Aniar – meaning ‘from the west’ - is owned by well known restaurateurs JP McMahon and Drigin Gaffey and has been the most talked about restaurant in Galway since opening in 2011. Their friend Enda McEvoy originally headed up the kitchen brigade and, although he has since left to pursue his own business interests, the strong philosophy for the local, seasonal and wild that he established at Aniar is shared by local man Ultan Cooke, who returned from a high profile posiition in London to take up the reins in March 2013.
The wide window exterior provides an open view of Aniar and its diners, and so the tone is set: bright, visible, contemporary. This up-to-the-minute ambience is expressed in the muted grey and green colour scheme, clever lighting, brushed steel lampshades, bentwood chairs, polished table tops and the kitchen in plain sight.
The stated focus here is on seasonality, local suppliers, foraged foods from the wild, sustainably caught fish. When extended to the actual cooking the claim is to produce a cuisine of lightness, nose-to-tail meat cookery and clear simple saucing. This commitment is rather grandiosely presented as ‘terroir-based’, a term usually related to winemaking.
The à la carte menu is not long, offering a choice of just five dishes on each of three courses (starters, mains and desserts).
Starters of Cured mackerel, cucumber, beach herbs, rye; Scallop, oyster, dillisk, woodsorrel, smoked potato; and Pickles, seaweeds, butter vinaigrette, smoked fresh cheese all exhibit the ultra-modern approach of this kitchen: an amalgam of several flavours, not all distinguishable but somehow coalescing to form a brilliant dish in each case.
Main courses of Lamb loin and belly, turnip, pickled ramson (wild garlic), landcress; Wild brill, little gem, broad bean, carrot and clam; and Beef cheeks, beetroot, apple, woodruff & mustard all showcase exceptional raw materials, particularly good meat in airy, complementary sauces and foams.
Once again, delicate confections of varied tastes on the plate come together as a satisfying whole – notably the beef cheeks, which combine tenderness and robust beefiness.
Desserts continue the theme, in delicious combinations of ingredients which, in summer, could include Elderflower and gooseberry parfait honeycomb, and Apple and brioche ice cream, crumble & compote. Coffee is excellent – and, very unusually these days, on the house.
The Galway restaurants valued suppliers are, of course, given all due credit and they include free range pork, lamb and beef from the Allen family’s Castlemine Farm in Co Roscommon, and pasture raised poultry from Ronan Byrne (The Friendly Farmer) of Athenry, Co Galway, along with Gannet Fishmongers in Galway city and many other dedicated businesses.
A well chosen wine list offers about forty bottles from artisan producers worldwide, and the house policy is to offer up to twenty wines by the glass from the main list; there is also a page of artisan beers and, unusually, a craft cider. As well as tasting notes, there are some suggested food matches for each category.
Staff are very friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, adding to the enjoyment of the accomplished cooking that is served in this informal ambience.
Aniar is a fine restaurant, and offering good value for the high quality given. It is notable that in a very short time two restaurants with similar aspirations should open close to one another in Galway, Aniar and Kai. Both are motivated by purity of purpose and absolutely dedicated to their singular visions. While there will undoubtedly be changes at Aniar as Ultan Cooke puts his own stamp on the menu, it is reassuring to know that the philosophy of this outstanding restaurant is unlikely to be among them.