Aniar, 53 Dominic Street, Galway.
The small interior of Aniar belies its larger reputation-as the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Galway, it can take several weeks to get a table, so you’ll need to plan your trip in advance. It was surprising, then, that neither the taxi driver nor the staff at my hotel were aware they had a Michelin star in their city. A little sad really, as they are in effect mini-ambassadors for Galway.
The space is bright and simple, more posh café than posh nosh. The menu reads equally sparsely: in the tasting menu you’ll find salmon, mussel, nasturtium, roe or meadowsweet, blackberry, apple.
Like Whistler’s painting Symphony in Grey and Green, the names hint at tonal sweeps of taste, eschewing the more florid descriptive language so often associated with food writing, and, ahem, this column (blush).
To start we had the scallop, carrot, lardo (Euro 12.50), expertly matched by the sommelier with a glass of picpoul (Euro 8.50). The scallops were perfectly cooked and served with a thin strip of baby carrot (lightly seasoned), and a carrot purée for more savoury-sweetn ess. All of this was cut through by a pretty sprinkling of chervil notes and a sweet, sheer draping of pork fat that bound the flavours together.
Our other starter was duck hearts, hen egg, fennel, buttermilk (Euro 12.50), with a richly tasting wine match of Hermit Crab (Euro 10). The tender hearts came with a virtual hedgerow of little herb leaves along with some exotic mustard leaves. The dish had the roots of beef carpaccio and classic beef tartar as inspiration, with the egg and the buttermilk softening the peppery notes and the pink flesh. A superbly-crafted starter.
For the main course I had the ox cheek, chard, girolle (Euro 32.50). The generous cheek came with gentler notes from pickled vegetables, earthy mushrooms and small touches of stronger notes from a duo of sauces which sang on the palate. Mushroom and beef may be an old-fashioned classic, but here it was in an entirely new guise; the beef itself was meltingly good and all the better for sitting centre stage.
The wine match was flawless too, a glass of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau Grand Champs 2008 (Euro 11), with all the necessary silky smoothness you’d expect for Aniar’s gentler take on a normally robustly-handled piece of meat.
The lamb, onion, samphire, spinach (Euro 32.50), was the first time I felt the sparse naming fell short. Was it Achill Island Black Faced Lamb or Connemara Hill Lamb? This is as important for the diner as the small producers who struggle with the mass marketing budgets of bigger suppliers.
As it happens, it was the former, which is utterly different from any lamb you will have tasted before. Cooked pink in the middle, again the chef allowed the ingredients of the west to sit centre stage.
No shrinking violet though, this chef-the supporting cast of samphire and pea shoot fronds were flawlessly chosen and either left untouched or gently coaxed through the kitchen. The wine match of Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec (Euro 8) from Argentina, added a new dimension to the dish, with cherry and dark fruits revealing extra layers of flavour in the meat.
For dessert we were given extraordinarily large portions which were altogether more complex than the other courses, but from the same school of thought.
The berries, rosehip, yogurt (Euro 9.50) celebrated raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and bluberries in their raw form as well as a gentle mousse and a puree, cut through by the yoghurt and given a texture contrast from mini meringues. A wine match of Chateau Jolys (Euro 10.50) completed the dainty picture.
The pear, buckwheat, walnut (Euro 9.50) was a simpler, more autumnal affair, with a higher contrast of flavours and textures necessary for the more robust ingredients, and very nicely matched with a glass of Dr Loosen (Euro 16.50).
Food is centre stage here, as it should be in all restaurants, and it shows in the extraordinarily simple-complex delivery of the food.
What the Italians call sprezzatura – making the complex look simple – is a key component here. However, you can leave your Versace at home for your visit to Aniar; this is more simple Prada than Celtic bling.
This first appeared in The Sunday Business Post, 20 October 2013.