Well-known restaurateurs JP McMahon and Drigin Gaffey opened Aniar in 2011, and it soon became the most talked about restaurant in Galway. Meaning ‘from the West’, the philosophy emulated that of Copenhagen’s Noma, favouring local, seasonal, wild and foraged foods simply and elegantly prepared.
Enda McEvoy was the original chef, his creative cooking and lightness of touch ensuring this small restaurant quickly became a destination dining experience. Though he has left to pursue his own business interests Aniar’s strong food philosophy has been carried on by the capable Ultan Cooke, a Galwegian who returned from a high profile position in London to take up the reins in March 2013.
Open six days a week for dinner only, menus are brief, with just three choices per course. (A five-course tasting menu for €65, which must be ordered by the whole table, features additional choices.) Once the trio of bread arrives – perhaps focaccia made with Irish rapeseed oil, white rolls with Mount Callan cheddar and treacle bread with seeds served with a creamy pat of home made butter – diners will realise the level of care and love in the kitchen.
Dishes are described simply by ingredients, perhaps a summer starter of brown crab, apple, celery and hazelnut or main of lamb, peas, onion and broad bean. (The lengthy collection of local suppliers is listed on the end of the menu). With such fresh and natural ingredients it’s a joy to find them expertly handled, beautifully presented and never overworked or needlessly complicated. Simplicity is key with each flavour allowed to sing.
Desserts are a particular high point, with the simple sounding gooseberry, elderflower and oats a sublime and picture-perfect confection comprising poached gooseberries, gooseberry mousse and gooseberry purée alongside hazelnut praline, elderflower jelly and rosemary ice cream. Coffee is good and the accomplished petit fours finish a meal on a high note.
Service is professional, if surprisingly formal, and the light and breezy décor is more café than fine dining room which some may feel to be at odds with the exceptional standard of cooking; however, the impeccable ingredient sourcing means a meal here is a gourmet extravaganza. Portions may be small but the menu changes daily to ensure the most seasonally in-touch eating in the city.