Kai, meaning food in Maori, is the brainchild of chef Jess Murphy, a New Zealander who, with her Irish husband David front-of-house, converted this former tearoom/café to a rustic, bare wood, flagged-floor, stonewalled café and restaurant - a light hearted place that is full of light and colour and has a sense of fun, but where the food is seriously good.
In shades of green and grey, with a central glass conservatory roof and plain furnishings, the Murphys have created a most unusual dining space. In fairly basic surroundings, which may not appeal to everyone, Jess displays her talents for cooking that are unashamedly dedicated to the very best of local foods, cooked in her own inimitable manner. She cuts no corners in seeking out the very best raw materials and then cooking them simply with a minimum of fuss.
This Galway restaurants menus change daily dependent on the best ingredients available. Home-baking is the morning attraction and daily lunch is built around soups, quiches, pies, stews and salads; usually no more than four dishes, all under likely to be under €12.
Dinner is a short à la carte menu consisting of five starters, five main courses and five desserts, including the farmhouse cheese du jour. The house focaccia comes with herb butter at no extra charge.
Starters could include The Farm Plate & Aioli – served on a wooden board, this may typically offer a colourful array of beetroot, (two kinds), carrot, fennel bulb, turnip, herbs and flowers with a light aioli - and Toby's mozzarella (fresh buffalo cheese from Cork) with heirloom tomatoes, or dishes based on local fish, such as West coast crab (with trout caviar, from Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Co Kilkenny).
Main courses include good fish - Ray wing and Hake, for example, both excellent in quality and cooking, although portion sizes may vary – and fine, generous steak (Brady’s Striploin; very good beef) with flavoursome savoury butter and summer onions.
Excellent desserts may include cobnut meringue (a local variation on hazelnut) with succulent fruit, such as roasted nectarine, and perhaps some Burren honey ice cream.
You may expect very good coffee, and a short wine list is carefully selected to match the quality of the food.
Staff are informal and friendly, and – although dinner prices may seem high given the unsophisticated furnishings/décor – it offers good value for the quality of the food.
Kai is a most worthy venture by a serious chef and her experienced team and has not only earned a loyal following in Galway, but has become a must-visit for food lovers from all over Ireland when visiting the West. Kai has taken a top place in the Irish food scene, and it is well deserved.