At the end of 2012, it was announced that Galway's Aniar restaurant was to be awarded its first Michelin star, making it the second restaurant outside Dublin to win the accolade. Aniar is a terroir-based restaurant, where head chef Enda McEvoy cooks local, seasonal food, influenced by location. Inside, the restaurant is small and slightly informal. There's a feeling of distressed limewash and pastel shades in the decor, but the lights are dim and there's a buzz in the room.
We are visiting Galway in advance of a family wedding where we would be presented with the inevitable beef or salmon menu choices. With several of our group of six leaning towards the tasting menu (€60 per head, with wine pairing available for €25 extra), the rest of the table concur and we place ourselves in the hands of the very calm looking kitchen, where we can see serious faced chefs hovering over plates.
Our first course of raw mackerel with cucumber, crème fraiche and bright green dill oil doesn't do anything for me, despite its beautiful appearance. However, there is a definite change in gear with the arrival of duck hearts with juicy pink interiors, served with radish, buttermilk and a custardy hens egg. I savour every meaty, umami-laden bite.
|Mackerel withe cucumber, dill and crème fraiche|
|Duck hearts with radish, buttermilk and hen egg|
The feast continues with golden sweet carmelised scallops, served with pork belly and clever accoutrements of dried black pudding and cauiflower crisps, balanced with purees of the same. The dehydrated cauliflower is the very essence of the vegetable, showcasing its flavour and natural sweetness. The final meat course of lamb loin is beautifully pink and juicy, while everyone at the table falls in love with the pickled ramson (wild garlic) which provides an addictive punch of pleasure.
|Scallops, black pudding, pork belly and cauliflower|
|Lamb loin, turnip, watercress and ramson|
As the plates are cleared away, I am struck by how truly good the last three courses had been. The flavours echoed through my tastebuds and I could not recall the last time I enjoyed three consecutive courses so good. Our final course of goats cheese panna cotta is accompanied by with meadowsweet and rosehip sauce. The panna cotta is so wobbly that there is some creamy subsidence between the kitchen and the table, but it doesn't stop them from being smooth and creamy, albeit with an overly sweet rosehip sauce.
Aniar is a different sort of fine dining. The plates are just as pretty as those served with foams and gels, but there is a simpler approach to cooking, which uses wild ingredients and pickles to provide flavour and a sense of completeness. In fact, the combinations are so harmonious that you might just find yourself bursting into song. With an Irish name that translates as "from the West", it's rare that a restaurant is so aptly named.
Aniar, 53 Lower Dominick Street, Galway
Tel: +353 (0)91 535 947