One of three Galway restaurants owned and operated by husband and wife team Jp McMahon and Drigín Gaffey in the EatGalway Group, the small, brightly painted traditional shop front looks out on a favourite Galway landmark, Charlie Byrnes Bookshop.
This inconspicuous premises on Middle Street is the new home to Cava Bodega, the reincarnation of the hugely popular Cava of Dominick Street. For chef patron Jp, this was a rare opportunity to do something different, but do it the same.
Here they have a concise menu and have gained a building better suited to their style, the very definition of up-cycle, re-use and re-purpose. There are old barrels re-used as lampshades, distressed wood, brick and concrete, nooks and books.
Upstairs a tall bar looks over the dining space with its eclectic mix of seating, both high and low. Downstairs in the cosy bodega, everything from bread to ice-cream is produced in-house, in their open kitchen. Old wine boxes are brought to life again, remade into a handsome serving counter. As before, the kitchen and floor staff are outstanding and a full house of happy diners creates a buzzing ambience.
Jp's famous Spanish cellar carries a predictably wide variety of very good bottles. For ease of ordering according to personal preference, the wine menu is divided into a number of categories based on the character of the wine; beers, ciders and sherries feature, and of course, cava.
The menu is equally easy to navigate, divided into vegetable, fish and meat sections, nibbles and desserts. The scaled down portions of the tapas menu mean expanded choice; here you will find over fifty equally tempting regional tapas showcased and a leaflet is available indicating which dishes contain wheat/gluten.
While the dishes range from pretty to rustic, the food is always allowed to speak for itself. All the meat is Irish, free-range, local, or wild - and, reflecting their 'nose to tail' policy, there are plenty of slow cooked and offal dishes.
Try tender pigs cheeks in a sweet, aromatic soup of apple, sultana and tomato, for example, or earthy chicken hearts in cider with chorizo. Pigs head fritter with beetroot and hazelnuts is a particular favourite. Bottles of delicious oil and vinegar are provided on tables, with ample amounts of good bread for mopping up the many juices and sauces.
And, while the rustic meat dishes attract great interest, vegetarians are not overlooked; an elegant slate of goats cheese and fig cake is very appealing, for instance, or you might order wild mushrooms in organic cider. To complete your meal, there are classic Spanish desserts, such as crema catalana and santiago tart.
The cooking is innovative, displaying knowledge and expertise that raise it above the average Galway dining experience. Children are welcome and, while there is no dedicated menu, there is plenty of choice for the pint sized diner: jamon croquettes, meatballs in tomato sauce, or patatas bravas should all go down well. Perhaps even churros with chocolate sauce if they have been especially good.
While authentic, Cava is its own invention: offering the best of Irish and Spanish produce, it is a happy balance between two food cultures. They pick and choose the parts that work best and melt them into one another, meandering pleasantly between the two accents. The same, but better.
* Cava Bodega produces a range of 'free-from' handmade sauces, condiments and tapenades, including Romesco Sauce, Black Olive Tapenade, and Piquillo Pepper Sauce, to use at home (recipes available).
* See also Aniar – meaning 'from the west' - the focus at this innovative restaurant is on seasonality, local suppliers, foraged foods from the wild, and sustainably caught fish. It was a first for Galway and quickly became a focus for food lovers visiting the city.