Happy the food lover visiting Ireland’s western capital who happens on Aoibheann MacNamara’s trio of Galway restaurants at Spanish Arch.
A wonderful stone-built medieval customs house overlooking the Claddagh Basin is home to Ard Bia (literally ‘High Food’) and its sister restaurants, Ard Bia Café and Nimmo’s, plus a constantly changing exhibition of modern art. It’s full of character and atmosphere and everybody loves it for the quality and interest of the food, and the long opening hours - between the three operations, Aoibheann and her team cater for everything from a casual brunch to dinner.
Aoibheann - a key player in the Galway food scene for many years – is known for her enthusiasm, energy and commitment to quality local foods, and a glance at her menus will have foodies heading straight to her welcoming bright red door.
Menus read lip-smackingly well. You couldn’t do better than start a long day around town with ‘McGeough’s lovely full fry’ for example, featuring breakfast meats from the famed Connemara butcher and Ard Bia’s own chutney. Or, later on, perhaps a St Tola’s goats cheese salad, with cheese from the milk of Burren goats in nearby Co Clare; or a bowl of Ard Bia creamy seafood chowder, full of local fish - smoked cod, seatrout, mussels and clams - supplied by the aptly named Gannet Fishmongers...
Evening menus kicking off cheerfully with a seasonal glass - of ‘Spring Tipple’ of Hedgerow Prosecco, perhaps - are very well constructed to allow a 2/3 course early bird choice from the main à la carte (Sun-Fri, 6-7pm) which offers terrific value for the quality at €23/€27, with no supplements.
But it’s what Aoibheann has added to the back of her menus that’s really exciting. Not satisfied with giving a summary list of suppliers (useful as that is), she’s given a concise rundown of a dozen of her main suppliers, with a mini profile of each and enough information (address, phone number, website) to encourage interested diners to visit them, or see their produce for themselves in local shops or at Galway Market.
It begins with a mission statement: “At Ard Bia we cook everything in house. We strive to provide food that is ‘Great for Galway’. When sourcing produce we think local think fresh think forage think sustainable and are fortunate to have amazing suppliers who think as passionately about their produce as we do.”
And those suppliers are the best. Meats, poultry and fish are supplied by McGeoughs Artisan Butchers of Oughterard; the Friendly Farmer (Ronan Byrne) of Athenry; Gubbeen Smokehouse; Galway Free Range; Stephane Griesbach’s Gannet Fishmongers; Burren Smokehouse of Lisdoonvarna Co Clare.
Fruit, vegetables and herbs come from respected organic growers Green Earth Organics, Sloe Hill Farm and Steve Gould. Cheese suppliers include St Tola Farmhouse (Burren goats’ cheese) and Gubbeen; Murphys of Dingle supply ice cream; ‘the healthiest oil you could cook with’ comes from Donegal Rapeseed Oil Co; and coffee is supplied by Badger & Dodo speciality roasters of Fermoy, Co Cork.
There’s an interesting wine list too although, surprisingly, without tasting notes.
When it comes to supporting producers of quality local foods, Aoibheann MacNamara has always ‘walked the walk’ - and these days she's ‘talking the talk’ too, and sharing that great passion for local foods with her lucky customers. She is also quick to point out that she has a fantastic team working with her - joined in late 2012 by Head Chef Niamh Fox, a talented and well-travelled Galway girl. No wonder that Ard Bia is a favourite destination for both Galwegian food lovers and visitors to the city.
The first floor is used as an extension to the restaurant in busier periods and is also available for private functions.
*As well as displaying exhibitions in the restaurants, Ard Bia Gallery Berlin offers artist residencies (www.ardbiaberlin.com). Together with food writer Aoife Carrigy, Aoibheann has recently written the handsome Ard Bia Cookbook (Atrium, hardback; €39), which is available at the restaurant, online through their website, and from bookshops.
** Wine bar now also open, Thu-Sat 6-11pm.