine weather. The summer herbs and salads, growing in pots outside are an indication of things to come, prepare yourself for spanking fresh ingredients cooked with authority and passion. The fare is mainly pizza cooked to order in the purpose built clay oven, the wood sourced from local sustainable forests. There are toppings such as Herterich’s sausage, Colleran’s baked ham or Brady’s spiced beef. Children are welcome to join in the fun and are encouraged to help make their own pizza if they wish.
Boards and platters of artisan foods are the attraction, with little cooking involved, the flavour of the assembled ingredients is key, and the combinations are a delight. A selection of Galway’s greatest feature among the items on this short menu alongside the Mediterranean influences of marinated olives and fragrantly spiced hummus with cumin, served with hot charred pitta slices or toasted sourdough. The Friendly Farmer‘s excellent pate or baked Galway Goat Farm cheese with a drizzle of local honey. The bigger sharing board has a variety of these plus substantial slices of baked ham, jars of red onion jam and wedges of cheese. Perfect to share over a bottle of wine or a craft beer.
Although cold platters are the speciality, there’s also hot and seasonal specials with a strong local provenance for those who want it. Roasted summer vegetables perhaps or baked hake in foil with rosemary potatoes. Desserts are not to be missed out on either, with Keane’s garden centre in Kilcolgan supplying them with organic homegrown strawberries in season for a delicious strawberry cheesecake in a jar, rhubarb creme brûlée or the legendary baked alaska.
A short, well chosen wine list includes a couple of half bottles and wines by the glass. Irish beers are offered along with a full bar and the service from Finola is enthusiastic and friendly. Rustic Grub is much more than a restaurant, it is a gallery for the best of Galway’s produce and Maria is the curator. In the kitchen, partly visible to diners, she conjures up food that is, at once, reassuringly familiar and startling good. The people of Clarinbridge are in safe hands.
Rustic Grub, Sherry’s Bar, Bridge Street, Clarinbridge, Galway. Rustic Grub is open from 5-10pm friday and Saturday and 1-8pm on Sunday. Tel: 086-3637357 for large bookings. Apart from the restaurant, Maria also caters for parties and corporate clients off the premises.
First published in The Galway Advertiser 24.07.2014