This year’s holiday was a week in the West of Ireland, during the first week of October. I love Autumn in Galway, but coming back here always stirs up a lot of emotions in me. When I was 23 I was persuaded by my now wife to move to Galway. I was lucky enough to meet Seamus Sheridan and blag a job in his cheese shop. So began my love affair with good food.I feel very privileged to have spent time within the Galway foodie circle that emanated from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.
During my two years in Galway as a cheesemonger I met lots of talented people from all walks of life and I have many fond memories of my time there. I was introduced to Enda McEvoy through another great Chef called Dave Gumbleton. Dave was a very special person with a twinkle in his eye, a hugely talented Chef who unfortunately never got his time to shine. He was also a loving Dad and partner. Dave said Enda and I should meet, he was right, as soon as Enda and I met we hit it off.
I was dabbling in food writing and Enda was cheffing in Nimmos. All those years ago did Enda think he would be receiving Galway’s first Michelin star? Now here we are, both the wrong side of 30, both married, Enda with a young family, and now a Michelin star.
This was my first dinner at Aniar and my first meal in a Michelin star restaurant so for this kind of assignment, the only conceivable approach was the tasting menu with matching wines.
Aniar is low key place with an informal vibe and complete lack of pretension. The warmly lit interior and egg-shell blue walls have a calming effect with a good view into the precise modest kitchen. A nice touch to the evening was a quick synopsis of each plate served by a different chef, as we worked our way through the menu. The Sommelier did a stirling job of serving each glass of wine, telling us what it was and why they had chosen it to go with each dish.
So here’s what we ate and drank for the tasting menu:
Crisp cabbage leaf topped with an emulsion of smoked scallop roe, confit of duck gizzard deep-fried with horseradish emulsion.
With Prosecco Le Contesse Spumante N.V.
A selection of in-house breads.
Pickled vegetables, seaweeds, butter vinaigrette and smoked fresh cheese.
With Sauvignon St Bris, Burgundy, 2011
Scallops, pork belly, dehydrated cauliflower and black pudding emulsion.
With D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab, South Australia, 2009
Ham hock terrine with tarragon and chervil, pigs head croquette, pears, yoghurt emulsion and grated hazelnut.
With Paper Road, Wairapa Valley, 2010
Wild venison, beetroot, pickled apples and walnut.
With Provenance, Tullagh 2007
Cheese board – Bellingham Blue, Durrus and Clonmore goat, served with fennel seed crackers and chutney.
With Offely, Tawny Port, N.V.
Fresh raspberries, raspberry jelly, dried raspberry dust, sorrel, whiskey foam, mascrapone and oats.
With Chateau Jolys, Jurancon, 2008
Beetroot and rose parfait, hazelnut praline, toasted meringue and sorrel with apple.
To finish coffee with in-house fudge and marshmallow.
From the amuse bouche, right to the last sip of coffee, I had a grin on my face like a drunken Cheshire cat. I quickly settled into a complete sub-conscious level of pleasure. I was aware of what I was eating and could taste everything, but I was swooning as each plate was cleared and the next one arrived. I was living each mouthful in the present moment, this was pure decadence and how a dining out experience should be. All at once the food I tasted was fresh, subtle, vibrant, intense, lingering, delicate, full of contrast and texture.
Highlights for me were the first course of pickled vegetables which provided a fresh vibrant platform from which to base the other courses on. Emulsion of black pudding was a revelation, as was dehydrated cauliflower, I don’t think I have ever tasted such an acute, sweet, nutty cauliflower flavour. The fennel seed crackers were an excellent accompaniment to the cheeseboard, that hit of aniseed really brought out the complex flavours of each cheese. I loved the way the sixth course was a pure seasonal celebration of the raspberry and how fresh the pears tasted with the savoury ham hock terrine.
But if I had to choose one course it would be the venison with beetroot and apple. The venison was beautifully tender, with a good gamey tang, which went so well with the earthy beetroot, cut through with the freshness of the thinly sliced ribbons of apple. There were only three ingredients on this course, the simplest plate of food I ate that evening, but that is where the skill of Aniar lies – getting the most of out of the least amount of ingredients, a refined approach which allows the ingredients to shine through with a vibrant freshness. There is a stripped back modesty to the cooking which is as much a nod to the beautiful bleak West as it is to Enda’s stint in Noma.
Of course, gaining a Michelin star is a huge achievement for Enda, the proprietors and the rest of the team, but really I’m just chuffed to bits to see Enda becoming a great Chef. I wish him all the best with everything, he is one of the nicest, most well-rounded individuals with his two feet firmly planted on the terra firma. This is his moment to shine and I hope he remembers to enjoy it.
However he will need to develop a thick skin, there will be naysayers and cold water pourers. Already within a week of the news from Michelin, I was hearing grumblings around some of Galway’s more popular watering holes about the price of the food in Aniar or that the resturant had become too busy! I mean come on, is that not the point, God forbid that a restaurant might be too busy!? And of course you will always get the Dublin City folk sizing up Aniar with the likes of Patrick Guillbauld, wondering why there is not a mountain of white starched linen table cloths and an orchestra of waiting staff.
Yes Aniar might have a Michelin star, but it’s not trying to be Galway’s answer to Guillbauld’s. Some of Galway’s restaurants have been trying to do that for years and not a Michelin start in sight until now.
I have no doubt Aniar will keep doing what it does best, staying true to its food philiosophy, and trying to bring a different and fresh approach, because that is what all world-class restaurants should do – provide customers with an experience, something that lingers on the palate and in the memory for a long time.
Enda has a lot of pressure on his broad shoulders, more so now than ever, but he’s well able for it, he will come through this a better more mature Chef. There will be a lot more to come from Enda McEvoy and I’m so glad to have had that time in Galway and to have met Enda and all the other characters that make Galway a very special place. There will always be an aching in my heart for Galway.
53 Lower Dominick Street
T: +353 91 535 947
Open: Tues – Sat, 6-10pm