The Huntsman Inn
164 College Road, Galway
After a long journey, there’s nothing more welcoming than the prospect of a friendly inn and some hearty pub grub. The Huntsman Inn in Galway looks like just that kind of hostelry.
I was with a food photographer who knows a thing or two about cuisine, and we arrived after a day on the windswept shores of Clare, where we had been gathering seaweed with the Wild Irish Sea Veg company.
The Huntsman’s friendly and efficient staff seemed genuinely pleased to see us, and cheerily took our order. We settled on a glass each of Paddy Borthwick sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, and the intense tropical fruits and pink grapefruit notes perked us up no end.
The menu here reads well, and offers plenty for the adventurous. To start, we ordered the kale spring rolls (€6.95), with aubergine, Ardsallagh goat’s cheese spring role and a sweet chilli sauce. We nibbled and cogitated over this dish, and finally decided less would have been more. Top marks for effort, though.
I had the homemade Galway Bay seafood chowder (€6.25) with brown bread. This was a stonking good soup – magic brown bread too – and the chunks of fish were generous to a fault.
For the main course, I had the baked fillet of hake (€17.95) with spinach and sundried tomato risotto, crispy Parma ham and asparagus. Now this was a further extension of the ”less is more principle, as there was just so much going on the plate.
The kitchen must be going flat out creating dishes like this, and I can’t help feeling a pared-back dish would have wowed us more. Indeed, the complicated risotto alone could have been a course in itself, and fewer ingredients would leave more in the budget to buy and promote local artisans.
My companion ordered the interesting sounding buckwheat and millet cake with beetroot purée, red chard and skinny potato chips (€13.50). This was the vegetarian option and, interestingly, each element was really quite tasty; but, again, the portion was just too large and there was too much going on.
A good test for a bistro-style eatery is a crumble – it’s simple enough to be ignored by those with loftier roles in the kitchen and easy enough for more junior staff to get lazy with the production.
I ordered the apple and plum crumble, made with Amaretto crumbs (€5.95), to see where it stood in the kitchen. Thankfully, this was a crumble that had come from a loving and caring family. The texture of the fruit and balance of sweetness was just-so and the crumble was correctly portioned, so there was nearly a mouthful for each bit of fruit. This was the best crumble I’ve had in a very long time.
As it happens, The Huntsman Inn is between chefs at the moment – a constant problem in the sector, and not helped by the disappearance of state funding for Cert, the catering sector training scheme. Though funding for food tourism has increased, we just won’t have any chefs to cook the food. Go figure.
There’s a story told about the elderly Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine, who often seemed wiser than her husband.
He loved to paint, but he never knew when his picture was finished. She was famed for stepping in and removing canvases as he painted, announcing that they were finished.
I can’t help feeling that a Clementine is needed here, especially as there were some real flashes of creative quality.
Over time, it’s easy to add more and more to a dish, but sometimes we should be paring back, not just to save on the volume of work in the kitchen, but because most food just needs a simple frame. That said, the Huntsman Inn is certainly worth a visit.
Breaking the bank
Starter: Huntsman tasting plate of mini starters, €12.50
Main course: Morgan Maguire 10oz ribeye steak with spiced wedges, port braised onions, garlic butter or pepper sauce, €24.50
Dessert: white chocolate and
cranberry bread and butter pudding, €5.95
Wine: Huguet de Caraman, France, €33.45
Total for two: €119.35
Watching the pennies
Starter: bowl of mixed stuffed olives, €3.95
Main course: Huntsman chicken goujons with house fries, garlic mayonnaise and mixed leaf salad, €13.95
Dessert: Toblerone cheesecake with chocolate ice cream, €5.95
Wine: Domaine de Paradis, France, €24.35
Total for two: €72.05