The Irish Gastropub or licensed premises that serve food as I like to call them are very much an established concept by now. Just as a cafe is likely to have a menu of soup, sandwich and salad, so the Irish gastropub will offer starters of chowder, caesar salad and something involving the marriage of beetroot and goat’s cheese. Then onto fish and chips, a burger and sausage and mash for mains. The more evolved will stretch to pork belly and rib eye or mussels and perhaps a sea bass special. There will be a chocolate fondant and lemon tart for dessert, a sticky toffee pudding perchance. There is nothing at all wrong with this. They are all good, sturdy dishes, the accepted standard of pub food. Sometimes they are exactly what you want or need. Some do it well and are exceptional, some just do it achieving mediocrity. Either way is fine, just don’t expect any surprises.
Occasionally, we come across a pub which is attempting to do more. Constantly searching through the news feeds, the PR blatherings, tweets, hashtags and pretty instagrams –always looking for these sites of special gastronomic interest. The newly restored Powers Thatched Pub and Restaurant in Oughterard run by Frank and Mags Kinsella was the latest one to register on the radar. It’s a thatched village pub, quite a cosy one, but just that. The original thatched bar remains intact and was restored using salvaged materials. It has not been tormented with chalk paint and swatches of fabric. It had been recommended to me by people who know about these things. Now looking at the board outside the door I could not see why. “Soup, chowder, burgers, and mussels” it said. “Come in and have a taste”. Ok then.
There is dark-wood furniture, high stools and barrels. There is a fireplace and the smell of peat smoke in the air. A shiny bar with embroidered linens holds a host of picture perfect scones and cake. There is a glimpse of a sunny courtyard with treacle tables visible through the window. Word of the magic in the kitchen is not out yet and on a showery Saturday it is all but empty. The cheery waitress is halfway through writing up the board in brightly colored chalk. It is a well-written short menu, full of things that spoke of the hedgerows and the changing seasons, wild garlic potato salad, dandelion relish. The small menu changes on a daily basis depending on the local suppliers.
It comes then as no surprise to learn it was Jess Murphy of Kai Café and Restaurant behind setting up the kitchen, working closely with the team and helping to build the foundations of the restaurant. Like Jess, Head Chef Cillian Hanrahan has a producer-lead, wild and free-range approach to his cooking.
There is mac and cheese for the children (or rather penne and cheese for the pedant) with excellent shards of thick Castlemine bacon on top. A lamb burger with preserved lemon on flatbread is a joy, with stormy port and apricot chutney and courgette chips. The quinoa cakes sound like the vegetarian’s consolation prize, except this is the star of the show with luscious and smokey roast romeneso, caramelized onions and grilled asparagus. Each element on the plate is precisely as you would like it to be. The details clearly matter here and so the food is served on beautiful Roundstone Ceramics crockery and handmade wooden boards made from trees salvaged from last winters storms. The wine list offers wines, old world and new from France, Italy, Spain, Argentina and New Zealand but with miles more to go, we are decided on some excellent Badger and Dodo coffee. This list of dishes, a chowder, chicken liver pâté, fish fingers and chips, a charcuterie board, are so common place and yet in the hands of this chef so extraordinary.
Back outside the front door, the windows are small and the whitewashed walls thick. There is plenty of bare space either side of the jaunty red half door. Just as well, really as they will soon be needing all the room they can get for the awards and plaques that they will be very soon collecting. Places like this do not remain secret for long.
Open for coffee and fresh pastries from 11am 7 days a week. The lunch menu starts from 12pm until 8.30pm, later at the weekends.
For all things Powers go to www.powersthatchedpub.ie, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or call 091-557604.
First published in The Galway Advertiser 07/05/2015