We have finally reached the end of my Galway posts. I promise you thought…I have certainly saved the best for last! If you are planning a trip to Galway and aren’t familiar with Ard Bia; it’s a truly extraordinary restaurant located at the Spanish Arch, overlooking the river Corrib. Originally an old custom’s house, this ideally located spot is now home to a café, wine bar and award winning restaurant that I’m sure owner Aoibheann MacNamara is unendingly proud of.
The use of fresh locally sourced ingredients to create inventive and unforgettable dishes is what makes this place so special. Many have cited this rustic spot as their favourite restaurant..their ‘number 1’, their ‘meal of a lifetime.’ Reading through a few of these reviews, I didn’t think anyone was being dramatic or over the top at all – i t’s definitely up there for me, and plain to see why Ard Bia is so popular. Dining at Ard Bia (‘High Food’) has been one of the most memorable meals of the year so far for me (the other I was seriously impressed by so far this year was Sabor Brazil.)
Ard Bia was recommended to me by my parents, who had been a few times before and loved it. Who knew they were so cool? Anyway, that particular evening it was freezing out…but the chill in my bones dissolved instantly once I stepped inside and felt the warmth of the place – the atmosphere, the busy shelves and the gentle glow of candlelight (which I think made for some really great lighting to capture the essence of the place.) Doesn’t it look cosy? Yes. It’s cosy.
We were shown to our table, located in a charming little snug. It was a nice surprise to be placed in such an intimate little space (complete with our own window) where we could hear each other perfectly but we could also hear the chatter and energy of conversation flowing through the place; it was a Saturday night after all!
The staff are very helpful, friendly and dressed casually – everything is very low key and cool in there. Aoibheann herself actually looked after us – I didn’t know she was the owner until I recognised her face in the latest issue of Food and Wine magazine. I wish I knew at the time, so I could chat to her about it all! She had a cool and distinctive hairstyle, and wore a friendly smile. The menu was printed on sheets of paper – probably a sign that it changes often, to take advantage of the best seasonal produce. It was a very eclectic menu with a lot of diversity and various cultural influences – very creative and well thought out.
On to the food!
Mezze of muhumara and butternut squash hummus, halloumi, pickles, manoush bread.
Pan roasted Donegal mackerel with new potato, crème fraîche and tarragon salad.
Braised pork cheek oyster, apple compote and roasted salsify.
And my starter – slow cooked Harissa lamb with Jerusalem artichoke purée and wild rocket. I have only ever ordered lamb shank, which I find a little bit greasy, so I tend to avoid it altogether. Since I had never tried lamb shoulder, I thought I’d give it a go, and it was pretty darn wonderful. The meat was tender, bursting with flavour and the pomegranate seeds were a nice touch, adding a very subtle sweetness to the dish. I am a lamb shoulder convert.
Although it’s difficult to make out, the base of our table was a Singer sowing machine. And this was our view from the snug – various books and magazines, including the Ard Bia cookbook itself. Available for purchase here.
There was a lot of lingering over our starters, everyone was suitably impressed. We ordered another bottle of Jumilla, a dark, rich and plummy red from Spain (I always like to keep the Spanish memories alive!) and after a nice break (no pressure, no rushing) we were ready for the next round.
Spiced monkfish, Lebanese broth, mussels, potato, baby spinach and sweet pea.
Morgan’s 28 day aged striploin, green beans, potatoes, kale and pistou sauce (an olive oil based basil dressing)
Colleran’s duck breast, confit leg, fondant potato, balsamic beets.
The duck was rich and plump and cooked to perfection, as most of the fat seemed to have melted off during cooking, leaving only tender pieces of meat with a thin crispy layer of fat on top. The only way to eat fat really. The only thing that I didn’t like was the small dollop chutney served with the duck. The balsamic beets were sweetness enough for the dish, so I scraped off the chutney as for me, it overwhelmed the meat. It was easily removed, so no big deal.
We ordered espressos and a cheeseboard to share. The board was presented beautifully, with quince, smoked almonds and rye crackers. Small little details that made the cheeseboard at Ard Bia that little bit more special. I really wanted to try their semolina halva cake and the chocolate olive oil mousse, biscotti and sea salt ice cream but I was waaaaay too full. Missing out on dessert just gives me an excuse to go back, which I definitely will be doing some time soon.
Ard Bia is a wonderful experience in dining. I don’t have any experience of the café but the restaurant is flawless, and a credit to Galway city.
For more information about Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, click here for their website.
If you’re in Galway city this weekend, you still have time to book a table!
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