By and large Galway doesn’t like fine dining. White table cloths, fine linens and silverware don’t appeal to our bohemian tendencies. Elaborate five hour, three-figure hushed meals, make us collectively regress to our inner toddler, wanting to smear our foie gras and veloute around. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy fine food, we just like it in a more lively environment. Galwegians, and those who are drawn to settle here, are comfortable in the easy elegance of Kai, the relaxed charm of Il Vicolo or propping up the bar upstairs in Sheridans – any place with that touch of novelty, eccentricity and fun. In recent times, it seems the rest of the world is coming round to our point of view. There’s a shift in the industry from formal and traditional establishments towards a style of low-key dining, both nationally and internationally. Now that chefs are busy opening pizza joints and noodle bars, the days seem numbered for fancy dining rooms and yet that is exactly what has just happened.
The most anticipated new Irish restaurant opening of recent times has come to pass. Enda McEvoy is the chef responsible for bringing a Michelin star to Galway at Aniar. His new restaurant, Loam, located in the stretch of industrial glass buildings on the Fairgreen Road, has opened its doors at last. Knowing the vagaries of Galway bureaucracy as we do, it came as no surprise to most to see the opening pushed out all the way to the end of October instead of the scheduled Summer months.
The critics were quick off the mark in checking it out. Lucinda O’Sullivan, reviewer for The Irish Independent was the very first customer on the first day of service such was her curiosity, Ernie Whalley of The Sunday Times snuck in for a sneaky peak at the room not long after. It is only fitting then, that the local paper should be first to report. Was it worth waiting for, does the reality live up to the hype?
At the recent Ballymaloe Literary Festival, myself and Enda numbered in a group of attendees representing the West. While all the other festival goers spent the evening in ‘The Big Shed’ busily networking and hobnobbing with the great and good of the food world, the Galway contingent did what the Galway contingent always do in these situations. Namely to largely ignore anyone from outside the Tribesland and entertain ourselves with our own brand of craic and devilment. There is more to this tale involving strange sleeping arrangements, Seamus Sheridan and a Hi-Ace van but that’s a story for another day – what I can tell you is that after several craft brews Enda is even more likable and I wanted to like his restaurant too.
The much anticipated venue is a few steps below pavement level on the shoulder of the hill between Forster Street and the water. What could be a cavernous room is cleverly separated into three sections with lights and planters filled with bog oak and greenery. The less formal wine bar area inside the door has an appealing mish-mash of seating and waiting staff glide between the tables in smart taupe aprons. Here you can casually drop by to sample something from the wine list which is mostly of the organic and biodynamic type with a few available by the glass. Nibble on something from the snack menu, pickled plums or smoked mussels in mustard, try the daily local charcuterie board with Connemara air-dried lamb and pickled calves tongue or an unpasteurised cheese selection.
The main dining area is set with the chairs facing the open kitchen, all the better to watch the show. There is a short a la carte menu, seasonal to the point of obsession. We tried the the tasting or ‘current’ menu on our recent visit, a set six courses at €60 or €90 with wine pairings which must be ordered by the entire table. From the first bite of smoked duck liver pate to the ethereal raw milk junket, everything about this meal was excellent. Course after course of nuanced, subtle, and often exceptional cooking set like a still life on the tactile, slightly irregular ceramics on the table. At the end my only wish was that I could eat every bite of it all over again.
Loam is not perfect, this is a restaurant shoe-horned into what was meant to be office space, some of the architectural features are corporate, the bathroom is a hike down bare corridors, but nothing that can’t be improved on with time. A coffee at Loam currently means an uncomfortable 5 minutes making small talk with the barista while he fiddles with a funnel and a weighing scales and advises you to forgo milk and sugar. The coffee itself the bitter 3FE sort so popular with the hipsters right now. Unless you are a coffee purist (or indeed a hipster) you would be wise to order your coffee at the Badger and Dodo next door. Enda doesn’t take himself too seriously, what he does take seriously is his food and what he and his team have made at Loam is a destination restaurant that manages to walk the tightrope between casual and fine dining with great success.
Enda McEvoy is a dazzling chef with a rare talent. He understands that his restaurant showcases the life work and passion of great local food producers. More than this it provides a shop-window for the fruits of our land and sea. Any restaurant is only as good as the food it serves and great food begins with great ingredients. It is important to McEvoy and his team that these fishermen and farmers, cheese makers and artisans are acknowledged for their contribution. A meal at Loam is more than the sum of its parts, it merges nature and culture, past and future, the heart and soul of the West of Ireland.
So, do I like Loam? No, I don’t… I love it and I think you will too.
Loam, Geatta Na Cathrach, Fairgreen, Galway. Tel: 091 569 727. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open Tuesday to Saturday, Wine Bar 4pm – 12am, Restaurant 6pm – 11pm.
First published in The Galway Advertiser 13.11.2014